Karl Barth speaks of the Incarnation in terms of a journey by Christ into "a far country." My own encounter with Christ began in a far country.

I was raised, very intensively, in Christian Science. I say "very intensively" because I was an only child, and my mother was a highly intelligent and conscientious Christian Scientist. Understandably, she saw one of her main responsibilities as a mother to be that of instilling Christian Science as deeply as possible in her one and only child. (My father, although a gentle and sensitive man, was rather detached as a parent.) Every day began with readings from Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health as well as from the Bible. The world and daily life were construed for me according to the standards of Christian Science. I do not mean to make this sound like indoctrination in the pejorative sense of that term. It was a conscientious mother's effort to raise up her son in the truth.

Christian Science is not a form of Christianity. It is not even near enough to Christianity in the traditional sense of the term to be called a heresy. It is often thought of as centered on faith healing, and it is true, as the very title of Mary Baker Eddy's book suggests, that it is centered on the achievement of health. This is not, strictly speaking, a matter of healing, however, for the very reality of sickness is denied. Sickness is an illusion. Faith, therefore, does not bring healing but rather a realization that one was never sick to begin with.

No phrase is more common among Christian Scientists than "knowing the truth." This means that when the illusion of sickness arises, you continually tell yourself that in actuality you are perfectly healthy. This is apt to bring peace of mind, which may be physically beneficial. Hence, in many in stances, "knowing the truth" unquestionably plays a part in the restoration of health.

When that happens, however, it is not a healing that has occurred, in the view of Christian Scientists, but rather a realization of what has been true all along. In fact, Christian Scientists deny the reality not only of sickness but of all evil. This means that they deny the reality of sin, and in doing this they deny the very fallenness of the human race. The crucifixion becomes pointless (although the symbol of the cross is retained, a crucifix is never seen, as far as I know, in Christian Science churches or publications). The core truth is not that we are saved. It is rather that we have never been lost.

To common sense, much of this may seem absurd. It is, however, a daring and quite logical response to what is often called "the problem of theodicy": How can there be evil in a world created by a good and omnipotent God? Mary Baker Eddy answered, simply, that there can't and therefore isn't. Christian Scientists are people with the nerve required for living according to this answer—the nerve, for example, to spurn all medical help in time of illness. My mother had this kind of nerve, and for the first seventeen years of my life (until I left for college) my mother did her best to instill it in me.

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How can there be evil in a world created by a good and omnipotent God? Mary Baker Eddy answered that there can't and therefore isn't. My mother did her best to instill this in me.

There have probably been worse doctrines in the twentieth century than Christian Science—communism, for example, and fascism. Nonetheless, it is radically in error and, in spite of its benign appearance, can be profoundly harmful. For one thing, in teaching you to avert your eyes from evil, it teaches you to ignore your own sinful impulses—your pride, callousness, and sensuality. The Christian Scientists I have known have been quite decent people. This is owing not to their principles, however, but in most cases to the kind of training they received before becoming Christian Scientists. I consider my mother to have been quite a good person, but in my view, this was be cause she had been raised as a Quaker and never succeeded in becoming an altogether logical Christian Scientist. A logical Christian Scientist does not deplore and try to eradicate sinful desires but tries simply not to notice them. Nor does a logical Christian Scientist who has committed a grave wrong suffer pangs of guilt and seek redemption; rather, the whole matter is as far as possible erased from one's mind. Christian penitence be comes impossible.

Equally dangerous is that Christian Scientists who learn to avert their eyes from evil learn to ignore the illnesses and other troubles being undergone by friends and relatives. As strange as it may seem, Christian Scientists who are rigorously practicing their creed do not ask someone ill, "How are you feeling this morning?" or "Are you feeling any better?" They resolutely deny the reality of the suffering. Such a habit is compatible with graciousness and cheerfulness—but not with deeply felt expressions of sympathy or concern. This does not mean that no attention is paid to others. It means rather that those who are ill, bereaved, depressed, or in any other way afflicted are subjected to a process of silent reconstruction. They are seen as not ill, not bereaved, not depressed. This of course means simply that they are not seen.

