One of my greatest struggles in life has been with the issue of faith. Is there really a God? What does believing in Him mean for my daily life? These have been issues which I have consciously wrestled with since my teenage years. Are “believers” willing to live as if the LORD is real or do we just say we believe in God to justify our efforts to control others or hate them?
It was not until my senior year in college that I came to accept God’s existence as something I did believe. Though that journey is a story in itself, what I will relate here actually occurred nearly a year after I came to believe in God.
In January, 1976, I was driving across the state of Pennsylvania, headed east for my second semester at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The weather was quite cold, there was snow on the ground, but the roads were in fairly good condition. Another seminarian was riding with me, a man whom I had sponsored when he entered the Orthodox Church the previous year. Just a little bit east of Dubois, Pennsylvania, we came up over a slight hill. As is still clear in my mind, more exactly, burned into my memory, I saw before me a sheet of ice. Stopped on the right side of the road was a semi, tractor-trailer rig. Like a magnet I felt the car being pulled, too rapidly for me to react, sliding right toward the semi. I knew I had no control over my car. I frantically pumped the brakes and attempted to steer. Like life itself, that car was not in my control. A second of terror gripped me as I knew what was going to happen. And then, life for one instant was a massive explosion as the green Chevy Vega I was driving crumpled like an accordion on impact with the truck.
Perhaps a minute or two passed, and then ever so slowly the ringing in my ears and the fog in my eyes became noticeable as I drifted out of my stunned, deafened state and began to understand what happened. My car mate was unconscious. The steering wheel was pushing against my chest. The windshield was an amazing pattern beaded glass. I could hear but without really understanding the sounds. Blood was pouring down from my forehead where a countless number of glass beads had imbedded themselves. An unknown face appeared in the passenger window. “Oh, God,” he said as he looked at me. I heard him retching just outside my window. I raised a blood soaked hand and implored someone, anyone, “Help me.”
Another face appeared after what seemed like forever. He said he was a doctor. There had been an accident. He kept asking me if I understood. He told me not to talk and put gauze and tape on my lower lip which was virtually ripped off. More gauze on my forehead. “An ambulance is on its way. Do you understand, son?” Sort of, but I wanted someone to help me.
Then it seemed that no one was there, but me. My car mate did not move, nor moan. I could not tell if he was alive, and a wave of nausea passed through me.
It was my habit to drive in the car without wearing a coat. Now, all I could feel was cold. It was very cold. Getting colder. The blood continued to run down my face, blocking completely my vision in my left eye. I wanted out of the car but the door seemed jammed. I was stuck where I was. There was no escape.
I wanted to pray. It is the right thing to do in an emergency. Isn’t it? I am after all not just a Christian, I am a seminarian. I know how to pray. I do believe. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” The words. They are just words. “There is no Father. There is no heaven.” (What was that voice?) O GOD, help me, I’m feeling sick. Father, have mercy. “Where is your God? There is no one to help you.” Pray. Pray. “Our Father…” “Fool! No Father. No God. No help. Who are you calling for? Be still. I am coming for you. You are mine.” Father, God where are you? “There is no God. No god. It’s over.” I must believe. I know I believed. I was so sure. God? “There is no god.” Who are you? Who is that speaking to me? God, can’t you hear me? I’m cold. I’m lonely. I’m afraid. god? Have I been deceived? Nothing. I cannot carry on. I don’t have the strength. I do not believe. There truly is nothing there. It’s over. I have nothing left. It is very cold. Very dark. I am no more.
St. Paul wrote, “When I am weak, then He is strong” (2 Cor 12:10). In that very moment when I, that self, so confident in my own strength, in my own beliefs, in my own wits, in my own ability to control my destiny, when that big I died, then I knew there was God. It was harder to see, the blood pouring down my face prevented me from seeing. And suddenly though my eyes were closed, I saw light. That light was warming me. And He was there. I knew it. I did not bring Him there. I did not believe Him into existence. God is. And the God who is rescues and saves even the one who doesn’t believe. God’s grace is complete. And in that moment I knew God was with me, no matter how things might turn out. But, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).
I shall never forget that day. I thought I would never again forget God. I thought nothing could put my faith to the test again. But, I was wrong, for I am alive. I live in a world which puts my beliefs to the test. Strangely God has made me capable of faith and unbelief. Capable of loving Him and ignoring Him. He has made me free to choose and called me to make my choice. And I realized that believing in God did not mean that I would never doubt, for faith is hope (Heb 11:1) in God not proof of God’s existence.
And though today I can say I believe in one God maker of Heaven and earth, my relationship to my Lord is living, changing, growing and I wrestle daily with the God who made me free to believe and yet who hides himself in the mysteries of life. Most amazing of all, the God who creates and saves can save even me in times of unbelief and carry me toward His Kingdom. He does not stop me from doubting, but can speak to me even in my doubt, and reach through my fears to comfort me. A crisis of faith may in fact not be erecting a wall between God and me, but rather may in fact be tearing down all my false ideas about God, tearing down the idol I set up in place of the true God, and removing all my selfish concepts of how god is to serve me. Such a crisis may in fact be revealing to me the truth about myself, my faith, and the fact that it is not I who creates God as I demand him to be, but it is He who created me and who despite my limits, lack of faith, finiteness and minuteness in the universe personally loves me and cares for me.