What this page is about
We have seen that some people appear to have experienced God through a healing, a vision or other “peak” experience. But what of the rest of us, who haven’t had such an experience? Does God communicate in more “ordinary” ways? Does this make a difference in people’s lives?
In this post we’ll look at people from many different backgrounds who found that God entered their lives in unexpected ways, providing help, guidance and the ability to make positive changes.
This is your life
Healing from abuse
Jordan experienced sexual and physical abuse at home, and things didn’t get much better after she left home aged 15 and experienced debt, drugs and violence. Still young, she found herself pregnant and lonely on Christmas Eve, with a boyfriend who didn’t want to be a father.
She went to a church and received help – acceptance, support to give birth and ongoing prayer for healing of all the trauma, bad memories, nightmares and low self esteem that her life had given her. She eventually married and began to help others in the church.
God totally turned Jordan’s life around, giving her freedom, healing, purpose, self esteem and a caring community, when her previous life was heading in a disastrous direction. Read more about Jordan in It lasts
Everything put together falls apart … and comes together again
For John Gilmour, God was the surprising source of an unexpected coincidence that helped him put his life together after it had fallen apart.
Born in Scotland, John ended up as a lawyer in Western Australia. He married and started a family, but the relationship became poisonous and fell apart. They split, and John shared a flat with another man whose marriage had also failed. He was deeply unhappy, and was drinking more than he should. Then his friend unexpectedly converted to christianity, and told John it had made a big and positive difference.
John was cynical and “immensely antagonistic towards Christianity”, and finally gave his friend an ultimatum. John would attend church with his friend, listen to the pastor, and then they would agree to never talk about Jesus again. So the next Sunday, John accompanied his friend to the unfamiliar suburban church – and sitting there was his estranged wife who he hadn’t seen for months.
His wife wasn’t a churchgoer, but the previous night she had been at a party and happened to drive home past this church. For some reason she stopped to look at the sign in front of the church, and decided to visit the next day. She missed the service she intended to visit, but turned up at the later service which John attended.
Two surprising things happened. John sat down next to her, and the sermon struck home. Somehow, he says, he suddenly knew God existed and he loved him. They decided to give their marriage another go, and six months later they had worked their way through the bitterness of their break-up and they were both committed christians.
John went on to become a Barrister and Federal Court judge, but his life had been completely turned around. Read more about John at A life-changing coincidence.
Deconstruction and reconstruction
Rosaria Butterfield was raised Catholic, but walked away from the church when her best friend confessed to having sex with their priest. She went on to become an academic, completing a PhD degree in English Literature and Cultural Studies, identifying as a lesbian, and specialising in Women’s studies, Queer theory, postmodernism, feminism and radical left politics. She and her partner, another professor, were community activists, involved in many movements, and she identified as an atheist. She thought christians were “bad thinkers”.
You might expect her to be the last person to convert to christianity, but truth is stranger than fiction. She was researching the christian right in the US in preparation to writing a book, and met a Reformed Presbyterian pastor and his wife in their 70s. They became unlikely friends and discussed social and spiritual issues at great length.
As background to her research, and as a result of this friendship, she read the Bible right through several times, as she would other source documents – sometimes 5 hours a day, and in different translations. She came to believe that Jesus was real and that meant she was in “big trouble”.
For Rosaria, believing in God’s existence and the truth of Jesus entailed a total change to her life, which she now saw as a “train wreck”. It started with a frank review her own motives and attitudes, and she found it necessary to seek forgiveness for pride, selfishness, manipulation, seeking power, and independence from God. Being christian also meant changing her outward life, and she gave up academia for life as a pastor’s wife and mother of adopted and fostered children.
Whether you agree with all her choices or not, there is no doubt that conversion for her was a very whole-hearted step, and she would say that only God could have given her the motivation and fortitude to change so radically. Read more about her story at Two atheist professors.
- Aussie actor Anna McGahan rejected belief in God in her childhood. An emphasis on body image led her to severe eating disorders and an undisciplined sexuality on her way to success on the screen. When she started to feel that she was deeply unhappy with her life, God unexpectedly intervened via christian friends and personal revelation, and gave her new hope and purpose.
- Lisa left a life of anger, self-destruction, prison, abuse, violence and drugs after she prayed to God for help and he “set my heart on fire and his love, patience, kindness, grace and mercy poured into my life repairing all the damage”.
- Kevin’s marriage broke up, leaving him a mess, until one night he had a nightmare, interrupted by a feeling of overwhelming love from a person in the dream he came to believe was Jesus.
- Megan read famous atheist writers in her teens but became dissatisfied with their arguments and inability to explain what she felt was the truth about ethics. She started to look more widely and found Catholic arguments to be more convincing and coherent. Belief in God answered her intellectual questions.
- Gary was a young man with materialistic aims in life, but God kept interfering – giving him a message through a pastor, telling Gary to speak to friends on God’s behalf, and knocking him to the floor in front of his friends. He concluded God was speaking to him, and decided to follow Jesus.
- Winson was the first of hundreds of drug addicted triad gang fighters in Hong Kong’s notorious walled city to seek God’s help to come off drugs without pain, be healed of his addictions and change the course of his life.
Can we draw any conclusions?
These stories are very varied.
- In some cases, strange events, healings or coincidences happened that can easily be seen as God at work, if we are inclined to accept that possibility.
- In other cases people whose lives were (on their own admission) a mess found that belief in God led to changes that they didn’t think were possible on their own efforts, and they naturally attributed these changes to the gracious hand of God.
- And in other cases, people unexpectedly felt the conviction that God was there, comforting, challenging, reassuring, guiding them, giving them reason and faith to believe.
It is easy to understand why they decided they believed it was really God.
But what about us?
I feel these stories add three extra factors into our consideration of the evidence for God:
- They are consistent with belief that God exists. If the previous evidence convinces us that God is there, these accounts offer confirmation and illustration.
- Are these accounts nothing more than imagination? Are so many (and many more) people so easily fooled? It seems to me that these stories make more sense if God is there than if he isn’t, and that means they are positive evidence of God and reasons to believe.
- Sometimes people say philosophical arguments and historical evidence are alright, they suppose, but why doesn’t God deal more directly with us if he’s really there? These accounts show that often he does just that.
We have seen many different reasons to believe God exists (you can go back to the start to check them out). In the next and last post in this series, I’ll look at how we may road test belief in God, and get a reality check based on day-to-day life.