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Though my mother was a very serious Christian Scientist, she did not rigorously work out or adhere to the implications of her creed. When I had the measles, she illogically saw to it that I was shielded from the light that would have damaged my eyes, and she illogically allowed me to be vaccinated against illnesses. Above all, I want to say that she had little resemblance to the monument of self-righteousness and self-absorption that her creed implicitly encouraged her to be. I doubt that she ever more than half believed in the principles of Christian Science, even though she thought she believed in them wholeheartedly. After all, she had not been raised in those principles. I, of course, had been, and unfortunately, I unreservedly embraced them. As a result, although I was painfully conscientious, I was insensitive to my own sinful potentialities and not much attuned to the feelings and sufferings of others—conditions fateful for my life, as I will show. The principles of penitence and forgiveness were meaningless to me.

I give this background to show that I came to Christianity from a place very distant from Christianity. In Isaiah 41:8–9, God ad dresses "Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen," as "you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners." I am conscious, in my Christian faith, of having been taken from the ends of the earth. I am of course speaking spiritually. But the spiritual fact is symbolized physically.

I was born on a cattle ranch near a small town in the far West. The scenery, with towering mountains a few miles away on both sides, standing forth in the crystalline desert air, was dramatic and testified daily to the Creator of the physical universe. But the nearest city was almost three hundred miles away and could be reached only by crossing a great desert. In that sense, I was at the ends of the earth physically as well as spiritually.

It was not only Christian Science, however, that placed me at the ends of the earth. After graduating from college and spending three years in the navy during World War II, I entered a spiritual environment very different from that of Christian Science—yet no less distant from real Christianity. This was the world of American social science. On my release from the navy, I undertook graduate work in political science, first at Claremont, then at Berkeley, where I finally received a Ph.D. No longer was I a Christian Scientist. But I was not a Christian either; indeed, I scarcely knew what Christianity was and did not really care.

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I was interested mainly in political philosophy. I was attracted to certain thinkers who were in a broad sense religious (although not Christian), such as Plato and the English Hegelians. But I had little interest in the great Christian political philosophers such as Augustine and Aquinas. And my intellectual mentor among the major political philosophers was an outspoken atheist, John Stuart Mill. What needs emphasis, however, is not the canon of political philosophy, which includes figures of unquestionable spiritual stature, but rather the atmosphere of social science in most American universities.

There were Christians in the political science departments of secular colleges and universities. But they were very quiet about their faith. For the sake of professional survival and advancement, they had to be. The reigning assumption was that a respectable intellectual not only had no belief in God but had no interest even in the possibility of such a belief. Religion was not a live issue for anyone in pursuit of the kind of truth sought by political scientists. No one said this; the assumption was so dominant and unquestioned that no one had to. (The situation today is somewhat, although not entirely, different.)

In the time I spent as a graduate student and professor be fore becoming a Christian—a period of about twenty years—I never had a single professor, or a single friend or colleague, who expressed any definite interest in Christianity. Two or three friends were Christians, but, obedient to the reigning code, they were very quiet Christians. I knew of their faith only from chance remarks.

It was in this setting, and contrary to every reasonable expectation, that I became a Christian. It happened so gradually that I am embarrassed by my slowness of heart. Yet in looking back it seems to have happened inexorably, as though some irresistible force (like grace!) were behind it. When I was finally baptized, in my early forties, I had spent all of my life at the ends of the earth. In spite of this, I became a Christian—one for whom, as for any Christian, Christianity is not one among several activities and interests but is rather the center of the universe, the axis of history—in a word, life itself.

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I dislike the casual way in which some Christians speak of miracles, as though we see them all around us, every day; the mystery and wonder of divine action tends thus to be obscured. But I am willing, soberly and tentatively, to think of my conversion as a miracle, for there was nothing in my childhood and youth, and nothing in the spiritual setting I inhabited as an adult, to explain it.

One circumstance that placed me at an even greater distance from God than did Christian Science or academic life consisted not in conditions to which I was subject but in acs for which I was responsible. It belongs to the time that separated my life as a Christian Scientist from my life as an academician—the three years I spent in the U.S. Navy.

