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[COMMENT: John Rankin is one of the most competent
apologists for the Christian faith abroad. Here he tells how he became a
Rev. John C.
A Vision for "First the Gospel, Then Politics..." A Passion for "The Love of Hard Questions."
TEI Update #188, November 1, 2007
40 Years Ago Today
Greetings, as always, in the love of the Lord.
It is amazing how fast 40 years can pass by, enough time for generational shifts to make their marks. But today, I would like to celebrate what happened to me forty years ago tonight, when I first sought the Creator, and he showed up. Below is my testimony.
Blessings in Jesus,
I was raised in the Unitarian-Universalist church, where I remember Sunday School teachers who were very skeptical of the Bible, even agnostic, and they taught me the same. To be skeptical is good, if in pursuit of the truth, but these skepticisms I was taught struck me as explaining away too much, or protesting too hard. So though I was a self-conscious agnostic in of the summer of 1967 at age fourteen, I had always been amazed by the universe and my own existence in it, and thus I became a skeptic of the skepticisms I was taught. That September I began ninth grade (“third form”) at South Kent School, a small prep boarding school for boys in the Housatonic highlands of western Connecticut. South Kent had a daily chapel schedule rooted in the Episcopal liturgy.
It was required, but I determined not to participate, saying to myself, “I don’t believe this stuff.” So I did not sing, recite, pray, genuflect or take communion. But that proved a “dangerous” thing to do. For while other students were participating, outwardly, at one level or another, I ended up occupying my mind reading the words of the liturgy and hymns, as they were recited and sung. I was interested in the possible existence of God.
On November 1, I was standing outside the chapel in the interlude before walking down the hill to dinner. As the air pricked my spine, I felt alive. It was delightfully cold, and in those rural hills the Milky Way was exceptionally clear that evening – like a white paint stroke against a black canvass. I considered its awesome grandeur and beauty, and then I posed to myself this sequence of thought:
“If there is a God, then he must have made all this for a purpose, and that purpose must include my existence, and it must include the reason I am asking this question. And if this is true, then I need to get plugged into him.”
I wanted to know either way, and I was convinced that if there were a God, then it would be most natural to become rooted in my origins. But I wanted verification. The “if” clauses were real.
This was a commitment to myself, in the sight of the universe, in the sight of a possible God. It was in fact a prayer to an unknown God.
One or several evenings later I was the first student into chapel, taking my assigned seating in the small balcony. As I sat down, and looked forward in the empty sanctuary, I said under my breath, “Good evening God.” Immediately I retorted to myself, “Wait a minute John. You don’t even know if there is a God. How can you say ‘good evening’ to him?”
But also immediately, I became aware of a reality that was prior to and deeper than the intellect, of a truth that held the answer to any and all of my questions. There was a God, I knew deep within me, and I knew that I had just lied to myself by saying I did not know, even though it was only now that I knew I knew. My heart knew before my mind knew, but as part of the whole that my mind was now grasping. I had yet to speak it (see Romans 10:9).
In this moment, God’s presence ratified the reality of my belief as I simultaneously discerned a Presence literally hovering over me, filling the entire balcony. And critically, this Presence was hovering and waiting for my response. It was a powerful, warm inviting and embracing cloud. This all happened within a moment’s time, and I realized that I did believe. No sooner had I exhaled my agnostic retort, did I then inhale and say, “Yes I do (believe).” As I did, this literal Presence of God descended upon and filled my entire being – heart, soul, mind and body.
Now I knew nothing at the time of the divine name and nature of Yahweh’s presence and glory, as experienced by the Israelites in the exodus community with the tabernacle, and later in Solomon’s temple. Nor of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet the grace of God came into my life that November evening, as he but gently crossed my path with a touch of his Presence. I asked an intellectual question in view of an awesome universe, and was answered by the Presence of the awesome Creator.
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