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"The QUESTION that pierced the MIST:
“Canst thou by searching find out God?”—Job 11:7
"Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."—John 14:6
"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.—John 7:17
"Search the Scriptures . . . they are they which testify of me."—John 5:39
"...the high soul climbs the high way, And the low soul gropes the low.
And in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro...."
Chapter 1 - On to the Misty Flats
OF COURSE no one in this enlightened age believes any more in the myths of Genesis and—” But here Dr. Sedgewick paused in his lecture as if a second thought had occurred. With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Well, maybe I had better test it out, before being so dogmatic.” Facing the large freshman class, who were hanging on his words, and pulling his face into gravity, he asked:
“Is there anyone here who believes there is a Heaven and a Hell? Who believes that the story of Genesis is true? Please raise your hand.”
He waited for a response. Up went my hand as bravely as I could muster courage. I also looked around to see if I had a comrade in my stand. Only one other hand was up, in all that big group of perhaps a hundred students. Dr. Sedgewick smiled, then, as if sympathetic with our embarrassment, he conceded:
“Oh, you just believe that because your papa and mama told you so.”
He then proceeded with his lecture, assuming once and for all that no thinking human being believed the Bible any more. -
Brought up in an earnest Presbyterian home (my grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and my father an ardent lay preacher) I had been carefully coached in the refutations of modernism before my parents had allowed me to enter the university. If it had been a case of arguing the claims of modernism versus fundamentalism; I do not think I would have been shattered in my faith. But there was no argument. There was just the pitying sneer, “Oh, you just believe that because your papa and your mama told you so,” and then the confident assumption that no persons nowadays who thought for themselves, who were scientific in their approach to life, believed that old story any more.
On the way home from class I faced the charge honestly. Why did I believe the Bible? The Genesis explanation of life’s origin? Why did I believe in
Heaven and Hell?
It was because I had been taught it by my parents and church from the hour I could understand anything. Was that reason enough for accepting it? No, I agreed with Dr. Sedgewick that it was not a sufficient basis to build my life upon. We had experienced remarkable answers to prayer in our family life—didn’t that prove the existence of God? But my psychology course taught that mind had a powerful effect over matter. If I had not been so gullible, maybe I could have seen a natural explanation. ...
At the end of my walk home, I came to the conclusion that I would henceforth accept no theories of which I had not proved personally. And, quite ignorant of where that attitude would lead me, I had unconsciously stepped off the High Way where man walks with his face lifted God-ward and the pure, piney scents of the Heights call him upward -- down to The Misty Flats. [Its characteristics follow;]
The in-between level place of easygoing — nothing very good attempted, yet nothing bad either
where men walk in the mist, telling each other that no one can see these things clearly...
where the in-betweeners drift to and fro — life has no end but amusement ...
where the herd drift with the strongest pull and there is no reason for opposing anything.
Therefore they had a kind of peace and a mutual link which they call tolerance.
I did not know that I had stepped down to The Misty Flats. I was just conscious of a sudden pleasant freedom from old duties. If there was no God, why bother to go to church on Sunday, for instance? Why not use Sunday to catch up on sleep, so that one could dance half the night away several times during the week?
Again, if the Bible was but a record of myths and old-fashioned ideas, why read it every morning? That took time and it was much easier to sleep until the very last moment, getting up just in time for the first class at college. ...
It was a popular thing to be on The Misty Flats: you had plenty of company. And one was respected as being modern and intelligent to question the old faiths. Life drifted along so pleasantly—for a while.
My home training still had an effect upon me. Jesus Christ, now seen blurred in the mists which denied His Godhead, is an acknowledged historical character.... His name was the sweetest melody I knew and it never failed to stir my heart, even though I had ceased to seek Him. His purity and holiness made me hate besmirching things. And all this because my father and my mother had taught me so.... [pp 5-8]
Chapter 2 - Slippery ways in darkness
"Wherefore their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein: for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, saith the Lord." Jer. 23:12
AFTER THE STRETCHED MUSCLES of climbing, to find oneself on the level is very relaxing and pleasant. Therefore The Misty Flats are attractive to foot, eye, and palate at the beginning. There is no hint that the pretty mist will gradually close in and bring darkness. There is no suggestion amid the gay chatter of the populous throng that there are slippery places, which are going to bring hurt. In the boasted freedom of drifting whither you will, there is certainly no sign that one is being driven on, as Jeremiah so shrewdly perceived was the reality. And above all, there is never a hint that the end of The Flats is the visitation of the Lord and the judgment of sin. Yet all that is the real truth.
[Later... after a time of heartbreaking disappointments]
The post office clock on Main Street had just struck two, and I was still tense and tossing. I was desperate. I knew I’d be ill in the morning if I did not get to sleep. Then came the Tempter. “Of what use is life?” he whispered....
