Friday, September 24, 2010

How I became a Christian

I grew up in a nominally Christian home and rebelled when I was a teenager. I rejected Christianity, materialism and white bread and read Kurt Vonnegut and Carlos Castaneda. I embraced marijuana and bits of Eastern mysticism and thought of Christianity as a crutch for weak or stupid people. God got me when I was twenty.

I was alone in my car one night, stopped at a stop sign, when I suddenly became aware that the way I was treating my girlfriend was wrong. I was using her, a fact that had not bothered me up to that point.  Rather, I was proud of it. I suddenly knew with perfect clarity that it was horrible.  I felt no particular emotion—no guilt or defensiveness; just clear, certain knowledge that what I was doing was bad.

What followed was like a near death experience crossed with a criminal trial. One by one I became aware of facts about my past and it would be shown, as if by an invisible prosecutor, to prove something bad about me. I was forced to admit each fact and each implication was true. It was not emotional.  I felt no guilt but simply knew that I was guilty. My whole life was examined. I remembered asserting my independence as fifteen year old: "I am the master of my fate; I am captain of my soul." I remembered deciding that I was much better equipped to tell what was good and right than my parents and that I would become a better person by taking responsibility for my beliefs and living according to them. I saw that instead I had made myself into the kind of person who exploits and abuses anyone who loves him.

I was forced to admit that my good intentions had led to disaster. As soon as I admitted that I was forced to admit that there was nothing I could do about it. The problem was too deep and nothing I could do would make any difference. Then I remembered something from my childhood, something in the Bible about "Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there" and "Whatever you ask for in my name, I will do." Then I knew that I had to find my girlfriend, tell her the truth and get her to pray with me.

So I did. She forgave me and checked to make sure I meant to pray to God and not some other deity and then we prayed. I prayed a lame plea that everything would work out all right and then she started praying. I didn’t hear anything she said because I was swept up in a vision.

I found myself lying face down in the dark. There was a judge at a bench nearby and I was being summoned to stand before him and give an account of myself. I groped around trying to comply and discovered that I was paralyzed from the waist down and that there was no way I could do more than push myself up a little. I was helpless and about to be condemned so I gave up and said "I throw myself on the mercy of the court." Immediately I was picked up as if by a giant hand and plunged into a river. Then I was brought up on the other side suspended in a shaft of light. Then I found I was on my feet, standing on a rock. And then the vision was over and I was sitting on my girlfriend's bed with her looking at me strangely. I said something stupid about it being better than drugs.

What I meant was that it was real. It took me years to understand and I'm still learning more but I knew then that what had happened was real. It was a vision—obviously not real in the ordinary sense. I was not physically removed to a courtroom or any other place. But it was not a hallucination. One reason I had liked marijuana was that it altered my perceptions and supported my belief that reality was deeper than it appeared. I had had mild hallucinations and believed that they, while not real in themselves, showed me something true about the nature of reality, or at least about the subjectivity of perception. But the vision was something else; it was real in itself, more real, if anything, than everyday life.  I understand that some drugs also produce similar impressions of profound but altered reality.  I never tried them.

What I now understand happened was this. God grabbed me for reasons having nothing to do with me, accused me of doing and being evil, proved his case, found me guilty and then gave me the faith to seek his mercy which he then immediately poured out on me. I later found out that he does this all the time and that it's what being saved and born again mean. Jesus told his disciples he would send the Holy Spirit to "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). My series of insights and admissions were exactly that—the Holy Spirit convicting me, that is, forcing me to know and admit the truth about God and myself. The scripture I remembered that night was an amalgam of two verses where Jesus promises:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
and
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:14)
He fulfilled both promises directly. The judge, river, light and rock of the vision are all biblical symbols for and functions of Christ. And my throwing myself on the mercy of the court was not my idea. I had no concept of doing anything like it. I didn't actually do anything but God did it for me:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Here's the best summary of the experience:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Jesus wasn’t kidding when he called it being born again. What you don’t often hear about is the death that precedes it. The old self-righteous self dies and it's not pleasant. It does not go quietly. But it is joyful. I pray now for everyone I know, friend or enemy: Please God, get him.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, you linked me here from Reddit.

    Very interesting story, and I commend you for your faith, but I am not ready to make a leap of faith. I'm looking for a logical progression into faith, not a divine experience similar to yours. We all must find our way.

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  2. Same here, you linked me to the story but I see it as a hallucination. As I replied to you on reddit, "Unfortunately those kind of events you describe are a dime a dozen when talking to people of all religions and all seem to prove something they want to believe in or reinforce something they already believe...
    If that was my standard of evidence, I'd be pretty gullible. I mean, why not believe the followers of Islam, or Judaism, or Mormonism, or Scientology, who all have people with the same kinds of experiences and claim their experiences verify the "truth" they have discovered?"

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