The bulk of my time upon entering the navy in July 1943 was spent aboard a large landing ship in the Pacific, mainly in the Philippine Islands. I was an officer in charge of the deck force and responsible for the general maintenance of the ship. Later I became navigator and general manager of the ship under the captain. The crew was made up of about ten officers and a hundred men. We carried trucks and tanks, along with soldiers, and took part in most of the major landings in the Philippines—usually, however, coming in sometime after D-day, and usually in rather undramatic circumstances. There were occasional air raids, once a period of shelling from a large Japanese gun inland, and now and then sounds of combat in the distance. If I was "seeing action," however, I was doing so in almost the literal sense of the phrase—seeing it without being very much involved in it.

In March 1945 our ship put into Manila Harbor. Most of the fighting in Manila—some of the bloodiest combat of World War II—was over, and the American forces had taken the city. But there were isolated centers of Japanese resistance on the outskirts of the city, and Japanese bodies, often grotesquely bloated, were a common sight in the water and on the beaches.

A particularly fateful circumstance in my own destiny was this: scattered throughout the bay were dozens of Japanese cargo ships, sunk by American planes and resting on the bottom of the harbor, but with superstructures and upper decks still protruding above the surface of the water. They were oceangoing vessels, and most of them were largely intact. We were drawn by the prospect of seeing staterooms, bridges, and other operational areas so recently occupied by the Japanese, now for over three years a mysterious and fearsome antagonist. So a day or so after coming to anchor, a group of us, with me as the officer in charge, got together and set off in a small boat to look at some of the ships.

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Only one thing kept the expedition from being an altogether carefree outing. There were rumors that Japanese soldiers, resisting capture to the last—perhaps with guns or hand grenades—had found their way out to some of the ships. We did not really expect to encounter any such soldiers, but as a precaution, we armed ourselves, many with automatic weapons, before embarking on our explorations.

We had gone through two or three ships and were tying up our boat at the side of another. Suddenly there was shattering gun fire right at my side. One of our sailors had seen a Japanese soldier on the ship, only 20 or 30 feet away. We were all so absurdly frightened that we were afraid to expose ourselves even to the extent of standing up to cast off the line secured to the ship. We severed it with gunfire and immediately went to the beach and found an American army officer, exhausted and unshaven, stretched out languidly in a folding chair near a large building in which we could hear occasional gunfire; inside were Japanese holdouts. We told him what had happened. He was courteous but completely uninterested. He gave us a hand grenade and left it to us to decide what to do next.

We returned to the ship and, trembling with fear, went aboard. We thought the Japanese soldier had been hit and probably killed, but we weren't sure; he might still be alive, and he might have companions. I crept up to a porthole and looked into a cabin where we thought the soldier might be. In the semidarkness, I seemed to see a figure on the deck, perhaps reclining against a bulkhead. Shielding myself as fully as possible, I reached through the porthole and fired several times. We found the soldier, indeed dead, in the cabin into which I had fired. He was unarmed.

At the time, I thought little about it. He had made no effort to surrender, and I assumed we could not have safely tried to capture him. I assumed also that a Japanese soldier would rather die than be captured. These were sound assumptions, but they rendered me insensitive to what had happened. When we returned to our ship, I was in an untroubled frame of mind.

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I reached through the porthole and fired several times. We found the soldier .. unarmed.

During the next few days, as I recall, no one said much about the killing of the Japanese soldier. And probably no one thought much more about it than I did. But one afternoon some sailors asked if I would serve as officer in charge of another exploratory expedition; we had looked into only a few of the many hulks out in the bay. Unthinkingly, I agreed. Again we armed ourselves and set out. Again we crept, tense and frightened, yet feeling a sense of adventure, down passageways, around corners, into staterooms, able often to see only a few feet ahead, fearing that at any moment we would be faced with one or more armed and suicidal enemy soldiers.

Nothing eventful occurred, however, until I had gone out on the main deck of one of the ships while a group of sailors was prowling around inside. Then, from somewhere within the ship, came the sound of gunfire. I was told that another Japanese soldier had been killed. When I arrived at the scene the soldier, presumably dead, lay on the deck with his back to me. Assuming it would be unsafe to approach him, since conceivably he was armed and only feigning death, I fired into his body.