My hand was on the door knob when a deep groan, twice repeated, broke the silence of the dark. It was my father, moaning in his sleep in the next room. I was not afraid, for I recognized Father’s tones, but I was startled into remembrance of him. I stood with my hand on the knob debating. If I committed suicide, Daddy would think I had gone to Hell. Of course, that would not make a place called Hell, but how terrible for Daddy to think so. He had been such a dear, kind father to me all my life. Dare I make him such a dastardly return? No, I couldn’t be so mean and selfish. In agony I turned and sat down on the edge of my bed and faced the darkest moment of my life. I didn’t want to live and I couldn’t die!
Oh the black despair of The Misty Flats! How little did I know of the golden sunshine pouring on the High Way above them! What a lot of heartache I might have been saved if I had only...
But it was necessary that first I drink to the dregs the emptiness of the promises held out by The Misty Flats: only then could I be freed from their lure and subtle call.
And now a strange thing happened. That day I had been studying Matthew Arnold’s essay on The Study of Poetry. (You remember, it was Sedgewick, a disciple of Arnold, who had first pushed me off the High Way?) In that essay he gives various quotations from the classics.... one such [stated], "In His will is our peace." Now that sentence wrote itself across the dark of my bedroom.... What if there were a God, after all? If so, I certainly had not been in His will. Maybe that was why I had no peace?
An idea struck me. No one was watching to see if I were a fool or not. Sitting there on my bed’s edge, I raised both hands heavenward. “God, if there be a God,” I whispered, for I was not going to believe in what did not exist just to get a mental opiate, “if You will prove to me that You are, and if You will give me peace, I will give You my whole life. I’ll do anything You ask me to do, go where You send me, obey You all my days.” Then I climbed into bed and pulled the blankets over me.
Chapter 3 - What you should not imitate
THE NEXT THING I KNEW, it was morning and the golden sunshine of a December day in Vancouver was pouring into my bedroom. I lay there drowsily enjoying it when suddenly a thought startled me into full consciousness. I had been sleeping like a baby — how did it happen? Such deep relaxed slumber had not touched my pillow for many a long day.... Thought traced itself back to the experience of the night before. I had made a bargain with God. I had asked Him for peace and — peace had come.
Oh yes, answered Reason; but that was easily explainable apart from God. That was no proof that God existed. It was just the effect of mind over matter. I had committed my troubles to an imaginary being and that was why body and mind quieted down.
Restlessly I threw off the bedclothes and sat on the edge of my bed. I was not going to use religion as an opiate. I was going to be realistic or nothing.... But as I pondered, the thought persisted: “You made a bargain last night. The Other Side kept His part. There was no stipulation as to how peace should come, and it came. Nobody knows about it and nobody will know, if this should prove to be foolishness. Why not continue your part of the agreement and see?”
But what was my part? To yield my whole life if He proved Himself. And in the meantime, why not try to seek Him?
Seek God? Where?
Can a man by searching find out God? Zophar had questioned Job, obviously not believing it possible. Job had tried to answer by pointing to God in His creative works. But the twentieth century had another theory for the origin of the earth.
Where does one go to search for God? Even as I asked myself that question, a picture from memory floated before me. It was at the Guelph conference of 1921 when the Student Christian Movement was formed. A young man was on his feet giving his testimony. “While I was interned in Germany as a prisoner of war,” he said, “I got hold of a Bible and started to read it. I found God through reading His Word.”
I had been a university delegate for the YWCA to that convention, but had apparently been unaffected by it. I knew there was a conflict between the modernist students and the fundamentalists — this young ex-soldier was earnest for the old beliefs. I was still an agnostic and weary of religious arguments. I let them talk and did not let it enter my heart.
But this young fellow was aglow with something real: he was the outstanding memory of that conference to me, yet I did not even know his name. Now in my own hour of need I could see him standing there, radiant, affirming he had found God. And he had found Him through the Christ of the New Testament.
Well, I had a Bible. There it was on my bookshelf, unused, a bit dusty, but beautiful and new—a gift from my father when I graduated from high school. I pulled it down and looked at it. Modernists said the Pentateuch was not written by Moses; this was questioned, that was questioned. Was there anything that wasn’t questioned?
Yes—the historicity of Jesus Christ is beyond doubt. And the four Gospels are accepted as a more or less authentic record of His teachings, as authoritative as Plato’s were of Socrates, at least. So I decided to search for God through Jesus Christ, to read the Gospels only, to underline everything and anything that Jesus said to do and try honestly to do them. Jesus prayed, so I would begin to try praying again—cautiously, of course...
And now began a life at two levels [still on the misty flats]: an outer level of study, worldly gaiety and pride, and an inner level of watching, seeking after God...
See Seeking God
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