When Ben Atkins appeared on a podcast called “Playing With Fire” earlier this year, the title couldn’t have been more apropos.
It may not seem like it from the outside. After all, he’s a pastor who’s planted churches in both the United States and the United Kingdom. He grew up in a Christian family he said looked as if it were living the “English equivalent of the American Dream.”
Sounds pretty anodyne. Until you hear what happened in between, which Atkins described in seven harrowing words: “I found myself giving myself to Satan.”
And, to hear him describe it, he wasn’t just playing with fire — he was a serious burn victim. Now, the preacher is a testament to both the reality of evil and to the all-redeeming quality of Christ Jesus.
How does a child from a Christian household end up this way, though? According to FaithWire, during his appearance on the podcast in October, his upbringing was more chaotic and traumatic than it looked from the outside, leaving him “questioning everything.”
Not only was his parents’ faith waning, he didn’t see much real spirit in the church itself.
“They had no place for suffering, no place for really vulnerability or weakness and much less for the supernatural power of God,” he said of his youth in the church.
“It was a church that didn’t believe in the God at work today through anything other than the Bible, and so what I experienced in church just didn’t shine with life.”
Thus began the typical elements of falling away from God: “sex, drugs, alcohol,” as Atkins describes it. However, he also added other non-Christian spiritual practices in an effort to find the peace he was seeking.
“All I can say is I had this deep craving in me to connect with my suffering and have it acknowledged,” he said.
“And that’s what led me to explore some really dark ways of living.”
WARNING: The following narrative contains graphic descriptions of satanic activity, which some may find disturbing.
One of those dark ways? Reading “The Satanic Bible” by Anton LaVey, a work generally seen as the guidebook for the modern Satanist movement.
As FaithWire noted, “[w]hile ‘The Satanic Bible’ is essentially considered atheistic in nature, Atkins started mixing in rituals with the text.”
“I’d already been … doing certain rituals with friends to harness the power around me or within me or, or whatever,” he said. “I had friends who, I guess they would say they were witches or whatever.”
He found himself both wanting to carve a pentagram into his chest and doubting the power of the Lord, saying that, if his own experiences in the church were any indication, God couldn’t possibly be who He said He was.
He told himself at the time, “All of this Satanic stuff and the witchcraft makes more sense of my life and actually offers me a better way forward.”
It most certainly didn’t offer a “better way forward,” however — as Atkins found out in a nightmarish way when he says he started receiving messages from Satan himself.
“One morning … he was at the end of my bed and he said to me, ‘You’re gonna finish your [end of college] exams and then you’re gonna die,’” Atkins said.
“I woke up and, for me, that was just the worst thing I could possibly hear.”
According to FaithWire, that’s when “Atkins started trying to bargain with the devil to avoid dying, pledging to hurt others or even himself, among other wagers, in an effort to stave off Satan’s proclamation over his life. But he was granted no reprieve.”
“I was seeing demons, and demons were, like, coming to me and entering me,” he said. ” I just became more and more depressed.”
“It was at that point I started planning how to kill myself, because I didn’t see a way out. I thought, ‘Well, either Satan’s gonna kill me, or I am. So I’d rather at least seize back one last bit of power.’”
Instead, God intervened through a friend of his sister, who invited him to a Christian event. While the happiness and spirit of the Christians at the affair initially upset him, things changed when a man came and prayed over him.
“He put a hand on my shoulder, started praying for me in tongues, and, in that moment, I felt the most incredible rush,” Atkins said.
“All the things I’d been up to in life, I was chasing highs and trying to feel lows, and that peace that I felt was higher than any high I’d ever felt.”
Thus was he broken free of Satan — and delivered into the hands of God.
“I’ve never set out to be a Christian. I’ve just wanted life and truth,” he said. “And that’s what led me into the arms of Jesus.”
Atkins warned that people shouldn’t extrapolate ideas about how Satan and God work from his tale alone. “This is my story. These are my experiences,” he said. “I’m quite hesitant to go beyond what the Bible says, what Jesus taught, and my experience. That’s really all I can share with any sort of authority.”
That said, let it be a reminder that evil is real and its fire burns, badly. We have a Redeemer, though — and through Him, even the deepest bondages to darkness can be severed in an instant.
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