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Growing up in an Evangelical home, I recall my parents
occasionally lamenting the defection of a recent convert. In some cases
they had spent months, even years, evangelizing and teaching new Christians
only to have some of them return their old ways of life.
This puzzled me. How could they leave the truth? Why? As a child so much
seemed clear to me: the existence of God, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ,
the reality of sin, and the need for salvation. Now, older and hopefully
wiser, I find that I am more sympathetic and, yet, just as puzzled.
The seemingly clear vision of youth, inevitably tested, either dims or deepens.
The way and the why of how faith comes, goes, withers, or grows is a mystery.
But that doesnt make for easy excuses. Rather, by Gods grace,
the lessons of life can provide reason for greater faith and hope. But the
theological virtues of faith and hope can be fragile, just as the desires
and secrets of the human heart can be elusive.
In Bible College I became friends with Ben, a brilliant student with a passion
for learning and for truth. We talked, prayed, laughed, and cried together,
sharing our passion for Jesus Christ. We discussed our common love for art
and literature, and Ben introduced me to the work of great authors, including
Walker Percy, the Catholic novelist.
Today, Ben is not a Christian. Following Bible College he moved to London,
earning a doctorate in philosophy. Out of touch for a while, we reconnected
through the Internet and e-mail. Both of us were walking away from Evangelicalism:
I was on the path to Rome and he was on the road to doubt. He began to openly
scoff at the doctrine of the Trinity and the historical validity of much
of the Bible.
Distance and sporadic correspondence made it difficult to gauge what was
transpiring in Bens life. Then, after another long silence, he e-mailed,
his bitterness obvious: he was getting divorced. Soon thereafter, he flatly
stated: "I am no longer a Christian." He added: "While no
longer holding to the dogma of Christianity, this is not because I wish
to deny its claims, but merely because I am not swayed by them."
What had happened? How could Ben leave the truth? His faith, so vibrant
years before, had died.
Two years ago I met Bob and Susan, a young couple who had walked a long,
tortured path in a short amount of time. They attended an Evangelical Bible
college together, married, then inexplicably, in the midst of personal crisis,
embraced Wiccan. After two years they returned to Protestantism, but flirted
with Judaism and Eastern religions.
Then, dramatically, they decided upon Catholicism. But on the cusp of entering
the Church they began doubting the validity of Vatican II and Churchs
ecumenical endeavors. At the last moment they changed their minds and became
Catholic. But six months later they began attending a Society of St. Piux
X parish, explaining to bewildered friends that had found the "true
Church." For whatever reason Bob and Susan cannot fully embrace and
hold onto the gift of faith.
As an apologist its easy to think of an endless list of reasons to
be Christian. As a convert I know arguments why the Catholic Church is the
true Church of Christ. But while faith and reason are not enemies, faith
is ultimately a gift, a grace. And the cares of the world, fear, bitterness,
and pride eat away at that precious gift.
Pride is often the strongest enemy of faith. Once humility and gratitude
are trampled down, the temptation to rely on our natural abilities begins
to swell. But the human mind and heart are dark without the supernatural
light of faith. "We walk by faith, not by sight," writes Saint
Paul. That doesnt mean life is easy, but it makes eternal life possible.
(This column originally appeared
as "Only Words" in October 2004 in National
Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission.)
is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He resides in a top secret
location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento,
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