As Tom began to read ancient Christian texts, he soon realized they were interpreting the story of his life. Tom sensed these books were dramatically reshaping his mind and his understanding of his life’s journey. Have you had the same experience with your own reading? As Tom read, new, unexplored questions rose to the surface of his consciousness, queries that he discovered had been raised and discussed by Christ’s believing community for close to two thousand years.

Tom lists a few of these questions in his autobiography, A Change of Heart:

  • How can God become truly human without ceasing to be God? 
  • How can the evil and sin wreaked in history through the abuse of human freedom be atoned for by the death of Jesus on a Roman cross? 
  • If God is almighty and incomparably good, why has he allowed such evil and suffering to mar human history? 
  • How can a God who has revealed himself to be incomprehensible make himself sufficiently known to finite human minds? 
  • How can God be one and three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? 
  • Can human beings — God’s image-bearers — mirror the holiness of God within the history of sin?” 

Quite a list, isn’t it? Not a new question,” Tom comments, nor a dull one, in the list.” As Tom pondered these questions he realized a process had begun that would involve the rest of his adult life. He understood that there was nothing new in what I was learning; I was only relearning what had been relearned many times before from the apostolic witnesses.” Tom was amazed that the intergenerational wisdom of the ancient community of faith was completely accessible within modernity.” 

The questions Tom raises are important ones; we will be considering them all in coming blogs. For the moment, though, let’s listen carefully as Tom describes the momentous change in the direction of his life. 

My life story has had two phases: going away from home as far as I could go, not knowing what I might find in an odyssey of preparation, and then at last inhabiting anew my own original home of classic Christian wisdom. The uniting theme of the two parts of my life can only be providence. For confessing Christians, it is a familiar story of a life unexpectedly turned around by an outpouring of grace.” 

Tom invites us to compare the trajectory of our own lives with his journey of wandering, repentance, graced new beginnings, and the unfolding of God’s wonder and beauty to his mind and heart. Some may find that my story mirrors their own experience.” Tom’s life’s pilgrimage serves as a mirror in which we may discern the contours of God’s providence in our own life’s experiences. Putting that mirror in another’s hands is my motivation to write it as accurately just as it occurred. Those societal changes have affected everyone in our times, but at the same time the perennial story of salvation awaits anyone ready to hear it.” 

The books Tom was reading mirrored back to him the great, perennial story, the persistent, recurrent narrative of God’s love for his image-bearers and unfathomably deep desire to reform us all into the image of the invisible God, Jesus himself. 

As I consider Tom’s life — and death — my mind is drawn to many other image-bearers whose thoughts and lives have shaped my own thinking and living, and perhaps yours. As a possible spiritual exercise this week, grab a copy of Devotional Classics, the anthology edited by Richard Foster and Jim Smith. Turn to the table of contents. You’ll find the names of fifty-two image-bearers, human beings in whom the perennial story bore much fruit. Read through their names. And consider praying this prayer: Lord, I thank you for each of these lives. Would you have me spend time with one of these for an extended period? Guide me as I move into the history of your Holy Spirit and the perennial story that you delight in keep telling.” 

Our friend Richard Foster has been spending time over the past months with Julian of Norwich. He has been slowly reading Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love. Perhaps you’d like to make Julian’s acquaintance or deepen your friendship with her. Enjoy exploring other possibilities. The friendships we make now are going to last for a long time!