The truth that compelled me to journey from atheism to faith also had a profound impact on my spiritual mentor C.S. Lewis. Here, in three parts, is my story.
Few have brought so much baggage along on their journey of faith—my carry-on was way over the weight limit—as I had when I got down on my knees in the dark and declared my dependence upon God in the bicentennial year 1976. I simply had no choice; the Hound of Heaven had tracked me down and cornered me in my little cinderblock study. I had no idea that nearly fifty years earlier a reticent Oxford don named C. S. Lewis, known to his friends as “Jack,” had made the same begrudging journey from atheism to deism to Christ:
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had a last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” (Surprised by Joy)
Why did I surrender? Why did Jack? We did so because there was a hunger in us that nothing else could satisfy. A year or so before, I had begun to reluctantly admit my desire for God, but continued to struggle with the conviction that it was not enough to merely want Him. Believing in Him had to make sense—clean, empirical sense—and at this point it did not. I still considered the religious impulse, as Freud argued, a universal neurosis (though, in truth, the riggings of religion have never held any appeal for me; it’s God I want).
“Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door we have always seen from the outside, is not mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.” (The Weight of Glory)
My hunger for God didn’t become apparent until…well, I could gloss over the circumstances, but the truth is that it came while I was literally sleeping with my backslidden Christian girlfriend, Katherine.
I don’t recall if I was dreaming, but I suddenly sat up, and said, in a voice that belonged to the Hound, not me, “Come unto me.” I said it twice, and then just sat there, thinking, What the ——? I had a vague idea that it sounded “like something from the Bible.” I’d never actually read the Bible. Though I had slept through The Greatest Story Ever Told in Cinemascope.
Kat sat up, blinking, and stared at me, then quietly and authoritatively said, “Whoa. God is after you.” And so it began. Or from God’s perspective, I suppose, continued.
That was when I became truly conscious of my desire for God. Kat left shortly thereafter. But the hunger for God didn’t. In fact, it grew. I spent more than a few nights standing in the dark, shouting, “Look, if You’re there, could you just cough or something?” I swore I’d follow Him forever if He’d just prove His presence.
No cough. Not even a slight clearing of the throat.
And so I began to think of the longing for God as a hunger for a flavor that didn’t exist.
To read Part Two, click here.