By Elizabeth Prata
I was looking through an old travel journal I’d kept on my first big trip. I was a senior in high school, and the class was taking a trip to London. My parents gave me the trip as a graduation present.
I’d never flown before at the time (except a small Cessna a few feet off the ground in Provinceown) so the thought of flying through the night, at such a high altitude, over the ocean, I was very excited.
My travel journal captured my excitement: “Just completed takeoff. It was the most fantastic experience I ever had in my whole life! At first we were going slow and then fast and the next thing we knew we were over the lights of Boston. They were beautiful, like spider webs in the morning. In the next second we were over Provincetown and the next second I saw Nantucket.”
At that point we were at an altitude of 22,000 feet, the captain informed us, and our top altitude would be 33,000 feet. My next entry was a few hours later, when the sun began to peek over the horizon. We were flying east, so we were meeting the sun as we traveled over Nova Scotia, Canada, then the Atlantic, then Ireland.
“Beautiful. I’m watching one side of the world wake up while the other side is still sleeping. It’s all pink and blue, and the clouds are like cotton. The stewardess asked us to close our window shades, I’m not. I’m not going to miss this for all the gold on earth. This is God’s handiwork. I’m not turning down an offering from God.”
I remember the giddy feeling of having left earth and flying through realms I’d never been. Unhitched from the world, able to see above the clouds and into the heavens from a new perspective was startling to me and made a big impression. I’d written:
“I’ve decided that this is heaven. When I die I want to spend eternity here. Nothing but God could have made this. This is another world. The sun just came over the horizon. It’s too beautiful to describe.”
I’ve always loved geography, maps, locations, and boundaries like the sand-sea boundary, the 45th parallel, the equator. Edges of things. Being above the clouds and seeing in one glance the earth below and space above; the dark vs. light areas of the earth, and the stars above while the world wakes as not only fascinating to me but moving.
I know when the astronauts went into space they were moved also. I think we can’t help but be moved. The scripture says
The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2).
How can we look at the magnificence of the skies, moon, stars, and sun progressing across the skies in such an orderly march, each in its sparkling place, note the sunrise and sunset. I see that at age 17, even though having lived with a rabidly atheist father and a constantly seeking but never arriving at the knowledge of the truth mother, I could and did see God in the skies, as it poured forth speech. It’s obvious.
I was a perfect example of Romans 1:19-20,
that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Acknowledging God as creator actually put me in a worse position “when I die”. I wasn’t going to heaven if it happened. I’d be going to hell. It isn’t enough to see God’s handiwork, acknowledge it as His, and go on my way, deciding to enter heaven after I die. Why?
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, (Romans 1:21a).
It is not enough to say “God made this” yet go on my way as before. The knowledge of God as august, majestic, powerful creator should move us to look at ourselves in comparison and say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner” like the tax collector did, and was justified. I was moved that there was a God, it’s obvious enough that He made the world as Romans 1:20 states (‘He has made it plain to them’), but I did not know THE God. His handiwork did not stir in me a self-awareness of my puniness and filthiness next to His holiness. His handiwork is supposed to do that for the Gentiles, as the Law was supposed to for the Jews. (Romans 2-3).
The Law was supposed to demonstrate to the Jew that he could not attain moral perfection. His inner man would prevent it, being totally corrupt. Therefore, we are both under condemnation, both Jew and Gentile, for “all have sinned”. Only God is perfectly moral, just, and holy.
I hung there, in that precarious position of acknowledging God as Creator, but foolish enough to ignore Jesus as Savior. I thought I had made a wise and philosophically advanced decision, and God should applaud me for it. Not consciously, but unconsciously. I was the person that the verse in Romans 1:21b-22 speaks of,
they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.
No, lol, I didn’t worship snakes and crawling things but I did worship myself, my goals, my intellect, my wisdom, my pride. I worshiped idols as the verse says.
It was another 25 years before my incessant questions as a pagan would be resolved. If God made the world, then all the cultures who ever worshiped a god must be right that there is an afterlife. Since it’s obvious there’s an afterlife, hell must be real too. What makes heaven so great? What is the standard by which a person goes there? Because if everyone goes there, what makes it heaven? Everyone here is awful. (I acknowledged others’ sin, our depraved nature being obvious, except for meee, of course…)
God graciously gave me Jesus, and upon His moment of time pre-planned before the foundation of the world, I finally recognized my sin thanks to His grace and opening my eyes through the gift of faith. I repented of sin and fell upon Jesus’ feet. I understood the cross.
All those years I’d asked those questions, but whenever my mind tread closer to the cross, Jesus, and my own sin, my mind skittered away and I said, ‘No not that. It can’t be THAT.’ I don’t think many Christians understand the torment of the conscience, and the weariness to the soul of trying to find the answer but that our sin-darkened minds refuse to allow the holy light of the answer to burst through. It takes God passing HIs hand over us to do that, the external understanding of our need for Him, seen because of Him, by Him, through Him. I never would have gotten there on my own never. I know that.
Therefore we should be weak-need because of His grace. Grace through faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)