Four Episodes of Grace
|This is what peace looks like|
This was true even if the believers had a defective understanding of God because they didn’t hold the faith passed down by Christ’s apostles and their successors. So I recognized their peace and that was a real moment of grace. I could have dismissed the serious believers as some of my colleagues did. I could have snickered and rolled my eyes, and labeled them “happy fools”. But I was honest and thought, “I know these people—I’ve had classes and conferences with them—they’re not fools and they have something I want.” So the first grace was recognizing the fruits of devotion to God, and when you respond to God’s grace, He then leads you to another grace—often a greater grace. It’s kind of like the fairytale notion of following a trail of bread crumbs: one crumb leads to the next and you can get all the way home that way, all the way to the kingdom of God.
This event shook me out of my daze, and I immediately told everyone I knew about it. In a way, I had an evangelical impulse. My attitude was, “Look at this piece of evidence! There must be some unseen, intelligent beings around us that protect us—something like angels.” I also briefly considered a science fiction-type explanation, but I thought kindly aliens and helpful UFOs were less plausible. Once again I was intellectually honest even though I hadn’t believed in the divine or supernatural. In this way I welcomed and responded to God’s grace. I didn’t revert to the skeptical philosopher and chalk it all up to natural instinct or intuition. I heard what I heard. I don’t know if it was an interior or exterior voice, but it couldn’t be explained by our scientific means. This episode didn’t lead me to a commitment to God or to any faith tradition because I didn’t know what to do with this evidence of the supernatural. But I kept it in my heart and wondered.
I had only gotten about seventy-five yards when a man in a wheelchair with shattered legs—a paraplegic—approached me. I could immediately tell he was angry and agitated, and so here we were, two unpleasant people on a cold biting night. He wheeled in front of me to block my path and said, “Hey, can you help me with something.” He was dressed like one of the panhandlers that live around the campus, and I could have just blown past him as people often did, but I stopped. I made a decision to set aside my rage, and I ignored his anger and just listened to him. He said that he was a research fellow on campus, and that he was shut out of his vehicle—a special van that he drives with his hands. Someone had illegally parked next to him, and blocked the door that accessed his wheelchair lift. He asked if I could back up the van so that he could use the lift and drive home. I was happy to be of help, and as I was trying to figure out the van controls, I marveled that my anger had completely disappeared—as if the bar episode had never happened.
|St. Peter has a 'Quo Vadis' moment while fleeing Rome|
In the days after the bar incident, several of my friends told me that they were glad that I humiliated the bully. One said, “Boy, you were scary, but I’m sure glad you did that.” Another simply shrugged and said, “He had it coming”. My friend who was the target of the bully called it “awesome”, and said that it was the first time anyone had stood up for her like that. But I knew they were wrong. The right thing to do would have been to interrupt the conversation, and firmly but patiently tell him that it was unacceptable. But instead I just used one cruelty to respond to another, and it was ugly, and I had been ugly, and I wanted no part of it.
|Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church|
I had always been curious about evangelicals, but it was more of an anthropological interest. I wanted to observe them as a professor might study a "lost tribe" in the Amazon: to see what they did and what they were like. I found it fascinating that they studied the Bible in an academic manner—as I might study Aristotle or Machiavelli. They took the text very seriously and closely considered each paragraph with the help of historical and linguistic sources. While some of my colleagues at the university would have immediately dismissed their scholarly efforts, I had the grace to see that they did it well and so they earned my respect. I also found these evangelicals to be friendly and honest, and so it was easy for me to say ‘yes’ when the young lady asked if I wanted to accompany her the next week. Since I didn’t feel the pull of faith or have any desire to become a Christian, I was open and honest with them about that. I thought that my days of looking for God were long since past—a distant time when I still had a sense of romance and wonder. But I enjoyed the company of these evangelicals because they were different, and I respected that. The young woman at the coffee shop even described herself as a “born again virgin". This was certainly a different crowd than I was used to, and that was God’s point. Like the other episodes of grace, God was showing me that there was another way of seeing the world, another way of living. I didn’t have to continue on the same path that had left me a shell of a person; there was an alternative, and I was on the cusp of seeing it.