Testimony: My Experiment with God
at sea for a while, the sailor will run out of provisions, will develop diseases, and will get horribly homesick.
I got that homesickness. The homesickness was a growing inner awareness, only implicit, sort of a gnawing, that I had lost something very valuable. I had lost some sort of moral health, some sort of innocence, some sort of "stupidity," and the result was a sort of inner deflation, even depression. I had a sense, again only implicit, that all was not well with the state of my soul. (In fact, I now believe I was on the way to being damned, if not damned already.) I would never have been able to put into words this inner feeling. But it was there.
It was a sort of ambiguous feeling of angst coupled with sehnsucht, an experience that C. S. Lewis described as a sort of "inconsolable longing" for the "we know not what."
C. S. Lewis talks about what triggered these emotions in him: the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the Word's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan," the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.
In me, this sense of longing for something precious that had been lost was invariably triggered every time I heard the sound of children playing on a playground. In hearing children playing on the playground, I was reminded of something I had lost, and, at the same time, something I wanted to regain. Plato would have called this experience anamnesis. Cardinal Newman would have called it the prompting of conscience.
While all this was going on inside me, God's Providence was fully at work outside of me. Around the time when these feelings were at their height, I met a young woman (or a young woman met me), and a friend of hers talked us into going to a seminar by the Protestant minister Bill Gothard. I doubt I would have gone but for the strong desire to please the young woman who had grabbed my attention. (As it turned out, again providentially, this young woman turned out to be the woman I would marry and who is still my wife.)
Bill Gothard's seminar is a highly dense, quite rigorous presentation of scriptural principles for living a moral, godly life. Bill Gothard's presentation is--from a moral perspective--quite conservative, even strict. (For example, he discourages the use of artificial contraception.) And it seemed that every principle that went my way, from Bill Gothard's lips to my ears, did nothing but condemn me. For the first three days, I was seething. I harbored anger against this very gentle, though insistent man.
I felt very much like the character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress who gets the bejesus beat out of him by Moses with the stone tablet of the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, however, I was struck with the realization that had I lived these principles that were infuriating me I would never have lost the innocence I had lost and for which I was yearning.
How could I possibly regain it?
Bill Gothard's formula was simple. I had to accept Jesus as the Son of God, as my Lord and Savior, and apply myself to reading and living the Scripture.
However, I could not believe. I could not believe that Jesus was God, and I could not believe that the Bible was God's word. I did not believe any of that any more.
So what was I to do? I yearned for the lost innocence, but the means to regain it as offered by Bill Gothard seemed foreclosed to me by my lack of faith. At the time, I did not have it in me to give myself to God as He had revealed Himself in Jesus, to entrust myself to Him, unconditionally.
I was in a quandary. So without even knowing about Pascal and his advice that in doubt one should begin the process by acting as if one believed, I made a decision to accept Jesus as if He was God, and accept the Scriptures as if they were God's scriptures.
I gave Jesus and the Scriptures a conditional faith. I promised the God in Whom I did not believe that I would act as if I believed for two weeks, and if He could not convince me of the truth of those things I was believing as if they were true within those two weeks, the deal was off. That was my "act" of "faith."
For two weeks--this unbeliever, this miserable sinner who had the hubris to give God a conditional act of faith, as if He could not be trusted--acted as if he believed. From a human perspective, I gave it all I had.
For two weeks, I entered into a great experiment with God, what Ratzinger calls the experiment of faith. And I learned that my hesitant, conditional, faith was--at that point in time--enough to gain access to the God who satisfied all my yearnings for lost innocence, in fact, all my yearnings simpliciter. "I believe, help Lord my unbelief," is enough to get you access to the God who puts to rest restless hearts. And once He touches your heart because you let him, it changes everything.
Those two weeks were perhaps the most fruitful I have ever had in my life, for I learned, with the certainty of faith, that "God for his part" has also "agreed to the experiment, has entered into it himself," in Jesus, the Lord.
It was the beginning of my faith journey with the Lord Jesus, and it continues to this day.
It took me a few years after this rough beginning, but, in God's good time, I learned something Bill Gothard sadly did not know. And that is that there is a chain between Jesus and me, it has three links, and I'm not allowed to break any link if I want sure access to Jesus. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Christi est. Where Peter is, there is the Church, there is Christ. Or, as the unlettered St. Joan of Arc put it so simply: "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter."
No, indeed, we should not complicate the matter. We should be like little children. Peter, Church, Jesus. So very simple, it's almost stupefying.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: faith, conversion, Jesus, Church, evangelical, saved, born again, living faith, Bill Gothard, Pope Benedict XVI, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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