Hello all. Let me preface this by saying that I am not a member of any church (yet), and that I am still far from being a devoted believer in the Christian faith. I am a strong believer in Reason and I have an almost compulsive desire to rationally explain events.
Now, that being said, allow me to share an event in my life that solidified my absolute belief in God and my belief that Reason cannot be the only tool we use to construct meaning in life.
I was about 11 years old and I was visiting my father for the summer in the DC area. We sat down for dinner one evening and my father asked me if I believed in God.
“I don’t know,” I responded. I had only been to church a handful of times, and I always felt awkward and uncomfortable.
My father persisted. “You don’t know? Sounds like you don’t really. Do you ever pray?”
“No,” I responded again. I was beginning to grow frustrated at what felt like an interrogation. Here I was, 11 years old and just wanting to eat some chicken and rice, instead being subjected to a theological debate. As my father continued his inquiry, I grew ever more upset, until I eventually got up from the table and barricaded myself in my room, crying.
Why did I cry? Well, I don’t think even most adults truly know or have experienced God, so what could an 11-year-old kid know about such things? I felt confused, attacked, guilty, and a slew of other feelings. I felt like I was a bad person or that I was answering my father wrong. Looking back, he wasn’t even being forceful or hostile, it’s just that I had never been asked to consider God and I was unsure of what to think or say.
My father eventually and apologetically came into my room and told me that he didn’t mean to upset me and that he was just wondering if I had any kind of belief. To give you an idea of how long the dinner table discussion was, the food had grown quite cold, so my father suggested we go out to eat instead.
We walked down to a restaurant a few blocks away from my father’s apartment building and got an outside table. Still somewhat shaken from the earlier events, it took me a while to finally loosen up and enjoy dinner. It was still light out and the weather was very agreeable.
After some time had passed, my father and I spotted one of the peculiar neighborhood characters across the street from us. He was an Ethiopian man whom I had often seen before, and he appeared to be schizophrenic. He always wore a long dark trench coat and shades, and he would mutter to himself incomprehensibly. There was one time he came up to my father and me while kicking a soccer ball he had with him and started taking to us about music and cold showers. He was, in short, incredibly strange.
“There goes our friend,” I said to my father. He looked across the street and spotted the man. “Oh yeah,” he replied. “No soccer ball today.”
The man eventually spotted us and crossed the street. “I think he’s coming over here,” I said to my father. Sure enough, once he had crossed the street he headed straight for our table. My father and I spoke in hushed, hurried tones about the man’s approach, wondering what random conversation he would strike up today.
Well, there was no random conversation. There was, in fact, none of the usual strangeness. No muttering, no aimless wandering. There was only purpose and a strange kind of conviction. The man headed straight for my side of the table and stood there for a minute looking at me before reaching into his trench coat pocket. My father stirred, ready to pounce on the man (my father is a big guy).
Before my father could do anything, the man pulled something out of his pocket. It was a Bible. He looked at me and handed it right to me, composing himself in a manner completely different from his usual demeanor.
“Keep this with you at all times.” His voice was clear and strong, not quiet and incomprehensible like usual.
He turned and left.
I’ll spare you a long description of the reaction my father and I had to this event. Needless to say, we were dumbfounded.
I have exhausted every possible rational explanation for what happened that evening. The man couldn’t have heard us in my father’s apartment. It was a few blocks from the restaurant and my father lived on the second or third floor.
I considered that it may have been a mere coincidence. But even if it was “just a coincidence,” it was one heck of a coincidence. He could’ve given that Bible to anyone at any time in any place. He gave it to an 11-year-old kid who had just had his first breakdown after trying to understand God.
Perhaps, I thought, my father may have conspired with the man. This was also highly unlikely.
That was the last time I saw that man. My father never saw him again either.
I’m almost 30 now. I still talk to my father about that event. Both of us are still dumbfounded.
Despite my rationalism, despite my personal issues with common Christian conceptions of God, I am convinced that man was an angel.
The fact that he was Ethiopian is also relevant to me, because Ethiopia was one of the first nations to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Anyone familiar with the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition knows how mystical and beautiful it is.
Anyway, since that moment I have always believed in God. I unfortunately do not still have that particular Bible. I am ashamed to admit that I was quite careless with it over time and it ended up getting damaged. But although it would be nice to still have that particular Bible, I think the more important message is to keep the Word of God with you at all times. And I now have a Bible that I treat quite well.
P.S. I have plans to join a church, but I am still conducting research, both spiritually and otherwise, into which church I find is the most true. Obviously, Ethiopian Orthodox has always been very appealing to me, as are other ancient liturgical traditions.
Peace and love.