Coming to Faith

Rosemary Althoff

by Rosemary B. Althoff

            I struggled since I was a baby with the supernatural. Are there really magic and miracles? If so, how do those fit in with science? I remember being three years old and struggling with the devil, because I knew the devil wanted to kill me. “Devil,” I said, “You can’t have me!”

            Once I was thinking (age four) about God and gravity, and I wondered if gravity always worked, or if it could be wondrously negated. I tried a test. It was a windy day, and there was a big sheaf of newspaper trash lying on the yard. I tossed it up, thinking the wind would carry it out and down the street, but it rose gently into the air, higher and higher, for about twenty feet, and then came back down and blew away. I ran to tell Dad (the engineer), and he gruffly answered, “It was a thermal updraft.” End of discussion. However, why, when everything else was blowing away, should the newspaper rise gently up, and why at the very moment when I was wondering about gravity?

            When I got a little older, I learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real. That made me furious—why would people deceive children? Think it’s cute, do you, to play with a child’s belief system? What about the Christian tripe about Noah’s ark and Jesus walking on water, and healing, and the resurrection—was that all a nice little story to comfort children, too?

            By the time I was ten, I was very confused. I had established in my mind that there was definitely a physical universe, although it was much stranger than I ever imagined when I read about atomic particles and interstellar spaces and DNA. But how did God fit into all this? Creator—then what were the evidences of a still-active God? It looked as if it had been created and then left alone to work itself out. Of course, I had heard about the Big Bang and the repetitive creation-destruction theory. If that were true, then the account in Genesis was a myth. If scientific theories of creation and the way cause-and-effect operates are true, then there wasn’t any more foundation for religious belief than there was for Santa Claus.

            As I neared the teenage years, questions about God were up front on my conscious mind and a source of some distress. My parents had created a fairly pleasant nest for me and my sisters, and I loved them, but I didn’t know how to tell them what I was thinking. By the time I was thirteen, I was in agony over my questions, but that strong feeling I didn’t discuss with anyone.

            About the same time, my father’s drug-addicted mother came to live with us. Our family suddenly became completely dysfunctional because nobody knew how to respond to a talented liar and manipulator who was also psychotic and dangerous. I felt conscious of a demonic presence in my home in Decatur, even though by that time I did not believe in demons.

            In this environment, I decided that the answer to my questions was this: Science is real; religion is a myth. The middle ground of Buddhism or Tao was available to me, but I felt it was a type of denial, a sidetrack from the real issues. I decided I was an atheist.

            However, I still had the problem of evil from time to time. I was attacked in my dreams. I had many close encounters with death from more “natural” causes.  And, although in my head I put the demonic in the category of myth, I couldn’t get away from the feeling of danger. I’d been caught in quicksand, carried out by a rip current, threatened with rape, and threatened by many more dangers, and I was not conscious of being afraid during those times. In fact, I thought I handled those physical dangers quite well—although I still didn’t tell anyone. But of the “ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night,” I was consciously afraid. It occurred to me that the fear of demons was just a psychological phenomenon, so I wrote it off (but it didn’t get better).

            Then, in my later teenage years, Becky began to play with witchcraft. When she reported that she and some friends had actually summoned the devil and talked with it, I decided it was time to part ways. Other friends of mine also played with magic and experienced amazing (but not happy) results. I wrote these supernatural stories off as unexplained but scientifically explainable happenings.

            Brave, scared, whimsical, deeply scared, trying to be logical, I found hope by reading and rereading Tolkien’s  Lord of the Rings. The hobbits’ adventure refreshed some part of my soul. I guess I heard or felt “God’s music.” I reasoned  that if the magic in Tolkien called to me so strongly, there might be something “behind” the magic that was real, even if hobbits and Middle Earth were not.

            In a disorganized, scattered way, I began to look for God. Besides Tolkien, I sampled Greek myth, the Ramayana, the Bible—and Karl Marx, the Time-Life series on Science, the Compton Encyclopedia, Herman Hesse, Arthur G. Clark, and a host of other books. What I saw was an acute opposition to religion that echoed my own.

