This essay first appeared in the June 2014 Edition of Well Thought, the journal of the Jacob's Well community.
Do people really change their minds about things in life? Maybe someone will convert from a PC to a Mac or from an Android phone to an iPhone but what about the really important things? The things that shape our view of the world? It is anecdotally true that people can get very set in their ways by a certain age, yet there is always the possibility for shaping new ways of thinking about life and reality.
As a young university student studying physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I underwent this sort of change. I was raised in a family where my father was an Irish Catholic agnostic. Church did not really play a big role in my life, so when I went to UNC on a wrestling scholarship I was not in any way “looking for God.”
As I began to ask some of the bigger questions in life, things really began to change for me. It very much started as a spiritual conversion. I sensed, in a very profound way, that although I was not looking for God, God was in a way coming to find me. I realized that I was beginning to see and to think differently about all of life. Something very strange happened; I actually wanted to read books. Don’t get me wrong, I was vice president of my high school’s National Honor Society and was in the top five percent of my class. I just liked scientific equations much more than literature.
I will never forget when a Christian philosopher came to our campus to speak about the existence of God. He was a man who had two PhD’s, one in theology and one in philosophy, both at secular universities in Europe. I was intrigued. Yet it was something he said that night in a private Q&A with a smaller group of students that shook me profoundly. He said to develop a new mind you had to begin to think differently by allowing new ideas and new paradigms into your world. Then he said “as a student at a secular university, this might mean you have to read double.”
As a Division I athlete with in a very vigorous course of study, I did not have extra time, so I cannot say this was an encouraging thing to hear at first. What he meant, however, stuck with me. I needed to learn to think and see the world as a follower of Jesus, because his way is different than the world around us. I not only needed to do my assigned reading for school, but I needed to read the Scriptures and Christian thinkers to have a different mind about things. So I stepped away from pursuing only position, power and possessions and began to renew my mind in light of the teachings of Jesus. I needed to see the world and my academic pursuits as a Christian.
CS Lewis, the eminent literary scholar and author said it this way:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. i
During that season of my life I began to love new things, think about new things and make new choices that took my life in a different direction. My love for math and science was expanded by a desire to learn some of the more philosophical things about life. I graduated with a knowledge of science and letters but from a point of view that had been, well, changed.
Most importantly, I saw something in my own story that I have since witnessed numerous times in others over the last two decades. God changes people when they think they cannot change themselves. This is, after all, the work of renewal that only God does in the hearts of human beings. He brings life and newness to us and we build upon these things with the renewal of our own minds. An early Christian leader wrote succinctly:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.ii
If you think it’s time for a change take a look at Jesus of Nazareth, read his teachings, his life, death and resurrection in the Gospels.iii Then see where the path might lead. You may just find some newness in your own story as you read of His.
i. CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry”, 1944, p92.
ii. Selection from Romans 12:2 NIV84.
iii. I recommend beginning with the gospel according to Mark or John. Both good places to begin.