It was a night in 1967, and I had come to an end – one of several that would mark my life. I was twenty two and in my first year of medical school. Becoming a doctor was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But I was at the end of a lifelong nightmare. I had been trying since childhood to live the Christian life and was forced, at last, to admit failure.
I had done everything humanly possible. Raised in a devoutly Christian home, the son of a pastor and evangelist, I had been surrounded by God and the Bible. From childhood, I had an earnest desire to please God. I had read my Bible through and was baptized at age nine. I was active in youth group, led evangelistic Bible studies, and participated in evangelistic campaigns. I had rededicated my life to Christ more times than I could count. Once I prayed all night, hoping to be rid of my sinful nature. I had even “led people to Christ” using the four spiritual laws. But now I could no longer pretend that the things Christianity espoused were true of me. They were not. I had failed.
As I considered my options, I felt that my only recourse was to start over – wipe the slate clean and experience “whatever was out there,” honestly, and without preconceptions. I would taste, touch, handle, see, and hear whatever crossed my path. I would search for meaning wherever it could be found. I left medical school, my family, the church, and the life I had known for twenty-two years.
For the next several years, I traveled, observing, experiencing everything I could. I studied philosophies and religions, from Theosophy to Hinduism to astrology. I read many “sacred books” and went through rituals with Native Americans. In my mind, my search for spiritual reality justified every expression of “freedom” that I conceived. I began to think I had arrived. I had blended elements from all my experiences into my own spiritual “mix and match” path to enlightenment, and I had concluded that the evidence of this enlightenment was unselfish love for one’s fellow creatures.
Then, out of the blue, the next “end” hit me. It was as if an unseen hand reached inside me and tore away the curtain of my soul. I saw what I had really become. It was ugly and frightening. What I had considered deeds of “unselfish love” seemed now to be merely hypocritical acts designed to make me look good in the eyes of my “fellow travelers.” Behind the curtain I saw only pride and self- gratification. I felt vile, horribly guilty, and increasingly afraid. Death, judgment, and eternity seemed to hang over my head. Twenty- five years of empty searching left me with a feeling of hopelessness.
As I considered what to do, I was inexplicably and strongly drawn to consider the life and words of Jesus. A few days later, I found myself on my knees saying, “God, if you exist—and I think you do, I’m going to read the words of Jesus. And if they are Your truth, I want You to show me supernaturally. If You do, I promise I will do whatever You show me.”
For the next few weeks I read the words of Jesus. They had a profound and unexpected effect on me. Though I had heard the Bible all my life, it was like I was hearing for the first time. I had many questions – logical hoops I expected God to jump through if I was going to believe what I was reading. But in the end, all these things were swept aside by what happened on a certain night that summer of 1970.
I had finished reading the Gospels, and the scenes of the crucifixion were fresh in my mind. I was especially troubled by one thing Jesus had said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It didn’t compute. I had seen in my reading that Jesus really was unique. He was singularly sinless—unlike me—and He always seemed to know what was really going on. So how could He mistakenly believe that God (whose mind He knew best of all) had forsaken Him? On the other hand, how could God forsake His sinless, obedient Son? As I considered this, it seemed that I was transported to the crucifixion in my mind. The darkness was palpable and evil. I was overwhelmed as I contemplated the scene. Then in my mind I heard words—not from the Gospels or anything I had recently read, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…. But he was wounded for our transgressions… All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Suddenly I understood that God had indeed forsaken His Son because He was contaminated with my sin. I realized that God was speaking to me and that He had been all along! I was overcome with the unimaginable love of Jesus. A few minutes later, I surrendered myself to Him. That night I understood three things. One, that Jesus had made me absolutely clean in the sight of God and I was at perfect peace with Him. Second, that Jesus was real and present and was communing with me. Third, that I owed Him such a debt of love that I had no choice but to give myself to Him for whatever He would ask of me.
Since that time, I have been finding out some of the things He wants me to do. Though I have not always been faithful to obey, He has always been faithful to keep me – just as He promised.