My wife Ann and I professed our Christian faith. We realized that we were imperfect people in desperate need of God’s love and mercy. We acknowledged and confessed our sins, and we placed our belief and hope in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We praised the Lord for His many blessings, and we knew that as a family we were blessed in so very many ways. He was truly good to us, and as time went by we were especially thankful that each of our sons committed himself to Christ and sought to follow Him.
Although we attended church regularly after the first few years of our marriage, our faith truly came alive during the early 1970s. These were the years of the charismatic revival. We were members of a Lutheran church at the time, but Ann was introduced to a deeper walk with God through a ladies’ bible study group. From this beginning, both of us came to know and love a widening circle of friends, Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, and others, who were burning with faith in God, anxious to study His word, and eager to spread the Good News. Christian house groups proliferated along with radio and television programs such as the 700 Club and PTL. Much of the teaching was truly inspired, and many lives were touched. Some charismatics wanted to break away from the traditional churches and found a true, pure “New Testament” church, but most of the revived believers chose to bloom where they were planted.
My life and Ann’s were transformed by this experience, and our Christian faith and witness became the most vital part of our existence. Christian fellowship was also important. From 1968 through 1977 we belonged to Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Columbia, Maryland. In November 1978 we became members of Bishop Cummins Reformed Episcopal Church in Catonsville. We encountered many true saints in these and other churches and charismatic groups, and we had much good teaching and Christian camaraderie.
I continue to call myself a Christian. What do I believe? I wrote down the following thoughts in 1990, but the following sentences still reflect my basic beliefs.
When I was a younger man, I was so conceited as to think that I could somehow understand the very essence of the universe — the how and why of existence — the very nature of God Himself. Fortunately, I gave up that nonsense years ago. I have come to understand that God is much too great for me to ever wrap my finite mind around Him. Indeed, the more I know, the more I realize how very little I know. Nevertheless, I continue to think about these things and to speculate about the how and why of things. A statesman once said, “War is too important to trust it to generals.” In the same way, I believe that religion is too important to trust it to theologians. It’s up to lay people like us to keep the theologians honest.
C.S. Lewis was one such layman, and I have always appreciated his apologia for faith. He stated that we will never understand God by merely observing the created universe, just as we could not expect a sentient nail to understand the architect that designed the house that he is part of. Instead, the only way we could rightly expect God to manifest Himself would be inside ourselves as an influence or command trying to get us to behave in a certain way — and that’s exactly what we find! Each of us has a conscience. Somehow each of us knows right from wrong if we are confronted with a choice between the two, and this is a knowledge that transcends time and place. Marcus Aurelius was acknowledged to be a good man in the second century A.D. He would be recognized as a good man today. Caligula and Nero and Hitler would be considered evil men in any century — and in almost any culture. There is a universal standard. Different civilizations and ages have different interpretations of this standard, but if you compare the moral teachings of the great civilizations you will be surprised at how much they are like to each other.
Some think that the entire world is cruel and unjust, but from whence came their idea of cruel and unjust? How does one call a line crooked unless you have a straight line to compare it to?
If the whole show (the world) is bad and senseless from A to Z, why should a person who is part of the show react so violently against it? If a person doesn’t believe in right or wrong, why should he attack someone else’s actions or defend his own actions on that basis? Without recognition of some moral law, our society would be complete chaos. And what is the basis of that moral law? The answer must be God.
Perhaps it is true that much of what we consider to be the moral law is learned, but that makes it no less true. All of us learned the multiplication table at school, but it does not follow that the multiplication table is simply a human convention that we could have made different if we liked (e.g., 2 X 2=13). The laws of mathematics exist outside of human reason. Our reason comes into play only in helping us understand these laws. The moral law belongs in the same class as mathematics. It is universal. It is timeless. It is from outside ourselves. Some people and even entire groups of people may have a clearer perception of the moral law than others; but most individuals, if they will only be still, look, and listen, are able to recognize which interpretation of the law comes closest to the universal standard — to God’s standard.
So much for a brief synopsis of the thinking of C.S. Lewis as expressed in Mere Christianity.
