I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant…Genesis 32:10
Before I went to college, I had been baptized twice, each time into a different church. I was christened as a baby into a non-denominational church not long after my birth and then again as a Baptist sixteen years later. Religion and going to church were always a part of my life, sort of like going to school or paying taxes. It was just something you had to do so you wouldn’t get into too much trouble. God was like a distant relative you talk to every once in a while so they don’t think you only call on them when you need something, which is usually what the deal is. I knew He was there but I didn’t really know what role, if any, He was playing in my life. I didn’t know if any of my prayers had ever really been answered or if sometimes things just happened to go my way. I wasn’t too concerned about it either way.
During my first year of college, I didn’t do a whole lot besides skip class and eat ramen. I had no motivation and it showed in my GPA. I did so poorly my first semester at A&M that they sent me a letter saying if I didn’t bring my grades up ASAP, they were gonna kick me out. In my defense, I was only taking 12 hours so one bad grade was sure to tank my GPA and that’s basically what happened. I got a D in biology which brought my GPA down to a 1.6 and had me revisiting my past dreams of living life as a carney. But anyway, my grades aren’t important right now. SPOILER ALERT: I graduated. But all that time I had to spend studying that next semester meant I spent even less time outside of my dorm room which meant I spent a lot of time with my roommate.
It had been a while since I shared a room. Growing up, my brother and I had bunks beds wherever we lived while my sister got her own room. I got my own space in high school for a few years and then in college they roomed me with a complete stranger. His name was Richard. Living with someone and not getting to know them at all would have been incredibly awkward so Richard and I would sometimes spend hours at night just talking about our families or our interests or what we wanted to do in the future. I don’t remember how it came up but one day we started talking about religion. I think I had asked him something like “isn’t it crazy how this happened?” when discussing a Bible story and he told me it was a good story. But the way he said it hinted that that’s all he thought it was. A story. I found out later he was an atheist.
That in itself was interesting to me. I had known atheists before but they were all the belligerent high school types who thought not believing in God was edgy. Richard was different and explained to me his lack of belief in the truthfulness of the scriptures and Christ and religion in general. I wasn’t convinced by his points but I wasn’t well-versed enough in apologetics to dispute any of them. So I just listened and absorbed it all and made note of the things I wanted to look into further.
Over the summer, I tried to read the Bible. But like anyone who has ever read the Bible from the beginning will tell you, it was boring. So I skipped on to the good stuff. I read a few war chapters and some of the Gospels and then Revelations. But I was re-reading all the stories I was familiar with. I wasn’t learning anything new. And most of the problem was that I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to learn. All I knew was that Christianity was right and that if I ever came across another atheist, I wanted to be able to convey the message of the Bible to them in a way that they would at least have a seed of faith planted. I had been taught that non-believers went to Hell and I didn’t want that for anyone if I could help it. But I couldn’t help others if I didn’t know what I was talking about. I needed someone to teach me. I needed a community.
When I got back to school for my sophomore year, I went to an open house for all the clubs on campus and signed up for multiple Christian organizations. In the end, I stuck with two. One was called A&M Christian Fellowship and the other was call Intervarsity. Leaders in each group wanted me to drop out of the other, but I don’t like being told what to do so I stayed in them both. They each met different needs that I had. AMCF offered me a community of friends to hang out with, go to church with, and discuss different gospel topics and how they applied to our lives with. Intervarsity gave me a mentor in its staff leader, Ben, and helped me get deeper into the history and meaning behind the scriptures.
During one of my first meetings with AMCF, the student leader had us all sit around in a circle with our eyes closed. He would tell us to raise our hands if we thought X and keep them down if we didn’t. One of the prompts for us was to raise our hands if we thought we would go to Heaven if we died at that very moment. I couldn’t honestly say that I would. So I kept my hand down. Later on, he took me to the side and asked me why I didn’t raise my hand. I told him I didn’t feel good enough or worthy enough to get into Heaven. I knew Jesus loved me. But why? Who am I to Him? My friend prayed over me and asked God to fill my heart and mind with the knowledge that I was His son and that my ticket to Heaven was paid for by the blood of Christ. I didn’t have to be good enough.
It was a nice sentiment but left me confused. If nothing I did could keep me out of Heaven, then why even try? Why work towards something you could get with no effort? It’s not a goal if it’s a gimme. I would need to continue to think and pray and study on my own.
So I did.
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