by Rob Snow
On the morning of August 7th, I woke up, read the news, checked Twitter, and a new friend texted, urging me to read from Ephesians. As I read how I’d been “dead in the trespasses and sins” in which I once walked, and that by nature I was a child of wrath, I measured in myself a void the dimension of God—of impossible depth and breadth and height. By that lateness of summer, I’d come from where I’d been so long a ways closer to God: there and back again. I had been born, I had died. Now I was to be born again.
My journey walking hand in hand with the Lord begins fifteen-odd years earlier, when first I visited church with my Godmother. I asked her when I saw the Priest, “Is that God?” I didn’t attend Sunday School and I was raised desiring spiritual elevation, finding it everywhere except in my heart. Yet I remember the sharp and certain Grace with which my Godmother spoke of the Lord, and how she spoke of Christ Jesus as if He stood beside us in the room. Failing to witness the Lord with my eyes, yet I apprehended the uncanny sensation of a presence—so omnipresent as to be invisible.
In high school, I failed class and read philosophy. I sought Truth, capital “T.” I wanted to know the secrets of the Universe and I supposed that if God did exist, God would likely provide me some means to comprehend my purpose. And yet, the multitude of possibility crowded my avenues of choice. What did God want me to do? Which path was I to follow? I pondered whether I wasn’t God. And why not? For all I knew, it was my world, and everyone else was simply living in it. Then I only needed to uncover the tools to manipulate the Universe—to figure out, as the Creator, how I’d done it.
Freshman year of college, some comical unknown angel and agent of the Lord paired me up with a Christian roommate in the dorms. The first night we met, we started a debate we’ve yet to finish. I imagine someday we’ll argue just how much we’ll never know, amid that wonderful old afterglow of a lifetime’s wisdom and friendship.
He often spoke Truth to me through our University years. I remember he often quoted Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” For a season, I ineffectually sought proof of the Lord. I wanted Christ to drop through the clouds upon a sunbeam to redeem me. I attended Tuesday night worships, Church most Sundays, and I immersed myself in the Southern California Christian community. I remember challenging so many kind and patient hearts to furnish me with the very wood of the cross. Then I saw Dallas Willard speak on campus one evening and he asked who among us believed in the Gospel.
Most affirmed their belief. I was silent. Willard replied, “You’re right.” He seemed so absolutely certain, I was appalled that such a reasonable and learned man could delude himself to believe a man could walk on water, that a touch could heal the sick, or that somehow Jesus Christ was the son of God: dead, resurrected, and sure to return. Willard concluded his lecture with a timeless little maxim. He said: “Doubt your doubts, doubt your beliefs, but don’t believe your doubts.”
Years later, I remembered Willard’s wisdom in a Berkeley underroom overlooking a wild overgrowth of orange and yellow Nasturtium blossoms. I’d finally graduated college, and for a few months, I had a place of solitude to think for a while and practice my own personal brand of Yoga. I played piano and guitar, sung at the top of my lungs, and felt a strange sense that the animals and insects in the garden seemed to like me very much. Damselflies scheduled layovers upon my thighs and hummingbirds swung around to say hello. Steller’s Jays and all the range of little finches and robins coursed through the garden that summer. My heart blossomed.
By the end of the summer, I concluded that some something in close cahoots with the natural world seemed to love me quite a bit. I couldn’t comprehend it! I began to direct my questions to God. “God,” I would say, “I am an absolute and utter scoundrel. Why on earth would you bless me like this? Punish me. Let me be Hell’s Caretaker. Let’s work something out. But for your sake, give this to someone else.” Then I would think the better and add, “Or give it to both of us. Oh, please let this go on. Don’t let it be one of those bless me then punish me type of ordeals.”
I had come to believe in God, and that I wasn’t Him. I hadn’t laid the foundation of the earth, hadn’t shut in the sea with doors, nor draped clouds over the oceans. I was not in control of my fate. I would not live if God chose not to sustain me. So there was a God after all, and even more unbelievable, God didn’t hate me. Indeed, God perhaps even Loved me. If I had doubted my beliefs all my life, I finally surmised to doubt my doubts. Why not God? Why not Jesus? I left Berkeley with a calling: I was to pack my bags, to sift through all my belongings and split the sheep from the goats. I had a journey ahead of me, and I had no idea the destination.
I packed for a long camping trip. I figured that to find God, I must disappear into the wilderness and travail the requisite forty days and forty nights. I was distracted from leaving, however, by a round of profoundly meaningful conversations with my parents. Some force worked in my life to repair considerably broken, considerably important relationships. Then, because my house needed construction, I was compelled to spend a few nights alone at an AirBnB.
Entranced by an oddly moving inspiration, I chose to stay with a friendly looking older couple, Joanna and Rob, at their house in Fairfax, California. Unknown to me at the time, the house, formerly deemed “The Compound,” had for decades sheltered lost souls seeking sanctuary, healing, and redirection. Joanna and Rob fed me twice a day, and I gladly joined their prayers before each meal. They were devout Christians.
