Posted by: Ken Brown | August 22, 2008

How I Became a Christian Part III

Commenting on the last segment of my story, Hugh questioned why God would waste his time focusing on such “paltry” matters as a high schooler’s social life. I must admit that on the face of it, it does seem preposterous, like a king worrying about the petty concerns of a beggar. But that is precisely why Christians insist on God’s goodness and love because, preposterous as it may be, he does seem to take an interest even in such trivialities. If God is infinite as Christians claim, then he is in no way hampered by the time constraints that force us to limit our involvements, but that doesn’t change the loving and compassionate nature of the matter.

That said, if I am anything like typical, I suspect social matters are the most important to most teenagers. I know for a fact that my teen-aged self would have been more willing to be killed for my beliefs than to be thought uncool, and I don’t think I was alone. For that matter, I’m not sure how much things have changed: how many of us wouldn’t more readily accept a grand sacrifice than the small and daily sacrifices which are in fact far more important? Perhaps that is precisely why God does focus on such small matters in our lives, for he recognizes that fixing the world is not so much a matter of solving the “big” problems, but of changing us, making us into the kind of people who live selflessly in community and love. After all, history has constantly revealed the terror and violence that attend all attempts to enforce morality, even for society’s own good. True justice can only be established on a person-by-person basis, through the free choices of individuals, and my own long experience with God confirms, for me at least, that this is how God does in fact choose to work.

Nevertheless, not every aspect of God’s role in my life can be reduced to such small matters. I could name many examples of God’s work at significant points in my life, but as this story is already growing long I’ll skip to the most important: The next fall, during my Junior year of high school, my dad was informed that his company needed him to move to a different office in Denver (several states away). As you might expect, I had no desire to leave my friends (and church) just a year and a half before finishing high school, especially considering how much I was enjoying my life there. In deference to my concerns (and likely his own as well), my dad went looking for options and found job opportunities at two start-up companies, one of which would have allowed us to stay where we were, and the other which would require moving, but only across the state. All three jobs (including the original) were roughly comparable in pay and responsibilities, and I was adamant that he take the one that didn’t require moving.

It wasn’t long, however, before that now familiar nudge began telling me something quite different. Though I had no additional information to suggest that it would be better to move, and outwardly I continued to insist that we ought to stay where we were, deep down I couldn’t shake the feeling that we actually needed to take the job across the state. I can’t tell you how I knew, but I knew, and I hated the idea. For weeks I held to my line that my dad should take the job nearby, knowing full well that this was a lie, until finally, with just three weeks to spare, I admitted the truth. I suspect that my parents were already planning on taking the job anyway (though they have never admitted this), but in respect of my wishes they had not done anything to pursue it. So when we moved, just three weeks later, the delay forced us to live in a rental house until we had time to buy one. It also meant much more abrupt goodbyes for all of us than it would have, had I not stalled for all those weeks.

Yet once again, when I did obey, I found that God knew what he was doing far better than I did. My dad was much happier with his new job. I ended up at a far better school than I had been at previously. My parents relationship, which had been in a very poor state, improved dramatically, as did my own with my brothers. We also found a new church that I not only liked as much as the previous, but that reinvigorated my parents’ own faith, which had (particularly for my dad) long since grown cold. And to top it all off, I met my future wife on the second day I was there.

In time, however, I discovered that the most important thing about the move was what it saved our family from. Within a year of our moving away, we learned the start-up for which my dad would have worked had we stayed had gone bankrupt. Worse, the group of friends my middle brother had been hanging out with before we moved had since taken a dark turn towards drug addiction and my brother, up to that point always the rebel of the family, would almost certainly have joined them had we stayed. On that score, it was probably my brother who most benefited from the move, for later that year one of his previous friends shot another and then killed himself, at a party that he may very well have attended had we stayed.

Nor was this the first time that our family had such a near-miss with tragedy. When I was in middle school, my dad’s company had once before tried to move us to Denver, and we actually visited and looked at houses in the Littleton area. That time, my dad took a different job nearby (though eventually the old company wooed him back), which postponed the move until, as I said, my Junior year. But my life might have been very different if he hadn’t. For it was only a few years later that the Columbine massacre occurred in the very school in Littleton that I would have attended.

I remember reading the newspaper the day of after the attack and being so angry at God that he would allow such a terrible thing to occur. It was only much later that I realized how close my own family had come to being there. Sometimes, I can now see, we are so eager to blame God for “failing to act” when people use their God-given free will to do terrible things, that we fail to consider the possibility that he has acted to limit the damage as much as he could without violating our freedom. As it turned out, when I got to college I discovered that one of my roommates had been there at Columbine, and was himself spared when the bomb under his table (miraculously?) failed to detonate. Perhaps God was there, even at Columbine, after all. In any case, I can now say with confidence that he has saved my family from far worse fates than the petty concerns of a self-conscious teenager.

Continued in Part IV


  1. a near-miss with tragedy Ken Brown

    What is remarkable is that people are so self-important that they require the personal attention of the Creator of the Universe, himself for their personal problems. I have the impression that Catholics are a little more humble and are satisfied with having the Creator’s subordinates look after them. Even the representative of Christ on earth,the late Pope, in truly near fatal circumstances, made do with the services of one of many holy virgin mothers.

    “[Pope John Paul II] suffered an assassination attempt in Rome, and attributed his survival to intervention by Our Lady of Fatima: ‘A maternal hand guided the bullet’. One cannot help but wonder why she didn’t guide it to miss him altogether. Others might think the team of surgeons who operated on him for six hours deserved at least a share of the credit. But perhaps their hands too were maternally guided. The relevant point is that it wasn’t just Our Lady, who in the Pope’s opinion guided the bullet, but specifically Our Lady of Fatima. Presumably Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadeloupe, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Zeitoun, Our Lady of Garabandal, and Our Lady of Knock, were busy on other errands at the time.”
    –Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”

  2. Hugh,
    I’ve posted a full-length response to the issue of divine names, but I wanted to address your other points here:

    You do raise a valid objection that experiences like mine do not actually prove much about the identity of the deity that I have come to trust. These experiences have come in a Christian context, including the reading of Christian scripture, and that lends them a certain interpretation and suggests that the same can be true for others in that context. But I can’t rule out that similar things can happen in non-Christian contexts, nor can I exclude the possibility that what I have always called “God” has not in fact been some intermediary between God and myself–a departed saint or angel, perhaps.

    What I can say is that, whatever one wishes to call it, my experience has consistently revealed a good and wise being, who has made itself available in a remarkably personal way. I am not so conceited as to think that my experience proves anything special about me. Quite the opposite: I believe that if an average joe like me can experience such things, it must be that such things are possible for any who sincerely seek, trust and obey.

    As for Dawkins’ point that the Pope ought to have recognized the (more) important role that his surgeons played in saving his life, Lady Fatima or no: This actually fits very well with my point in this post, that it is through human beings that God (most often) chooses to work.

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