As strange as it may sound, this all happened rather casually. I saw no blood; I had seen no one fall under a hail of bullets. Movie violence today is far more horrifying and "realistic" than this was. I scarcely even looked at the body. Only later did someone tell me that this soldier, too, had been unarmed.

I was still untroubled, cushioned as before by the assumption that the shootings were unavoidable and that the dead soldiers preferred death to the disgrace of being captured. There was nothing in my motives to trouble me. We had not set out to kill Japanese soldiers and found no satisfaction or thrills in the fact that we had. If we had somehow found ourselves with a captured and unarmed Japanese soldier in our custody, I am quite sure that we would have done him no harm. Our aim had been to find relief from the boredom of shipboard life by exploring some great deserted oceangoing vessels. The killings seemed incidental, unavoidable, devoid of hatred or pleasure. And I, personally, had not faced and shot a living man. So again, some days passed during which I carried on my normal shipboard duties and thought little of what had happened.

I still don't know why this period of complacency ended as suddenly as it did. But I vividly remember, and will always remember, the moment it happened. I was stepping into my stateroom. Suddenly I was nearly felled with the realization that I was responsible for the needless loss of two human lives. I had been officer in charge of the two exploratory expeditions, and I had fired my gun into the bodies, probably dead but possibly living, of both of the soldiers we had killed. I was not simply conscience-stricken. I was in credulous that I, a rather conscientious and even strait-laced young man, had fallen into such a moral abyss. (In college I neither smoked nor drank; I cried in pity over the first fish I caught as a child; I could never bear the idea of hunting; on the ship I meticulously enforced all safety regulations, thinking how awful it would be were there a fatal shipboard accident.) The terrible word murder invaded my mind. It was as though I had been dreaming all during the preceding week, during the ship explorations and the killings, and suddenly the dream had turned into a terrible, and entirely unacceptable, reality. There is no exaggeration in saying that at the moment this happened my life changed forever.

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The ensuing weeks are unclear in my memory. I do know that they were spent in a state of what might be called metaphysical panic. I realized that I had committed an offense against something holy and, as far as I knew, remorseless and unforgiving. I had never had anything like "a religious experience." God, for me, was merely the one who had created a good universe and then conveniently disappeared, leaving the human race to know the truth about it and enjoy it. Now, unexpectedly, an angry God—or at least a divine and implacable law, menacing and offended—towered over me. Christian Science gave me no help at all: denying evil, it had nothing to say about forgiveness. And it had made me a stranger to Christianity. It is a mark of this estrangement that there was a Christian chaplain on our ship and, although I was nearly drowning in anguish, it never occurred to me to talk with him. I talked with no one. I went through the motions required of me by my shipboard duties while despairingly casting about in my mind to discover how I could go on living.

This period abruptly ended after perhaps two or three weeks of moral agony. I had with me on the ship not only Science and Health but also a Bible, given to me by my mother on my ninth birthday. One afternoon I was leafing through the Bible in a mood of desperation. My eyes fell on the words of Psalm 118:24: "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

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I knew in an instant that in spite of what I had done, God's universe re mained intact, that I inhabited a day that God had made, and that I could live. The inward experience immediately found an outward symbol. The sunlight on the waves of the blue Pacific Ocean took on a splendor and significance they had never before had but never lost during my remaining time at sea. In those sunlit waves about me I saw a sign of the divine power that could, in a way still utterly beyond my understanding, deliver me from guilt and give me life.

Not that I was thereafter happy. For years I would recurrently go through hours and days when my heart was burdened with the memory of what I had done. Nor did I quickly gain understanding. It took not merely years but decades for me to comprehend, and to live under the authority of, the act of divine forgiveness that took place on the cross. But from the moment I came upon the psalmist's words about the Lord's day, I knew that my life had not ended on those ships out in Manila Bay.

These events reached a climax only when I became a Christian. Only then did I begin to understand that the light of God's day came not only from the act of creation but also from the act of redemption that was accomplished on the cross. For several years, I remained a Christian Scientist and therefore not a Christian. I resorted to the most absurd theological expedients to explain to myself how God was able to shield the day he had made from the destructive impact of deeds like mine. Humbled and lost though I was, I'm afraid God found me a slow and halting follower. Nevertheless, his mercy endured, and I began my long journey toward Christianity.