I had never encountered such strong and beautiful souls, and the words they spoke to me, in prayer and conversation throughout the next few days, broke my heart. I had heard the words of the Gospel for years. Ryan, my college roommate, had set my soul in a marinade of wisdom; had spiced it. Now the impossible suggested itself possible in the stunning Grace and age of these people and their belief—that Christ could have performed His miracles; that this world, this reality could be somehow supernatural. I think today of a passage from Colossians 3 in which Paul the Apostle and Timothy remind us of our extraordinary reality:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
In Joanna and Rob, I could discern no speck of deceit. “Could it truly be?” I wondered. Why not? Martin Luther King Jr. believed in Christ. And Tolstoy. August before the election, I heard it spoken without a quaver of fear that everything would turn out just exactly as God intended it. I envisioned that the embodiment of Evil itself might quake to hear such confidence in the will of a Good God. Joanna and Rob were Good people, I could feel it. To believe in Christ, however, I thought I’d have to defy my better reason.
Joanna recommended I meet her son-in-law, a 260-pound former college football star who lived with his wife and kids in Sausalito. I agreed, if only out of curiosity. My life proceeded down a path predestined for it. I gave up control at that point, and agreed with myself that whatever should happen, I would travel the natural course of it. I would try to put myself in God’s favor with this overt display of Faith in fate.
I met with Arron for an hour. He sat beside me on a couch eating chicken salad from a colossal serving bowl while fifteen children ran about outside in the sun and played in the pool. Bob Marley played over the speakers and wind billowed the curtains to the windows of an old schoolhouse retrofitted to triple as a house, chapel, and multi-purpose room. The instruments from a concert given by the children the night previous still set the stage.
Arron told me it was his earthly Garden, “Given, brother. Given.” And when Arron spoke of God’s blessings, he narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice. Written on a chalkboard in Greek was the word “weakness.”Arron had lost everything in the 2007 economic crisis. After a period of crisis, he had fallen to his knees before the throne of the Lord and given himself utterly. He read to me from 1 Corinthians:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(1 Corinthians 12:9)
Arron looked like he could’ve played football for the UC Berkeley Bears that tomorrow. He was a monumentally large person with a voice like a sandpaper drum and a laugh like ancient warriors. To hear the man speak of his own weakness was to confront the image of a paradox: how could a man so strong claim to be so weak, and in turn, find so much strength in that weakness?
“The Bible is a book of the Spirit for the Spirit,” Arron told me. “Forget everything you think you know about Christianity and the Bible. Open the book, and let Jesus speak to your Spirit. The knowledge is already in you! That’s knowing the living God!” Arron liked to yell every syllable with pronounced joy. To this day, I consider him the most inspiring motivator I’ve ever heard. That day in early August, an excitement flowed through me as though I had found the “X” to mark the treasure. The inquisitive zeal of childhood returned to me in a rush and I felt youthly beyond measure.
“I-I have to leave right now,” I told Arron. He told me he Loved me, that I was his brother, and he committed himself to sending me Bible quotes as he felt called to do so. I said goodbye to his family and took one last look back at that earthly kind of paradise, entirely dumbfounded by the emotions coursing my circulatory system. I felt like the Grinch when his heart grows.
In my garage at home, I found the threadbare Bible given me by Ryan during one of my college Christian phases. I told my parents I wanted a little privacy, isolated myself around the side of my house beneath an overhang, and I said a little prayer.
“Okay God, if you’re the real deal, what do you want me to read? Speak to my Spirit.” I opened the book and discovered Habakkuk’s complaints. I remember identifying so much with that mysterious prophet with a name that meant “embrace,” and yet who spoke with so much doubt:
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
It was difficult for me then to comprehend that one of God’s own prophets should speak with such candor of his outright despair.
“God,” I prayed, inspired by Habbakuk, “I don’t believe. I’m never going to repent. That is exactly why I’m praying. That is exactly why I’m reading the Bible. What am I doing? What’s the point? If you’re going to kill me, just kill me already. Don’t keep me sitting here reading the Bible, because I feel ridiculous.”
I opened the Bible again and found Nahum, the prophet with a name meaning “comfort.” What I read seemed to trace the narrative of what was occurring in my heart:
7 The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
8 But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
My fear dissipated along with a lingering sense of impending doom. There was yet some life for me to live—some purpose unfulfilled. I felt a strong desire to align my will with the origin of this new source of self-comprehension. God spoke to me through the Bible. I concluded then, “God must speak through the Bible.” While I did not then go so far as to say that God only speaks through the Bible, that God could speak directly to my Spirit through the Bible was some revelation. I opened up the Bible again to the Book of Isaiah. It was in Isaiah that I was introduced to the Loving God I had met in the Nasturtium garden. God speaks through Isaiah to a “servant of YHWH.”
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
9 Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.
I suppose I had long heard passages of the Bible, but for the first time I considered something I never had: for all my knowledge of World literature, I could think of no book to match the Bible in terms of influence, beauty, or wisdom. Moreover, the Bible surpassed other books as the Universe surpasses an elementary school diorama. The Bible was no longer words to me, but a reality as tangible and physical as mountains and snow. To read Isaiah is to watch a sunset or watch the shimmer of a rainbow form on distant rain.
I opened the Bible again and Jesus spoke to me for the first time to say, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” I shall not forget His forewarning.
August 7th, I awoke as an unbeliever, but my heart was prepared. By the time Arron texted me, I must have already determined I could no longer live without Jesus. I was, by the Grace of God that morning, made alive in Christ—saved; raised up with him and seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. I repented for my Sins, called Christ my Lord and Savior, and I did not feel trapped; rather, I felt true freedom for the first time. I cannot comprehend this blessing, but only express my Thanks to the Lord for my experience of it—given:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.