My girlfriend cannot believe nonsense, Guillaume told himself
Belief in God was such nonsense to atheist Guillaume Bignon that he threw himself into a scientific, self-examining and open-minded investigation, in the hope that he would dissuade his American girlfriend of "antiquated" religious notions.
Guillaume grew up in France, near Paris, a country dominated by atheists and where people attend church more out of tradition than genuine faith in God.
"As soon as I was old enough to tell my parents I didn't believe any of it, I stopped going," Guillaume explains. He turned instead to music, volleyball and female conquests for happiness and fulfilment.
He enjoyed success as a computer scientist for an investment bank and lived according to his own rules in his private life, burying the guilt from his occasionally unethical actions deep inside.
While vacationing in the Caribbean with his brother, his values were challenged during a hitchhike home with two attractive young American women who needed directions.
"We started flirting," Guillaume recalls, "The one I was interested in happened to mention she believed in God – by my standards this was 'intellectual suicide'. She also said she believed that sex belongs in marriage – an even more problematic belief than theism, if that were possible."
Strange as it seems, these beliefs helped start a "problematic long distance relationship" between New York and Paris.
"So we could be together without her misconceptions standing in the way... I started thinking: What good reason was there to think God exists, and what good reason was there to think atheism was true instead?
"My unbelief was comfortably resting on the fact that (smart) people around me didn't believe in God either, but it was more a reasonable life assumption than the conclusion of a solid argument."
Seeking to "objectively assess" the claims he wanted to disprove, he started reading the New Testament gospel books in the Bible.
He also conducted a "praying experiment", asking God to reveal Himself, yet convinced he would hear no response.
A few weeks later an inexplicable shoulder injury forced him off his volleyball team for a while, rendering his Sunday mornings free to visit church.
"I drove to an evangelical congregation in Paris, visiting it as I would a zoo: to see exotic animals that I had read about in books, but had never seen in real life," he says.
As soon as the service ended Guillaume made his escape, rushing towards the exit door to avoid conversation, but something stopped him at the threshold.
"I literally had one foot out the door and I sensed a strong wave of chills in my chest going all the way to my throat. I was frozen on the doorstep.
"I put my foot back in, closed the door, and went straight to the pastor."
Over the next few weeks Guillaume met with the pastor regularly, bombarding him with questions about his beliefs.
As he believed that smart people did not believe in God, Guillaume found himself perplexed at the intelligence, the logic and the clarity with which the pastor explained his worldview.
"His answers were internally coherent, and that was impressive in its own right," Guillaume remembers.
"Here is a man who is clearly educated. He knows what he is talking about. He is smart, careful, meticulous, and he believes that God exists and that Jesus was raised from the dead. I just couldn't fathom it."
After much study he remained unsure about why Jesus had to die, and his unbelieving prayers started to shift.
He said, "God, this is starting to make sense to me now but if You are real, You need to make it clear so I can jump in and not make a fool of myself."
God made things clear, though not in the way Guillaume had expected. His conscience was reactivated and he was overcome with guilt and shame over what he describes as a "sinister misdeed" he had done.
"I was struck with an intense guilt, crippled with chest pain, and disgusted at the thought of what I had done and the lies I had covered it with."
In that moment Guillaume came to understand Jesus' sacrifice on a very personal level.
"That is why Jesus had to die: me," he realised.
"He who knew no sin became sin on my behalf, so that in Him I might become the righteousness of God", he quotes from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21.
"He died so that I may live. I placed my trust in Jesus, and asked Him to forgive me in the way Scripture promised He would.
"My heart was instantly set free," Guillaume describes, "every trace of guilt just flew away."
Guillaume found a computer science job in New York so he could be with his girlfriend, only to realise they were "not meant for each other".
He then enrolled in a Christian seminary, and now has a Masters in Biblical Literature and PhD in Philosophical Theology. The married father-of-two lives in Manhattan and is still a computer scientist, plus a part-time theologian.
Guillaume's experience is proof of how God can truly touch anyone, even those who are set on staying away from Him.
"I was not looking for God;" he says, "I neither sought Him nor wanted Him. He reached out, loved me while I was still a sinner, broke my defences, and decided to pour out His undeserved grace."
Article by Joanna Delalande
Contact Guillaume at his blog theologui.blogspot.fr