MOKENA – I’m not an author. I’m not a writer.
Or so thought Robert Morlan.
Morlan, shepherding pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Mokena, decided to write the story of how he went from atheist to Christian and did so in the newly released, “The Atheism That Saved Me.”
“I wanted it to open up a new area of ministry for me where I can share the Gospel,” Morlan said. “That’s really the bottom line.”
In the Bible, there is a verse that reads “and a little child shall lead them.” Morlan, who decided one night in November 1964 that God did not exist, prayed to the God he doubted existed in December 1971 because of a child.
The erosion of belief
The road that led to Morlan’s disbelief began when his family literally went from rags to riches to broken. When Morlan’s parents divorced when he was 14, his father, six sisters and three brothers left – and even his mother left their large home for a time, leaving Morlan alone.
“It was an absolutely devastating horrible time in my life,” Morlan said. “They tried to make me choose which one to go with. I would not make a decision and stayed in the super big house we had. I was a freshman in high school and I quit high school because of the despair and the depression.”
Morlan said he spent most of his days on the streets, drinking and fighting. He went home only if he had no other place to go. One day, a police officer sat the young Morlan down and said, “Is this the direction you want out of life?”
That question jolted Morlan into reality. He finished high school, but his poor grades dispelled any hope of attending college, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army. And on that night in November 1964, while lying in his bunk, Morlan found himself struggling to pray.
“Finally out of frustration, I said, ‘I don’t believe God exists and this is the last time I will pray, that I will acknowledge him,’ ” Morlan said.
In 1966, Morlan married Jann and resolved to be a good husband and father. After one miscarriage, Jann was 8 months pregnant when she wakened him one night with contractions. At the hospital, Morlan learned from Jann’s doctor how serious the situation was.
Jann had delivered a stillborn baby girl and Jann herself – who had “toxemia,” the informal name for preeclampsia – might not survive the night. Morlan, who described himself as hard-nosed, was shaken. He recalled only twice in his adult life up to that point when he cried.
“One was when my dad died in January 1967,” Morlan said, “and the second was when that little girl died.”
Morlan said he and Jann felt guarded during her next pregnancy, which also ended in a stillbirth.
Thankfully, Jann did not have toxemia again, but their son had a huge growth on his head and lungs of solid mass, Morlan said.
“That’s when we decided to adopt,” Morlan said.
The couple experienced one roadblock after another until, one day, Jann’s doctor called and said, “I have a baby.” The mother was three months pregnant and didn’t want to keep the child. Morlan contacted his attorney.
Six months later, the mother had a boy – and changed her mind about the adoption.
Morlan was reluctant to share the news with Jann. He paced the room, talking aloud to himself.
Finally he said, “I don’t believe in God’s existence. I think it’s nonsense, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t care if you exist or not, but if we get the baby, I’ll take the baby to church.”
They got the baby, Morlan said, and they found a church.
The return to God
In 1975, they adopted their daughter, Susan Lowe, now of California. John is now the pastor of First Baptist Church of Evergreen, Colorado. Morlan and Jann have five grandchildren.
Although he was attending church, Morlan said he remained an atheist. But in May 1974, while vacationing on a small island in Canada and reveling in its sublime beauty, Morlan said he told God, “If you exist, you need to reveal yourself to me in an unmistakable, undeniable, unquestionable way.”
Morlan paused and added, “And, boy, did he.”
Morlan won’t say what happened (“You’ll have to read the book,” he said with a smile). But the events that transpired led him to enroll in seminary in 1982 and found Grace Fellowship Church in Mokena in 1992.
He hopes people that read who read “The Atheism that Saved Me” will understand two points – the importance of keeping family intact and the spiritual aspect of life.
“There is going to come a time when each one of us is going to stand before him [God] and give an account of our lives,” Morlan said. “We need to be well-prepared for it.”