Has the place and time of your salvation ever seemed important to you? I once heard a preacher say that a person isn’t truly saved if she can’t recall the moment it happened. Really, though, would God make your eternity depend on your memory?
I admit a special irritation with pastors who question the authenticity of their worshippers’ relationship with God. I even stopped going to a church where a preacher said that if someone doesn’t feel an urge to get baptized, then maybe he isn’t really saved. The danger of thinking this way is that it leads us to look for emotional signposts of someone’s Christianity, like weeping during service or saying Amen forcefully. But God does his real work in the interior, in the deep catacombs where we deceive ourselves of our sufficiency.
With that acknowledged, though, I will tell you of the moment God saved me.
It was in October of my junior year of high school, as I sat reading in a cafeteria used for study hall. I’d brought a Bible, but that was mainly because I noticed people left me alone when they saw me reading it. Some kind of transaction occurred when I read a story about Jesus in Mark 7.
A crowd asks Jesus to heal a deafmute man, and Christ leads the man aside. He glances up wearily to heaven and sighs (God sighs? I thought) and then spits on his hands and touches the man’s ears and tongue. “Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly” (Mark 7:35 NKJV).
Instead of performing a spectacle to his public glory, God takes this man away from the society who has ridiculed and dismissed him his whole life. And rather than wave his hand in barely concealed pity, Jesus takes the substance of himself and presses it into ears made to hear and a tongue made to speak. This was love like nothing I knew: love without condescension, without pride or self-thought, without need or obligation. It was a love with perfect understanding. It couldn’t quit.
The lights didn’t flicker (not any more than they usually did in that old cafeteria). The Bible’s pages didn’t flutter in a mysterious breeze. I was no one other than me, except for one addition: God had revealed himself to me as a person. My prayer was simply, He knows! Feeling had become knowing. Then it passed.
I didn’t remember this as the moment until much later. God was always shepherding me, but only after that day did I sense him rooting inside me and shaking out the dirt of self-confidence, the weeds of anger and bitterness and pride.
That process continues. I don’t know how deep it will go, but I’m hardly a saint, so there’s plenty of gardening yet, I think. What I do know is that none of it depends on people. That, I believe, is how someone recognizes he is saved. He rests in the acknowledgement that even as he is still, God has done the vital work and will not stop doing it.
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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