Through my college days in France I was an agnostic. Strange as it may seem to the reader, I graduated without having ever seen a Bible. To say that the education I received proved of little help through front-line experiences as a lad of twenty in World War I would amount to quite an understatement. What use, the ill-kept ancient type of sophistry in the philosophic banter of the seminar, when your own buddy—at the time speaking to you of his mother—dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest? Was there a meaning to it all? The inadequacy of my views on the human situation overwhelmed me. One night a bullet got me, too. An American field ambulance saved my life and later restored the use of my left arm. After a nine-month stay at the hospital, I was discharged and resumed graduate work.
Needless to insist that the intellectual climate had changed as far as I was concerned. Reading in literature and philosophy, I found myself probing in depth for meaning. During long night watches a few yards from the German trenches, as I looked at swollen bodies dangling in the barbed wires, I had been strangely longing for …—I must say it, however queer it may sound—for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses, I would file passages that spoke to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leather-bound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would lead me as it were from fear and anguish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation. The day came when I put the finishing touch to “the book that would understand ...1
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