When young I was active in my local synagogue where I had my Bar Mitzvah and was in the youth group. Later in college, I was treasurer of the Hillel Jewish group, but functionally an atheist. I drank heavily and engaged in improper relationships with women but justified this by lowering my standards. I enjoyed debating others including Christians, but none could convince me that Jesus was not just a misguided Jewish man of the 1st century.
While studying toward a master’s degree in psychology I began to read the Bible and attend a Bible study to be more “well-rounded.” During long walks home from university at night I began silently talking to God, in imitation of what I had read of Abraham. I remembered Abraham bargained with God concerning his nephew Lot, and I figured since I was Jewish, I could also do this. So, I told God that if within one week He gave me the answer to one of my intellectual objections to faith that I would do whatever it took to learn more about who He was, even if it led to something ridiculous like believing in Jesus.
That week I was on the phone with my mother and asked why she and my father had not stepped in more to deal with bullying when I was young and she said it was to avoid keeping me from turning into the man I was meant to be. As I got off the phone it struck me this could be a partial answer to my nagging question of why God allows suffering. I tried to ignore this, but impossible as it seemed, God appeared to have kept His side of the bargain by answering one of my questions. Now I felt I had to keep my end of the bargain with God!
The next day I went to a Christian friend and said that I needed to find out the truth about God. He suggested I read the New Testament and lent me a Bible, but one with archaic English that made reading it difficult. I had many questions including whether God calls people to rational or “blind” faith, and how defendable an agnostic or atheist world view was. I also read some helpful literature such as “The Evidence for the Resurrection” by J.N.D. Anderson.
On a long weekend I drove home to see my father and told him of my struggle to figure out what was true, and frustration at not being able to read the Bible. He said my uncle had sent a modern Bible translation to my brother, who did not want it and had therefore given it to my dad the day before. My dad gave this Bible to me, and I was so excited at how readable it was that I read ten chapters that night.
The next day I drove to my old college town and told my girlfriend Lynne, who was a Christian, that I was conflicted about what I believed. She said I should “put my faith in Jesus” but I said that unless I was sure Jesus was who He claimed to be, I could not do this and that I was close to just tossing the issue out the door. That Sunday I woke with a strange burning desire to go to church. I rushed downstairs, only to have Lynne’s mom tell us we could go back to bed, since the church furnace had broken, and services were canceled. We found another church and arrived as the minister began preaching from a passage that I had just read the last night. In this passage Jesus said “Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3: 34-35). Hearing this I realized that part of why I was hesitant to believe, despite having most of my intellectual objections resolved, was because I knew my family might be furious.
At the end of the message, I went to speak to the minister, and he walked me through a booklet called the “Four Spiritual Laws.” He read John 3:16 to me and asked if I believed this, to which I replied, that I thought it was possibly true. He then said that the Bible says all people have sinned, leading to spiritual death and separation from God as it states in Isaiah 59:2, and 64:6. He asked if I agreed, receiving another non-committal reply from me.
Now it got uncomfortable because he said Jesus was God’s only provision to deal with my sin, God having demonstrated His love in sending Jesus to die in my place (Isa. 53:5-6; Rom. 5:8). The minister then said that to be forgiven by God I needed to personally put my faith in Jesus, receiving Him as my Savior (Messiah) as it says in John 1:12. He asked if I wanted to do this and to my shock, I heard myself say, “Yes.” The minister was excited and asked me to pray the suggested prayer from the booklet. I refused, saying that if all he told me was true, that God would hear a prayer in my own words, and I proceeded to hesitantly pray.
While the minister was excited, I did not feel any different and was unsure anything had really happened. However, Lynne was ecstatic and I figured if by some chance something had happened when I prayed, then maybe my life would get easier. Instead, that day I was kicked out of the house by her parents. I drove six hours chased by a winter storm and arrived back where I lived just in time to go to my friend’s home Bible study.
The next week, I read “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis. This fantasy novel consists of letters of advice written by a senior demon to a novice demon. At one point, the demon advises how to deceive humans about the true nature of a specific sin. I was astounded to realize that my rationalizations were the same ones the senior demon in the novel had suggested getting humans to believe. Suddenly I felt like God was the size of a mountain looming over me and realized how offensive my behavior had been in the sight of a holy God. I prayed to God something like this, “God, I don’t know if I really believed when I prayed last Sunday, but now I know that I have sinned before You and do need to be forgiven. I believe that Jesus died in my place to pay for my sins and ask You to forgive me based on what He did for me and to be the man you know I should become.”
I valued my Jewish heritage, did not want to discard it and joyfully found in the Bible that the coming of Jesus was a fulfillment of Messianic prophecies (such as Isaiah 53), and that my new faith was not a rejection of my heritage, but a completion. To this day I deeply value my Jewish heritage, observe Hanukah and Passover at home, and have sought to help my children realize how wonderful their heritage is.
God has graciously forgiven me and brought me into a relationship with Himself and given me a wonderful family and career as a biologist. I had previously been foul-mouthed, often drunk, manipulated women, and engaged in petty theft. But by God’s grace, my life was radically changed. I am far from perfect, but I have come to realize that while the mountain top experiences of special joy in the Lord are wonderful, often it is in the valleys of daily life that I best come to know, trust, obey, and become like my Lord. Through it all, I am thankful to God for allowing me to know Him, as not only my Savior and Messiah in Jesus, but as the best friend I could ever have!