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On Higher Ground

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By Bill Horner

A crisis of faith at the tender age of 14

 

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

But that was my problem—believing in what was not seen. 

A young teenager has much to deal with just being a young teenager.  He is undergoing major changes physically, emotionally, and socially.  He is facing life choices that will significantly impact his future.  He is forming his own convictions.  Will he believe because “that’s just the way I was raised”?  Or will he believe because in his heart and mind he truly believes?

My close friend Eddy and I were in the eighth grade when he confided to me one day that he wasn’t sure if he could claim faith in the Lord for himself.  “Do you ever wonder if you can really believe what you’ve been told all your life?” he asked me one afternoon as we were riding our bicycles to the drug store in Knoxville.  I did not quite understand his meaning that day. 

But a year later I found myself struggling with the same question.  For this young 14-year-old, raised in a Christian family, taken to church regularly, baptized at age seven, was suddenly unsure if there even was a God.  To this day I do not know what so upset my theological applecart.  Perhaps it was my college-aged brother seeking to persuade me that human beings had descended from lower life forms.  Perhaps atheist Madelyn Murry O’Hair’s constant haranguing of Christians contributed to my doubts.  Perhaps it was just the wild and crazy late 1960’s, during which time everything decent seemed to be coming unglued.   For whatever reason, I suddenly questioned the very existence of God.

It was a quite unsettling period of my life.  Human nature cries out for One who is greater, One to whom we are accountable, One on whom we can lean for support, One who can infuse life with meaning.  The beauty of a spring day, the camaraderie at a church fellowship or school ballgame, the studious quiet of a public library all seem to testify to a Creator, One higher than ourselves.   “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20). 

Yet as I gazed up at the sky, all I saw were clouds.  How could I know for sure I wasn’t just praying to the wind?  Even sunny days felt oppressive and dark to me.  For if God indeed did not exist, what was the point in—anything?  I found myself begging God with tears in my eyes to restore my belief in Him.  That was odd, praying to the God I wasn’t even sure was there, about His existence no less!

One day in Algebra I class, Mr. Roberts the instructor unwittingly gave me immeasurable help with my dilemma as he corrected a classmate for her ditzy answer to a math question.  Pointing out the window toward that same sky and clouds, he chided her, “Why do you think the good Lord gave you a brain!”  What I heard was a man much smarter than I, one who even taught a class in logic to seniors, saying he had no problem believing in a God he could not see.

In church on Sunday night soon after that incident, the pastor’s words seemed to carry the ring of truth as he preached from the Scriptures.  The Spirit of God Himself seemed to reassure me of his Presence and love, even though I still could not see Him.  I realized that, while He gives us good reason to trust in Him, our belief still requires a step of faith.  I consciously chose that night to believe and not doubt the God I had believed on as a child. 

My ordeal had lasted only two weeks, but it seemed like an eternity to a young teenager.  My convictions, however, were now surely my own.

 “Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it’” (Mark 10:15).