This was a highly intellectual journey, even though it began with traumatic physical events. Often I told myself that I would put the events in Manila Bay be hind me by becoming a good person, but I certainly did not succeed in be coming any better than the average person. I was shackled by pride, sensuality, and callousness. But I did get myself seriously involved in the quest for truth. Soon after being discharged from the navy, I entered into graduate work, which lasted for six years, and then into university teaching. I became a professional intellectual.

It would be roughly accurate to say that for about twenty years I stumbled along in the dark but caught occasional glimpses of light far ahead. Gradually the light grew brighter. Many of these glimpses came through a pagan of great spiritual stature—Plato. I think that the natural setting in which Plato lived and wrote, with the dry air, the lucid sunlight, and the sharply etched mountains one can still experience in present-day Greece, was enough like the desert setting in which I grew up to render his thought particularly evocative for me. In teaching the history of political philosophy, I always devoted many weeks to Plato. Subsequent history, as I taught it, tended to become a record of decline from Plato on (although, in opposition to Plato, I emphatically endorsed the separation of temporal and spiritual authorities that arose from Christianity as well as the ideal of liberty to which this separation eventually led).

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Glimpses of light were also provided by more recent thinkers. I became in tensely interested in existentialism, which was very fashionable in the postwar years. I was attracted mainly to existentialists who were religious and Christian, not atheists such as Sartre. I read extensively in Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, and Gabriel Marcel.

To speak as casually as this about writers who interested me, however, conveys an inadequate impression of the crucial role that books played in my spiritual progress. Although I had many good friends as a graduate student and then as a young instructor, I always had religious concerns that set me apart from practically all of the young political scientists and historians with whom I associated. That these concerns were inchoate and exceedingly vague, if deeply rooted, increased my isolation, for I was unable to articulate them. The consequence was that books assumed a peculiar importance in my life. I was nourished and kept alive by certain writers, and it was these writers who gradually led me to Christianity.

Standing slightly taller than any of the others in my memory is the great, but now largely forgotten, Christian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev. I'm not sure why a naive young man from a small town in the American West should have been so powerfully drawn toward an exiled Russian aristocrat. Some of his key ideas were never acceptable to me—his emphasis on creativity, for example, and his concept of a primal, cosmic freedom that placed limits even on God and introduced into God's life a tragic note. Moreover, Berdyaev paid little attention to the Christian theme that concerned me above all others as a consequence of my war experiences: sin and forgiveness.

Still, his writings enchanted and shaped me. First of all, he set an example of bold, wide-ranging thought—on a Christian basis. Beyond this, he taught me to take the mystery of human freedom very seriously (although I incorporated it into a Western liberalism, which was not at all what Berdyaev had in mind). He swayed me in the direction of a sharply dualistic metaphysic (most authoritatively expressed, perhaps, in Paul, although approaching the extreme of gnosticism in Berdyaev himself). He made eschatology—the idea of the reappearance of Christ and the end of history—a dramatic possibility among the ideas that occupied my mind. And he enabled me to understand the spiritual significance of Kant, and especially of the first Critique. I will always think of Berdyaev as an old, revered teacher. But Berdyaev did not make me a Christian—at least, not he alone.

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It would be roughly accurate to say that for about twenty years I stumbled along in the dark.

It is harder to define the impact on my intellect and feelings of Fyodor Dostoevsky. The influences emanating from novels are probably more subtle and various than those emanating from philosophical writings. However, I read all of Dostoevsky's major novels five or six times over a period of several years, and I'm sure those works did much to confirm and shape my Christian faith. Thus Dostoevsky reinforced my awareness, gained first from Berdyaev, of freedom as the incomprehensible and uncontrollable core of a human being. He helped me (as Berdyaev had not) to see freedom as a bottomless reservoir of evil but, at the same time, to see God's mercy as more powerful than human sin. He enabled me to realize that sin cannot be overcome by human devices of the kind that governments wield but only by suffering and by grace. And he implanted deeply in my mind the sense that when Christianity fades, as it has in our time and as Dostoevsky prophetically foresaw that it would, strange and terrible consequences are apt to follow, consequences like those dramatized in Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), Stavrogin (The Possessed), and Ivan Karamozov (The Brothers Karamozov).

