What does that path of thinking look like? It began for me as a kid. I was a very inquisitive and I started to wonder for what purpose we were put here. I tried to read the Bible but got stuck in Genesis. I tried asking my priest questions, but he was pretty evasive. After a few questions about the Bible with him at the doorway of our church, the organist peered at me over his shoulder and huffed that I might be taking the Bible too literally. I made a mental note that day: don’t open up to organists with the last name of “Stanke.” More importantly, I was beginning to understand that the Bible was not as simple as I thought it was. I was confused and didn’t know where to turn. One day I saw a commercial on TV that depicted a man walking on a beach with a voice-over asking questions like, “Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of life?” “Are there answers?” The funny thing is that this commercial was aimed at forty-something’s – upwardly mobile professionals – and there I was at twelve years old with my eyes glued to the TV saying, “good question!”
So I called the number and asked for my free book called “Power for Living.” The fact that it was free was the clincher – I had to have this book. When I got my hands on it, I devoured it. It was a series of biographies of professionals and sports celebrities who have come to trust Jesus with their lives. In the back of the book was an outline for how one needs to put their trust in Christ. This is where I froze because I was unsure of what it meant to have someone ‘come into your heart.’ I can still remember the fear I had as I considered the idea of someone actually coming into my body, into my heart. I was upset over the idea of a strange force invading my body and making me do things that it wanted to do rather than myself calling the shots.
The whole thing was ridiculous, there I was stopping short of attaining eternal salvation because I was afraid that if Jesus wouldn’t like “Froot Loops” I would no longer be able to eat “Froot Loops.” Our family didn’t even have Froot Loops in the house, so the whole thing was over-thinking on my part. The feeling was real, though – like I was on a high dive with everyone watching. What should I do? What if I jump and it is the very opposite of what I would want in my life? I wanted to live my life not have someone else’s life lived through me. I had heard other people talk about Jesus and always considered them to be freaks. I didn’t understand how someone bleeding two thousand years ago could do anything for me today? How does any of this make sense?
Well, to make a long story short, I jumped. I did what was unreasonable and illogical. I trusted in something I couldn’t see, hear, taste or feel. I did the absurd. It wouldn’t be the last time.
I spent the next six weeks attempting to convince my parents I did not join a cult. There is something about a child coming home from a weekend at his sister’s apartment proclaiming that he is born again that is a little unnerving to parents. It didn’t help in the weeks to come when I had a ‘theological discussion’ with my parents and affirmed that they were going to hell if they didn’t do what I had done. Twelve year-olds are annoying enough without the ‘you are going to hell’ speech. Christ had come into my life, but I still had the tact of a tweener. Though it was clumsy and awkward in expression, I felt like I had latched onto something great and unexplainable. I wanted them to feel what I had done, but explaining it was difficult.
I eventually went to Penn State University where I studied philosophy and religion. Between twelve and eighteen I had read several books on Christianity and listened to kooky pastors on the radio. I was ready to talk about my faith with my professors. I figured one or two would give their lives to Christ. Really. Then I met Dr Peterson. He was a plucky professor with a balding head, large glasses, quick wit and smile. He looked harmless, but looks are deceiving in academia, and each day brought another assault on the life of faith. Dr Peterson, it seemed, saw his mission to suck the faith out of every student that he had. He would get into long and intense arguments with students over everything and anything that exposed the absurdity of faith. There were stories in my circle of friends of people who had left the faith because of Dr Peterson. He was a legendary spiritual Goliath.
It gets hard debating with someone who can run circles around you intellectually. I reached a point where I felt tapped out. I had spent the last half dozen years reading, listening and generally learning reasons for my belief. I had become a good apologist and I was faring miserably at the hands of my first real challenge. This was frustrating – I had already nailed down faith. I had made the most important discovery of eternal life and made sense of Jesus. These were settled issues – at this point in my life I should be building on these foundations instead of questioning them.
It got to a point where I felt miserable. I wasn’t sure what to believe. One night I went back to my room, didn’t even turn on the lights, locked the door and went over to my bed and started to cry. I was scared, tired, and confused. I felt like at this point in my life I was supposed to have a lot more answers. I had become a huge disappointment, I had begun to question my faith. All my reasons for believing were being dismantled. My mind went blank and something escaped my lips – “Lord, I have no reason to believe in you.”