Conversion

Paul Helm in The Beginnings: Word & Spirit in Conversion, pp 9, 22-23:

[T]here are many different kinds of consciously-felt experiences of God’s grace, perhaps as many different kinds as there are different people who experience that grace. At one extreme there are those whose awareness of becoming a Christian is slow and almost imperceptible. God has brought them gradually to faith in Christ and to full commitment to Him. There are others, like Paul, or Augustine, whose conversion was a sudden crisis, a distinct, datable event.

[…]

During an intense experience of contrition for his sins, Augustine [I’ve used the Henry Chadwick translation below]

suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house chanting as if it might be a boy or a girl (I do not know which), saying and repeating over and over again ‘Pick up and read, pick up and read.’ At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used. But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first chapter I might find. For I had heard how Antony happened to be present at the gospel reading, and took it as an admonition addressed to himself when the words were read: ‘Go, sell all you have, give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’ (Matt. 19: 21). By such an inspired utterance he was immediately ‘converted to you’ (Ps. 50: 15). So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting. There I had put down the book of the apostle when I got up. I seized it, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: ‘Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts’ (Rom. 13: 13–14). I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.

[…]

In his booklet, A Self-Portrait, the Anglican leader of the last century, J.C. Ryle, remarked that:

The circumstances which led to a complete change in my character were very many and very various, and I think it right to mention them. It was not a sudden immediate change but very gradual. I cannot trace it to any one person, or any one event or thing, but to a singular variety of persons and things. In all of them I believe now the Holy Ghost was working, though I did not know it at the time.

[…]

Such variety of experience, recorded throughout the history of the church, is to be found already in Scripture. The experience of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is different from that of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:12-22), that of Lydia (Acts 16:14) is different from the experience of Nathanael (John 1:45-51).

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Snowball’s chance in hell

Just a random musing:

Many people in the world have claimed to have had uncanny experiences (e.g. dreams which came true, visions of entities or events they could not have otherwise known, NDEs, OBEs). I’m sure at least some of these uncanny experiences are veridical experiences. By which I don’t mean hallucinations or the like, but by which I do mean real experiences. Experiences which aren’t reducible to the brain, but experiences which have a basis in an external reality.

As such, it’s no wonder the vast majority of people in the world (let alone down through history) aren’t atheists. Atheism is just so inconsistent with many people’s firsthand experiences or the firsthand experiences of people they know and trust.

I suspect atheism is most common among intellectuals. However, intellectuals are the ones who tend to spend most of their time in ivory towers, shuffling from one lecture hall or conference to another, traveling in air-conditioned planes, cars, etc. They’ve isolated themselves in their own little bubble-world. The possibility that the uncanny or miraculous might be real is to them like a sub-Saharan African tribesman of yesteryear hearing about snow.

Queen of the dark chamber

The following is an excerpt from “The Argument from Religious Experience” by Kai-Man Kwan in the book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (p 499):

Christiana Tsai was a Chinese lady who was born into a traditional Chinese society in the nineteenth century. She came from a Chinese family that was antagonistic toward Christianity, but she was converted after such an experience: one day she was playing in the backyard, and she noticed a stone that looked very smooth on the surface. She turned it over by a stick and discovered that there was a big lizard and many bugs under the stone. Suddenly, she heard a voice in her heart: “You are just like this stone, looking beautiful from the outside but full of evil inside!” She knelt down and prayed to God for forgiveness. Immediately, she found peace and felt that the burden of sin on her was lifted. Since then, the world appeared to her as the Lord’s beautiful garden. She found a source of love in her heart, and felt that even the inanimate objects in the surroundings were singing praise to the Creator with her.

She shared the gospel with friends and relatives and many were converted as well. However, her mother was very resistant and was addicted to opium. One night, her mother had a vision of Jesus appearing in front of her in His glory. After that, her mother was also converted and found it easy to quit opium altogether. One time, Tsai was struggling over a decision concerning her relationship with her boyfriend. Suddenly, she seemed to see Jesus in Gethsemane. She was filled with the Holy Spirit. She felt the pain of Christ and knew that Christ could also understand her pain. She decided to let go of that relationship. Since then, she felt that the love of the Lord had never left her, and her communion with Him became sweeter and sweeter. However, the most severe trial was still to come.

One day a strange disease suddenly started to inflict immense sufferings on her. Even light would make her feel like being stabbed by a knife. For many days she just could not eat, move, speak, or open her eyes. Doctors said she would die soon. However, she saw a vision of a beautiful crown rising up to heaven one night, but a voice told her it was not yet the time. Then she started to recover. To cut the story short, although she survived the sickness, she had to stay in the dark chamber for the next 24 years, and tremendous pain still visited her. However, through such a long period and in darkness, she continued to feel strongly the love of God and the illumination of His light. She continued to have communion with God, and her life did show a kind of peace and joy that were almost palpable for her visitors. Many of them would say they could see God in her life.3

[Notes]

3. This story is told in Tsai (1953) [i.e. Queen of the Dark Chamber], and my account is extracted from the Chinese version of this book (Tsai 2000).