For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In yesterday's reflection, I wrote that faith, though our human response to God's grace, is also in some way a gift from God. God does not force us to believe. But, through the Spirit, God does enable us to put our trust in him as our Savior.
I have experienced the mysterious relationship of grace and faith, most of all in something that happened to me during my freshman year of college. When I left for college, I had what I considered to be a rock-solid faith in Christ. I had studied lots of apologetics and felt certain that I could withstand the onslaught of "godless Harvard." Indeed, during my first week of college, I had long debates with my roommates about Christianity. It seemed to me that I had prevailed in these debates. My faith was strong enough to fend off all sorts of attacks, and I was proud of what I had accomplished.
But, as the weeks passed, I found myself beginning to falter. I had not encountered any ideas in class that successfully refuted Christianity. I still could out-argue my roommates. But my own confidence in God began to slip. God seemed increasingly unreal to me. Doubt began to strangle my soul.
Up to that point in my life, I could always rev up my faith by reading apologetics (C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and the like). But, all of a sudden, even the best arguments didn't convince me. I began to worry that my faith was lost forever. I started to wonder if life without God was worth living. I fell into deep despair. No matter what I did, I could not make myself believe.
One evening, as I worked at my job cleaning dishes, I came to grips with the fact that I could not make myself believe in God. Period. Unless God helped me, I would be mired in unbelief. I began to pray, crying out to God for help. The clamor of the dish room provided cover for my desperate supplications. I remember saying, "God, unless you help me, I'll never be able to believe in you again." I felt utterly helpless and needy.
Late that night, when all of my roommates were asleep, I snuck over to the common room of my dorm. It was the only place I had where I could pray without disturbing people. There, in the darkness, I poured out my anguish to God. I begged for his help, confessing my former pride that I could produce faith all by myself. I admitted that, without his grace, I would never have faith again.
As I sat in the silence of that common room, all of a sudden I felt peace descending upon my heart. I knew I wasn't making this happen. I couldn't make it happen. Yet, as I sat quietly, I felt my doubts lifting. I sensed God's presence as never before in my life. I didn't see a vision or hear an audible voice, but God was more real to me in those moments than anything I could see or hear. I could feel faith welling up in my heart, a different kind of faith, not something I produced by reason, but something even stronger. Soon, I felt a deep peace, unlike anything I had ever known before. As I thanked God for what he was giving me, I began to feel joy, abounding joy, joy that Peter calls "inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:9). As I sat there in the common room of my dorm, I poured out my joy to God, blown away by his grace and mercy to me.
Since that night in the Straus Common Room some thirty-seven years ago, my faith has sometimes been shaken. I've had my share of doubts. But what God did in me that night has endured. Yes, I have chosen to trust in God. But my act of trust is based on and empowered by God's amazing grace. This I know to be true, and for this I am forever grateful.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When have you experienced God's grace in especially powerful ways? Has there been a time in your life when you were aware that God was helping you to have faith in him?
PRAYER: Gracious God, as I remember how you have rescued me from unbelief, I am filled with gratitude. You have poured out your grace upon me in so many ways. Thank you for meeting me that night in the Straus Common Room. Thank you for reaching out to me so many other times when I have cried out for mercy. My faith is indeed a part of your glorious gift to me. All praise be to you, O God. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.