It was Easter morning, the first time I’d ever decided to “get up and go to church.” I wasn’t sure I belonged, but when the preacher said, “He is risen” I joined in on the reply, “He is risen indeed!” I wasn’t certain it was true, but I wanted it to be. Did that count?
I’d made a leap of faith, yet still had doubts. So the following year I went on a pilgrimage. After leading a field study program in England, I hitchhiked to the Swiss Alps. To be clear, I booked a ferry across the Channel (hitchhiking on the ocean is iffy), then hitchhiked to a Swiss learning community called L’Abri (“Shelter”). Why? Because Francis Schaeffer, famous for his rigorous, intellectual approach to faith, lived and lectured there, along with a number of other well-regarded teachers.
I arrived, hungry to have my doubts assuaged. Instead, I learned the community was on its annual housekeeping retreat. The charming chalets were closed, and all of the teachers, including Dr. Schaeffer, were gone.
I was disappointed, to say the least, and quickly running out of money. So I rented a mattress in a hayloft at a nearby farm. No Heidi, no adorable goats, just pigs. But the smell wasn’t bad. Until they opened the sliding doors to the pigpens. Then the piggy perfume permeated every pore of my body, making me want to jump off the nearest cliff mid-yodel.
So that night I huddled in the fresh alpine air at a bonfire along with the dozen or so other spiritually hungry intellectuals who’d arrived the wrong week. We began to share our stories of yearning and doubt. An Iranian agnostic, a dissatisfied Turkish atheist, an Indian from a town founded by St. Thomas, a self-loathing Scottish teacher who alluded to having committed some “unforgiveable act,” a depressed Japanese grad student… All had questions, none had answers. Except, it seemed, me.
To my surprise, I had honest, if imperfect, answers. I told the Scot about the heinous crimes of King David, “a man after God’s own heart.” I spoke to the Iranian about the character of a God who not only could be known, but wanted to be known. I seemed to have responses that made sense to them. Ones I hadn’t even realized I had.
So I spent the next two nights leading an ad hoc seminar, surrounded by breathtaking examples of God’s artistry: mountains and souls. We argued, laughed, bonded, and worshiped in completely unorthodox ways—God’s favorite form—until late each night.
Three days later, I left feeling strangely satisfied. Not all of my questions had been answered. But somehow, the one that really mattered —
That one had.