Jeffrey H. Harwell
Conoco DuPont Professor and Director
School of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Though I grew up going to church, I also grew up a sceptic. I can't remember ever wanting to be anything other than a "scientist". Strange as it may seem today, I grew up in the 50s and early 60s, and my assumption growing up was that "science" held all the answers and was the world's only hope for the future. One of my most vivid memories as a young college student is of being seated in an undergraduate chemistry class at Texas A&:M and looking down at the professor walking back and forth in front of the class lecturing; he seemed an almost god-like being to me. He was so smart and knew so much!
My first year at Texas A&M produced a crisis in my commitment to the beliefs with which I had grown up. During that year I was reading existential writers like Kafka and Camus. Their view of life challenged me, and I came to the realization that though I had held onto a belief in God, I didn't have any objective proof that God even existed. I had never examined the beliefs of the church in which I grew up. Because I wanted to be intellectually honest, I decided that I was going to face up to the fact that I didn't have any reason to believe in God and decided that I would try to live my life as though God didn't exist.
What a shock! As I began to try to act as though God didn't exist, I discovered that all of the meaning and purpose drained out of my life, and with it all of the hope. If there was no Creator and Judge to determine what was right and what was wrong, then I would have to choose right and wrong for myself. While in itself that didn't seem so bad, I soon realized that my choices were no more valid than those of a Stalin, a Hitler, or a John Wayne Gacy. If they were creating their own purpose and value out of their choices, just as I was out of mine, who was to say that my choices were correct and theirs were not? A majority vote? My heart refused to accept such a convenient, capricious solution; no other law of nature works that way. At the same time, I was realizing that, if God wasn't in control of the universe, then nothing that I did or felt had any more meaning than a random gust of wind, or a leaf that lived for a while then fell to the ground whether it was noticed or not. I cannot accept that human lives have no more ultimate value than leaves of grass, which come and go without being noticed or mourned.
Faced with this bleakness, I decided that I would believe in God and commit myself to living as though He existed. Something like the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be true, or life made no sense. I didn't, however, stop being skeptical. As I began to pursue knowing God through Jesus Christ, I also began seeking an intellectual foundation for my beliefs. To my joy, I found that the Bible's teaching about Jesus--His life, death and resurrection--stood up to an open, objective examination. While I can't run an experiment in the laboratory to "prove" the Bible to be true, there exist solid, objective data that support its authenticity and veracity. I found that the Bible we have today could be shown to be the same Bible that was written thousands of years ago. I learned that the Bible texts show first hand knowledge of the people, culture, language and customs of the times they described; they had all the earmarks of eye witness accounts. When examined by the accepted standards for legal evidence or for authenticating ancient historical accounts, they could be shown to be reliable and accurate reports of real events. Further, the events and teachings of the Bible were true to human nature and human society. Just as importantly, they described the real me; they were able to show me who I was and how I needed to allow God to change me.
It is important to realize that knowing God is not the same thing as being convinced intellectually that God exists. As the Apostle James wrote, "Even the demons believe, and tremble." True belief involves acting as though what Jesus said is true. After Jesus's first trip to Jerusalem following His baptism by John the Baptist, the Gospel of John tells us in the second chapter that the people of Jerusalem "were believing in Him," but that Jesus, for His part, "was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew what men were like." It is revealing that the same Greek verb is translated as "believe" in the first location, but as "entrust" in the second location. Faith is not primarily a matter of the head; it is primarily a matter of the will. In my own case, as my head became convinced that the words of the Bible were worthy of trust, the need of my heart led me to respond by "entrusting" myself to Jesus. On a daily basis this involves acting as though His words and promises are reliable and true. After over 25 years of trusting, I have never found His promises to fail. This gives me great confidence and hope for the future, a confidence and hope I wish all would be willing to share.
If you have any questions or comments you can E-Mail me at JHARWELL@OU.EDU