My testimony of conversion
My story is not a spectacular one.
I was not living an exciting life filled with wild adventures, where I daily faced great dangers and God miraculously intervened by preventing certain death so that I would realize the vanity of my existence.
Nor did I have a terrible and miserable life, entangled in abominable vices. I am not an ex-serial killer. I never was the leader of a drug cartel or a prostitution ring. I never had mystical or out-of-body experiences, nor have I had encounters with extraterrestrial beings.
Quite the contrary. My life has always been very, very quiet and rather ordinary.
Yet, despite my “good quiet life”, I still needed a Saviour.
My aspirations and existential questions
I was a rather well-behaved child. I don’t think that I ever made life difficult for my parents if only that I kept rather much to myself, to the extent of being quite introverted. I did not communicate much. I was rather an intellectual – I enjoyed knowledge and studying. I liked to read and scroll through books. I went on long bike rides, by myself, and I thought about and reflected on many things. Whenever a group of people were doing something somewhere, like when my aunts and uncles would play cards during family gatherings or when there was a construction site in the neighbourhood, I would sit close by and simply watch and observe the scene.
My great goal in life was to become wise. I would imagine myself in my old age, rocking in a chair as I caressed my long white beard, lost in my thoughts while staring out in the distance. For many people, this type of image may seem rather lame and useless, but for me it illustrated the achievement of my life goal.
In my mind, wisdom essentially meant knowledge and not necessarily experience. I’ve always been rather cautious when it comes to trying new things. In my childhood, my best friend was the son of the school board librarian. Our extreme sport was staying after school in the library to help repair books. I was thus not very dangerous and I didn’t make many waves.
Like most French-Canadians in Quebec, I was raised in a family that practiced Catholicism. I was taught the catechism and I partook in the sacraments (baptism, first communion and confirmation). I’ve always liked things about God, and even during my adolescence I would frequently attend mass by myself on Saturday evenings. I didn’t go for the actual service itself, but simply to think and reflect in the quiet atmosphere of the church.
I liked school and I took my studies seriously. I succeeded well without too much effort. At that time, I wanted to become an astrophysicist – observe the stars to explain the origin of the universe. However, after high school, I began having existential questions which lead to a certain discouragement. I realized that the knowledge I was pursuing was not leading towards very positive outcomes. It was during the 1980’s at the time of the cold war between the United States and the former USSR, and the nuclear arms race. I wondered where the world was headed and I feared that all would end with an immense atomic blast.
In the Bible, King Solomon says that God put the thought of eternity in the human heart. (1) That means that there is something inside of us that finds its meaning in God alone. It is a void that can only be filled by God. We try to fill it ourselves with all kinds of things: money, material possessions, success, family, alcohol, sex, drugs. For me, it was knowledge. But all of these things are never able to fill this void, at least not completely in the long run.
Yet God uses this void to draw us to himself. The Lord Jesus said: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (2) Who doesn’t want rest for his or her soul!?!
Finding rest... through God’s word
I wanted this rest and God used my existential questioning to draw me to himself. In my quest for answers I turned to the Bible. I firmly believed that the Bible was the Word of God and I said to myself: “If there are answers to be found, they will be inside this book.” Curiously, I was not able to formulate any specific questions. But I knew that the answers I was looking for would be found in the Bible.
So, I began to read it.
“For the Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (3)
I was alone in my room with the huge red family Bible – Piérot-Clamer version, popal edition, with beautiful coloured illustrations. I read one chapter of the New Testament and a psalm every evening. After about a year and a half, I had read through the New Testament and Psalms twice.
One evening while I was “talking” with God, I told him this: “Lord, I know that I am a sinner and that my sins condemn me to hell. But I also know that Jesus died on the cross to pay the debt of condemnation and to save sinners. So, please save me.”
I prayed that prayer every night for a week. It was not a deep emotional cry of the heart. Rather it was more like a mathematical equation: since there is A, B and C, I arrive at the conclusion D. (What do you expect? I’ve always had a rational and cartesian mind!)
Nor at that time could I cite biblical passages to back up these spiritual truths. Nonetheless, what I did retain from my Bible reading was summed up in those spiritual truths, and I believe that God saved me at that moment, in the Spring of 1984, on the basis of my faith in God’s word. For the sentences that I said in my prayer adequately sum up the Gospel message. The apostle Paul says it this way:
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.” (4)
That is what I understood by reading the Scriptures all by myself in my room.
A few months later, I discovered another important spiritual truth: I could have the assurance of my salvation. The apostle John says:
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (5)
God did not leave me doubting and he did not want me living in fear. It was written in black and white in the Bible that he who believes in Jesus, the Son of God, and his redemptive work has eternal life. I believed, therefore, I had eternal life. I have this assurance ever since; not because I am better than anyone else but because God says so, and I believe what he says.
So how has this changed my life?
The most significant change that the Lord brought to my life at that time was that he made me realize what the reason for my existence was. I was on earth for a purpose.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (6)
God has prepared in advance good things for me to do – not in order to be saved, but because I am saved – and he expects me to do them.
I wanted to do these things planned for me long ago. I wanted to serve this God who saved me. Through the years, that desire has orientated my studies, my work, my leisures, my life.
Still today, I try to be aware of those good things that God puts before me... and I think this blog is one of them.
Eleazar, the bellicose monk
All excerpts are from The Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).
(1) The Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verse 11.
(2) The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 11, verses 28 and 29.
(3) The Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 4, verses 12 and 13.
(4) The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verses 22b to 24.
(5) First Epistle of John, chapter 5, verses 12 and 13.
(6) The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 to 10.