A third great thinker who always comes to mind when I try to remember those who drew me into a Christian universe was, paradoxically, not a Christian. This is the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Buber's thought is perhaps too simple to be quite adequate; the concept of I-Thou relations leaves numerous metaphysical issues untouched. And his political thought is not only too simple but too optimistic as well; it seems that only a wondrous naivete could have allowed Buber to ignore the questions about his socialism that were tacitly posed by thinkers such as Augustine, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, as well as by various modern writers influenced by the Christian doctrine of original sin. Nonetheless, Buber was a very great intellect, if we mean by that someone possessed of profound and exceptional insights. Buber's concept of dialogue, an activity embracing not only human beings, but also God ("the eternal Thou"), is among the permanent furnishings of my mind. And it has decisively shaped my understanding of Christianity. If Christ is the Word, then he is a dialogic figure, an interlocutor, so to speak, in conversations between God and man.

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Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, and Buber did not merely affect the way I looked at things. Partly from a natural affinity that seemed to bind me to them and partly because I read them so fully and frequently, they became, as it were, permanent residents in my intellectual universe. My thinking tended to be a kind of continuing consultation with them. This is true of two other thinkers as well, one of whom was Karl Barth. I still remember the moment I came across one of the huge, black volumes making up the Church Dogmatics. The book looked most forbidding. For one thing, it was long (just short of 700 pages), and the print was small. Also, Barth discussed matters like sin and damnation, and I dreaded reading something that would make me feel that, due to my deeds in the Pacific, I was lost.

But I purchased the volume and read it. I found not only that my fears were unfulfilled (far from it, in view of Barth's eloquent emphasis on God's mercy) but also that I received doctrinal instruction of a kind not gained from anything else I had read. In subsequent years I purchased and read the rest of the 12 giant volumes making up Barth's masterwork (and some of them twice). Barth was a rigorous and highly orthodox theologian. He was also a dramatic writer. The Church Dogmatics, along with his electrifying Epistle to the Romans, provided me with a theological education. Barth was an extremist, a theological Bolshevik, one might say, and I have never in any strict sense been a follower of his. But for years he has been indispensable to my spiritual morale, and he has probably taught me more about Christian doctrine than any other author.

Finally, I must mention the one American among my regular intellectual instructors and companions—Reinhold Niebuhr. By the time I started reading Niebuhr, shortly after finishing graduate work, I had given up Christian Science entirely (which did not happen in a single dramatic moment but through a slow process of erosion). Niebuhr greatly helped me to consolidate this development. He presented a pessimistic (or, more accurately, realistic) view of human nature and history; he did this in an eminently clear and logical fashion; and he brilliantly related his insights to the contemporary political world.

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His assistance helped me get on my feet, not only as a Christian but also as an inhabitant of the harsh political world of the twentieth century. If Niebuhr had a single guiding idea, it was that of original sin—sin as not merely one human trait among others but as an orientation of the soul, distorting and misdirecting all human traits. He wielded this idea with powerful effect in examining the political illusions of our time. Much of the tragic folly of our times, not only on the part of extremists such as Lenin but also on the part of middle-of-the-road liberals and conservatives, would never have arisen had we not, in our technological and ideological pride, forgotten original sin.

The twenty years during which I was inching my way toward Christianity was a time of intense study and reflection. I was absorbed daily and hourly by the enigmas and demands of the intellectual universe in which I dwelled, a universe populated not only by the five names I have mentioned but by numerous others—philosophers, theologians, political writers, and novelists. I lived with books, as well as with notepads for jotting down the thoughts that came to me. I was absorbed in trying to understand my life, and life generally, and the short steps forward that I made were recorded in the lectures I inflicted on my students and in the articles and books I began to write.

It may sound as though my days, and my journey toward Christianity, were very cerebral, and indeed they were. Too much so, probably. I had a wife, someone of worth so inestimable that I count her along with my faith as one of the signs that God has not given me up. I also had two sons, little boys whom I delighted in and loved. I fear, however, that I was too deeply involved in intellectual trials and undertakings—and too wearied and exasperated by my failures—to be very satisfactory as a husband and father.