The real beauty of faith is the fact that we don’t have to go through mental gyrations like these to come to God. He’s there for the Down’s Syndrome child, and He’s there for the Doctor of Philosophy. All we must do is to humble ourselves, to receive Him, and to acknowledge His lordship.
Having said this, however, I still must use my feeble intellect to try to understand things better, even though I realize that I will never understand completely. When thinking of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, for example, I can never believe that we humans are mere puppets on strings. Things are not predetermined. Or, if they are predetermined, they are predetermined in some mysterious way that still allows for the exercise of free will. In other words, God knows how the final chapter will end, but He still permits us to make choices within the limited circle of circumstances that surrounds us.
I know that what I have just said appears a paradox, but paradox is a fact of life. I ask you, for example, how do you imagine a universe that has no ending? If, on the other hand, the universe has an end, can you imagine the nothingness that exists beyond the universe? And what about time? To us who live in the finite world time appears a constant, but the scientists have proved that time is not a constant. Instead, the speed at which time passes is dependent upon where you are in the universe and the speed at which you are traveling through space. Can you comprehend that? Neither can I. Nor can any of us understand the majesty and greatness of God.
In the end, it comes down to a matter of trust — of faith. Take the matter of suffering, for example. I can’t pretend to understand pain and suffering, but I do believe that our greatest problem is that we see things through human eyes and that God often uses suffering for his own special purposes. Surely, if we live long, we will all know disappointment and pain and sorrow. And we should never forget that accident or sickness and death are gates that we all must someday pass through on our way into the heavenly fields. Sometimes it is children and young people that pass through these gates. At other times, it is adults. And we do not understand why these gates are often so difficult or why the passage is so bitter. Also, it seems at times that those who are left behind suffer even more that those who die. But in these trials, as in all things, we must trust God.
Of one thing I am certain – we must love God and love one another. Of all the moral laws, these are the most critical. As Jesus said, they are the greatest of the commandments.
Think of the profound influence of love in our lives. For instance, I am acutely aware of the critical influence of my mother’s love in my own life and in the lives of all her children. I think of how very dear she was to me and how much I wanted to live up to her expectations of me. I know I disappointed her from time to time, but I did love her so and tried to give her joy rather than sadness. Her love touched the lives of so many persons, and the influence of that love and her magnificent character and example continues to influence lives today — through her children and grandchildren and even the great-grandchildren who never knew her. How privileged I was to be able to call her “Mother”.
My father’s love was also very important to me. He was a source of unfailing support, and I looked at him as a lighthouse in every storm and an unfailing bulwark – almost like an eternal rock. What a shock it was to me the day he died. It was so hard to accept the fact that he was gone.
And then there were my brothers and sisters who were always so good to me.
Surely there are few people so fortunate as I in having been born into such a loving and supportive family. Indeed, I have been blessed beyond measure. There should be no self pride in this. It was not through any merit of my own that I happened to be born into my family. I cannot take any credit for it. All I can do is thank God for it.
Having said that, however, I must add that my being born into a particular family did not make me good or bad. I am not an automaton who has been programmed to do the right thing, and my childhood experiences did not turn me into an angel of light. Far from it, I still have so very much growing to do. I am inclined to be indolent and selfish, and I must sometimes force myself to consider other’s needs before my own. But God gives me the choice of what to do within the limits imposed by my background, my experiences, my talents, and my opportunities. The more He gives me, the more He expects of me. I pray that I shall develop the commitment to live my life according to His will for me.
Following this thought to its logical conclusion, it is also true that God has not abandoned those unfortunate persons from broken homes, so often the victims of neglect or abuse. Perhaps their horizons are more limited than we more fortunate ones, but these people from unhappy family backgrounds also have choices; and they can rise above the most miserable of environments and gain control over bitter memories of a difficult past, actually converting experiential liabilities into assets.
Nevertheless, l am very thankful that my own childhood experience, in the bosom of a loving family, was a very happy one. I look forward to being with them again.
Praise you, Lord!
HE IS RISEN!