We have been taught by DesCartes that the only reality we directly experience is the world of our thought - and by Kant that the world of thought really is the only world there is. In practice, since all of us (except some Scientologists) must live in the outside world, we live on two levels - what Kant called the phaenomenal level - the level of what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste - and the noumenal level - the level of what our mind makes of these things. And to most of us, that phaenomenal level is the real one. The rest is the 'trip' we lay on things - a map of things that works for us.
I had been deeply moved, in reading those two Sigrid Undset novels - Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken - by the conception of Christianity I had seen in it. I had, in particular, been moved to tears by my understanding, in reading the latter, that Jesus had thought Himself to be God dying for the sins of mankind.
I had been deeply moved, as well, by Candace's talk of a relationship with this Jesus, Who was always with her, would guide her, comfort her, strengthen her, at need.
I had been moved by these things as a fascinating and terribly attractive noumenal map to place on experience - a 'trip,' in fact.
When Candace talked about Heaven, about the New Jerusalem, about eternal life as being the rewards of passing some sort of final judgement by God - I was stunned - and I was filled with fear. For it suddenly came to me that, if these things were true - true in some sort phaenomenal sense - for the concept of any sort of unified truth was still far from me - that if these things were, as I would put it, really true - why, then, it didn't matter whether I believed them or not. Whatever reality they represented would overtake me, eventually, regardless of my state of faith. I might be like a man happily falling from the Empire State Building who did not believe in footpaths.
As I listened to Candace and Greg - Greg whose questions were challenges with a sneering quality, Candace whose answers were full of joy and conviction - I began to know - I must use the word 'know' rather than 'believe' or 'imagine' - to know that, in addition to those two, there were two others listening. I could see nothing of them. But Jesus Christ was in the darkness behind Greg on one side of him - and Satan was in the darkness behind him on the other side. I do not claim this knowledge to be of anything that someone else could verify. It was certainly not phaenomenal knowledge, for there were no phaenomena - nothing that appeared. But I was certain - and I knew that I must choose.
I spoke. I said, "I don't know about Greg, but I need to find out more about this."
This was rather a bombshell. Greg said, in exasperation, something like, "Oh, my God, no! Don't tell me you are taken in by this stuff, John?!!" And, when it became clear to him that I did indeed take seriously the idea that all of this might somehow actually be true, he did say, "Oh, well, we'll have to get round to straightening you out once we have this sector of the galaxy clear." That is really how Scientologists talk, I'm afraid :-)
Candace and I left. I had an undergraduate friend at the University that I knew was, in some sense, a Christian. At least, his father was a pastor and he lived in a room in his father's church. William Joseph Arnold is his name. I said we should go there.
Not, perhaps, the most thoughtful time to knock on a friend's door - it was, I think, about 4 or 5 in the morning. But we went. Bill (as I knew him then; he now goes by the name Joe) received us. He, Candace, and I talked. I was, as they could easily see, in a very excited state - though not so excited that I had no questions to ask. I do remember being quite concerned about the relationship between evolution and the Bible. It is good that I was. It showed that I was unwilling to treat this Christianity as just a trip.
Bill's (very sound) advice was to leave these matters for God to sort out with me later. The great thing was to trust Him.
How? I didn't know what to do - and, it seemed, neither did they. Bill found a cardboard carton full of religious tracts. One of them - I could wish I had kept it - had, at the end, a prayer, that was, I think, perfect. The matter of the prayer was straightforward. God had two claims on me. First, He had made me. I was, therefore, His workmanship, His to do with as He chose. But, second, He had sent His Son to die for my sins to redeem me. He had thus doubly the right to exact my submission, faith, and obedience. I prayed acknowledging these things - and told God that I would henceforth be His man. Whatever He saw fit to do with me was what I wanted.
I remember especially Candace's joy at my conversion. She had never, she said, brought anyone to the point of faith.
She had come to Hawai'i with a sense that it was God's will for her - and she had a looseleaf New Testament for which she had made a leather cover. She had felt led to bring it with her. She didn't know why she should, but she had. She gave it to me. I have it still.