            At age seventeen, I went to college at the University of Kentucky. I found some people I could open up to a little bit, such as the tarot-card reading student Denise, the beautiful but troubled Margaret. A huge influence was the young Methodist pastor who told about his dog howling at night for no reason except a creeping of fear—and he stated, “There is a demonic presence in the world.” I still didn’t think religion of any form was anything but philosophy; yet, how could there be a devil if there is no God? So, I began to call myself an agnostic.

            A friend, Michael, had given me C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, and I took the series to school. I had already sampled the Narnia chronicles and found them entertaining but not gripping the way Tolkien’s fantasy had gripped me. However, in Lewis’s Perelandra, I discovered that Lewis, too, took the devil seriously. Wow! If the demonic is real—then maybe God is!

            As a young teenager, I had read the big parts of the Bible and thought that I knew more about it than many of my Sunday School teachers. But, one evening at college, Denise suggested, mockingly, “Let’s read the Bible.” Going along with the scoffing, I turned at random to Ps. 53:1. I read, “The fool says there is no God.” The point was clear: The Bible was calling smart me a “fool.”

            I quickly turned to try something less “pointed” and “convicting.” Immediately, I leafed to Paul’s I Corinthians, “The Jews look for miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach the foolishness of Christ.” Again, the point was clear. I had looked for miracles and magic; I had adopted the wisdom of science. I had also regarded the Bible and Christianity as foolishness. So, my position was clear enough. I was a fool not to be a Christian and not one of the “we” that Paul talked about.

            My mind wanted to write off Christians as the “we.” In the old, staid church that my family attended while I was growing up, the “we Christians” were a narrow-minded, ignorant, and nasty collection of soap opera characters. Christianity was their culture, not their belief. If the Christian church was the “home of God,” then I didn’t particularly like that home or that god, either.

            In the fall of my first semester at the college, Margaret and Denise introduced me to some “we Christians” who weren’t ignorant or narrow-minded or nasty, who believed the Old and New Testaments and who showed me that they could argue with the Scriptures. I looked again into the Bible. My first memory verse was Is. 43:26: “Argue with me, says the Lord, and see if you can be proved right.” And I began arguing. I got into the Scriptures and argued with the miracles, with the resurrection, with the Trinity, with speaking in tongues, the 7-day creation, the role of women, the divinity and purpose of Jesus, baptism and the Holy Spirit, and much more. I learned to read the Bible in Greek so that I could argue with it more thoroughly, and I learned the “historical grammatical method” of textual analysis so I could even argue with any version of the Bible.

            When I got done, I wanted to be a Christian. One Tuesday night in October, Margaret asked me to pray with her in her dormitory room to receive the Lord Jesus. To my surprise, I said, “Yes!”

            In this process of coming to faith in Jesus, I learned that not only is the universe weird, so is God. The Master of the Universe that the Bible presents is much more complex and interesting than what I had ever imagined. I was able to frame my questions differently and get an answer. Instead of “Which is true: magic, science, or religion?” I asked, “When and how are magic, science, and religion true?”

            Back to the problem of the supernatural … I did and still do have problems with demonic encounters. Fortunately, those are not as frequent as when I was a child. I have learned to be appropriately afraid of physical danger and less afraid of relationships with people. I have seen miracles: I don’t need a magic wand or spell; I can simply call on God if my need is great. He is a God who has presented himself as real whether I want him to be or not and of a kind, powerful, good, loving character.

            Now, here I am, many years a Christian. I have learned a great deal since those growing-up years. My prayer to receive Jesus was only the beginning of a long, long battle. This story of my conversion is the basis of what I want to communicate in my Soul’s Warfare books.

            In sum, I can say to my readers: “There is magic in the universe, and it is very close to you. It is more awful, wonderful, dangerous, and good than you ever thought. Also, there is a battle at hand, whether you acknowledge it or deny it, and you are going to be a pawn and a player in the battle even if you think you chose to stay neutral. A happy outcome for you has already been prepared (but not “fixed” like fate). But it is not the rosy road you hoped for and you have the opportunity to join the enemy if you get discouraged.”

            Like my character, atheist physicist Lewis, I wrestled with faith. I did join the enemy—but God rescued me.

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