Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Divine sovereignty, David Wood, and me

If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to watch David Wood's video about his conversion. This post will be a bit of a spoiler if you haven't already seen it, so I suggest you watch it first.

I don't know to what extent I speak for others who have been Christians since early childhood, but I often feel a special kind of self-deprecating awe when I hear a story like David's. Far from feeling superior on the grounds that "I've always been a Christian," I feel rather as though I have no story to tell. All those songs out there about "the day I met Jesus" and "my life was changed that day" and so forth--That's David's story, but I sing them like dramatic monologues in which I'm pretending to be someone else.

My life has been changed only very gradually, and the spiritual process has often been phenomenologically indistinguishable from the mundane process of becoming a more mature human being over a period of decades. I was saved when I was four years old, and I remember the event quite well. But I was often a bad little girl thereafter, I was a positively nasty teen at times, and I remain a highly difficult adult. To add to all my other faults, I was the world's worst prig throughout much of my childhood and teen years. I can still remember arguing heatedly with my mother about whether I should go and buy a book at Moody Book Store, which she thought was in too dangerous a neighborhood. (There was no Amazon at the time.) We had no car; I went everywhere on the bus unless a friend gave me a ride. I got quite hoity-toity about the fact that I was planning to use this book to witness to someone. I argued that my mother had often let me take buses to highly dubious Chicago neighborhoods when doing temp agency work for the worldly purpose of earning money and that therefore I certainly ought to be allowed to take a bus to a dangerous neighborhood to buy a book for the purpose of trying to bring someone to Christ. Harrumph. As I recall, in the end I won the argument and went and bought the book without incident. (It was by Francis Schaeffer, though I don't recall which of Schaeffer's books it was.)

I'd like to think that the Holy Spirit has been working in me since then and that I've gradually improved with age, but the point is that it is nothing like David's dramatic conversion story. There is nothing at all in my life that corresponds, or so it seems to me, to that darkness to light reversal.

But as I was reflecting on this fact I came upon a more fundamental similarity between my own life story and David Wood's. I'm adopted. It may be that somewhere, at some time, I will tell that story as I've learned it more in full, but for now there are details that I will leave obscure. Suffice it to say that what I have learned about my biological father, in particular, has made me grateful beyond words for having been placed for adoption as an infant. It is nearly certain (to my mind) that I would not be a Christian believer today had I not been placed for adoption. As it was, my adoptive parents, though fallible human beings, of course, raised me "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" at great cost to themselves. My father--that is to say, the only father I have ever known, my adopted father--was a good and gentle man who loved me and my brother. He could not have been more different from the man who biologically brought me into existence and who might have had influence over my life had I not been adopted.

All of that, the whole back-story of my whole life, happened when I was a tiny baby. It began even before I was born with my birth mother's difficult decision to get in touch with an adoption agency. My life, my whole life, is a gift from God.

The Bible says, "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6) Also,

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:... But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
The point is that I, like David, was sovereignly cared for by God and brought to a place where I could come to know Him, and that God did this for both of us when we could do nothing for ourselves. David was trapped in his own twisted mind as a psychopath. I was a helpless infant and knew nothing about the decisions that were being made around me that would profoundly affect my future. To both of us, in very different ways, God came. Both of us, though for very different reasons, can say, "My whole life is a gift."

It is not in the phenomenology of my life since I have been old enough to be self-conscious that I should look for dramatic evidence of God's personal working. God does not deal in made-to-order dramatic, personal evidence. His gifts are far more personalized than that.

Nothing that I have said here actually means that I am a Calvinist, I hasten to add. In the end, I had to make a choice. Indeed, I'm afraid it's still true on a daily basis that I am making crucial choices all the time that influence who I am and what I am becoming. But God has poured out the riches of His grace upon me in innumerable ways, even farther back at the very beginning in making me alive and conscious at all.

In the end, when we get to heaven, Calvinist and Arminian alike, lifelong Christian and adult convert alike, will be able to agree and join in saying, "My whole life is a gift. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To whom be glory for ever, world without end, Amen."


William Luse said...

It's been a while since I watched the video, so maybe this was answered. If so I don't remember. Didn't he smash his father in the head with a hammer? Whatever became of the father?

Lydia McGrew said...

It just said that his father survived so he hadn't actually murdered him (he'd merely tried to). He suffered brain damage of some kind. No more detail given--how bad the brain damage was, or whether his father is alive now or anything.

William Luse said...

Yeah, well, that seems to me a rather significant oversight on his part. You'd think it would bother his conscience enough that he'd feel obligated to tell the viewer what became of him, and what restitution he, Wood, has tried to make for it. The video left me wondering: why isn't this guy in prison?
Your story engages my sympathy much more than his.

Lydia McGrew said...

It was timed rather precisely to fit with the train and all.There's obviously got to be a lot more to the story! Like, how he ever stopped thinking he controlled the weather, for example. He of course did go to prison, presumably for the attempted murder. But I'm guessing he wasn't in a state with the death penalty or maybe no state gives the death penalty now if you don't actually happen to kill the person you were trying to kill.

I'd like to know a lot more about his father, too. As for conscience, I gather his whole life is all about conscience and duty. If you don't have normal human emotions--and it seems he never got those, even after conversion--you have to do everything based on duty. Like being color blind. So I wouldn't be surprised at all if he has made what restitution he could to his father.

Sympathy isn't so much what I felt in response to his story as just amazement. What it says to me, among other things, is that God *has something to say* to a person who is that badly messed up. And something to do for that person. That there is no one truly hopeless. And then there's the whole mystery of choice and grace there, too. In one sense, he had to choose to come to God. He had to think himself through to it, or the conversion wouldn't have happened. He had to bow the knee, or he wouldn't have stopped wanting to hurt and kill people. But at the same time, there is this strong sense of Divine pursuit--that God chased him down, wrestled him to the ground, and pinned him. And that was grace. It's a story that bears a lot of thought, and I still haven't gotten to the bottom of it.

Peter Pike said...

In comments on his blog, Wood wrote: "I was in jail at 18, then spent 19-24 in jail and prison" so that would be a five or six year sentence for attempted murder. This fits sentencing guidelines according to the sloppy research I conducted: "The minimum sentence for attempted murder in the second degree (class B felony) is either 5 years (no priors), 8 years (prior non-violent) or 10 years (prior violent)."

(I picked New York because I believe that's where Wood is from, but I could be mistaken on that.)