But God does not forgive us just for grave misdeeds, long repented of, such as those I committed in Manila Bay. He forgives us, I believe, minute by minute, in response to the continuing stream of minor and not-so-minor misdeeds that, for most of us, mark the course of our fallen lives. Hence, in spite of my inadequate performance of family duties, I continued to be carried ahead on the raft of divine grace. I finally completed the long voyage that had begun in Christian Science and ended in Christian faith, the journey that led me from Plato to Christ, and from John Stuart Mill (of whom I wrote a systematic, if inept, defense in my doctoral dissertation) to such mentors as Berdyaev and Barth.

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I still have not described the actual event of my becoming a Christian. There is good reason for this: no such event occurred. I can say only that I was not a Christian during my time as a graduate student and a young instructor, whereas well before reaching the age of fifty I was. I can see two main reasons behind this development, one "existential," or personal, the other intellectual. The existential reason is that with my scarcely insignificant moral failures, I could only live as one forgiven by God. After Manila Bay I felt I had forfeited the right to live; only grace could restore that right. The intellectual reason is that among all the numerous creeds I studied, Christianity was by far the most interesting and convincing. Whether it would have been so apart from my war experiences, I cannot say.

It is rather unchristian, however, to give reasons for being a Christian. I have learned this, I suppose, from studying Barth's doctrine of election. If you are a Christian, this is not because you have made a choice but because God has made a choice. Christianity was written into your destiny on the day of your creation. This is not so arrogant a statement as a non-Christian might suppose. As my own case makes so starkly manifest, to be chosen by God presupposes no merit whatever of your own. Nor is it in any other sense an achievement that redounds to your credit. It is only a matter of unending gratitude.

Just as Christianity is not something you choose, nor something you hold on to for certain specific reasons, neither is it something to which you can assign a value. Living as a Christian does, to be sure, bring hints of ultimate peace and joy that impel us to think of Christianity as possessing great value. Thinking that way is risky, however. It may subtly insinuate into our minds the idea that there is a higher standard in terms of which the value of Christianity can be judged. But that demeans Christianity, which is itself the highest standard. We judge all else by the Christian standard and cannot judge Christianity itself. In other words, attributing value to Christianity may cause us to forget that Christianity is not a part of life, not even a part that is immeasurably more valuable than any other part. It is simply life itself.

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Christian existence, one must also re member, is a drama of estrangement (for me, Christian Science) and reconciliation, of sin (Manila Bay) and redemption. Living through such a drama is likely sometimes to be trying and difficult. Even grace may be harsh. Suffering may be the fire in which a new soul is forged. In my own experience, only once, far out in the Pacific Ocean—at the ends of the earth—have I been consciously lifted up by grace. But of course I am not saying that grace has had no part in my life. Let me illustrate the part I think it has had by something told me by a friend.

The friend lived in my hometown in the West. He would often hike, alone, into the Sierra foothills prospecting for gold and glorying in the dramatic mountain and desert scene that lay all about him. There were known to be mountain lions where he hiked. Mountain lions are mysterious, even mystical, creatures. They are almost never seen, even in areas they inhabit. They are benign, for rarely do they attack human beings, although they are among the large predatory cats and can kill sizable animals in an instant; they also possess great beauty and grace.

I once asked my friend whether he had ever seen a mountain lion on any of his prospecting ventures. He said that he hadn't. He said also, however, that often when he hiked into a mountain canyon, then late in the afternoon turned back, retracing his steps, he would find the tracks of a mountain lion near his own tracks, made earlier in the day. He would know that a mountain lion had been paying him close attention, even though he never saw the lion.

My friend's experience might serve as a parable of my own life with God. I can't claim ever to have had even a glimpse of God. When I look back on my life, however, I see his tracks all around the places where I have been.

Glenn Tinder is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. He and his wife, Gloria, are members of Saint Anne's-in-the-Fields, an Episcopal church in Lincoln, Massachusetts. This essay is taken from Professors Who Believe, edited by Paul M. Anderson. Copyright 1998 by Paul M. Anderson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

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