The Testimony of Jim Strahan
Greetings. I am a Christian layman living in Boerne, Texas a San Antonio suburb. I was raised in an evangelical, Bible-believing home, then married and raised my family in that same heritage. This letter is the story of my personal journey over the last four decades. I hope and pray that reading it will lead you to prayerfully consider what God may be saying to you, and that you will share it with others as He leads.
Recently, Zondervan published a book called, Four Views of Hell. In this book, four distinguished Christian scholars delivered some excellent arguments in support of their position with interaction that responded to one another's view. It is a great book. It offers insight into the rationale behind current interpretations of eternal destiny (Traditional, Metaphorical, Purgatorial and Conditional). My testimony and the books offered within this packet will present a fifth view. I realize this is a difficult subject. My pride would love to announce that through scholarly research and brilliant deduction, I arrived at this new conclusion. But the facts are, this fifth view was given to me. It started with a vision when I was seven years old. It took another thirty-three years to understand it, and ten more in prayer before I was ready to write this letter. I also realize that our journey to know Him may not take us down the same path where we can see everything together at once, but ultimately, it will bring us to the same destination. God does the revealing in His time; the best we can do is point to His goodness along the way. Here is my pointing. This is my testimony.
A Young Boy's Vision
I was seven years old and fast asleep on the floor in one of the three bedrooms of our small home. I do not remember anything unusual about the previous evening. You could say it was just another school night when my family retired early after a little evening TV. But sometime during that ordinary night, I heard and saw something that would forever change me and send me on a journey that ultimately would lead me to this moment with you. I can still vividly picture that night when I was awakened by the creaking sound of steps on the wood floor right next to me in the room. As most seven year olds would be, or anyone else for that matter, I was petrified! I knew that it was not a bad dream or nightmare. The adrenaline was pumping, and I was as awake and alert as I am now.
Thinking it might be a burglar, I lay motionless hoping he would take whatever he wanted and leave. If I yelled out for help, I thought it might put me in greater danger, so I remained silent. These thoughts were racing through my head, when suddenly I felt the strange sensation of my body coming off the floor and moving in an upward direction. I thought the intruder had killed me, and I was heading for heaven. The sensation of going upward lasted only a few seconds, then, I felt myself stop. I thought I had arrived. With my eyes still closed, and not knowing what would happen next, I heard an audible voice speak these awesome words. "It is I, when I died on the cross for you". The fear was gone, and I opened my eyes. It was Jesus. He had picked me up off the floor and put me on the bed next to where I had been sleeping. He walked across the room and turned around and showed me the nail scars in His hands and feet, then turned, and showed me the scar in His side. He literally lit up the room so that I could see Him and everything in the room very plainly. After showing me His side, He was gone, and I was back down on the floor, instantly.
It is hard to describe how I felt when it was over. It was like falling in love for the first time, but much stronger. As I lay back on the floor, all I could do was tell Him how much I loved Him. His love had instantly crushed my heart. Tears still flow, just as they are now, and every other time I think about it, even after forty-three years. The tears come from the realization of His love. That night I was overwhelmed by the undeserving and inescapable love of our Father.
The next morning I told my parents what happened, and they immediately called over our minister. We kept it somewhat quiet except for close Christian friends for obvious reasons; who would ever believe a child's story such as this one? And I have remained somewhat silent during my life, again only telling my closest Christian friends, except in one instance where I explained my experience to my church in Salt Lake City.
Life Goes On
For the next thirty-three years I continued to thank the Lord for what He had done, but I also had some questions. Why me, and what was I supposed to do with this experience? The answer did not come until I reached age forty. At that time I was an industrial engineering manager for United Parcel Service responsible for operational planning and execution for most of the state of Tennessee. I had moved my family from San Antonio, then to Dallas, and next to Salt Lake City before arriving in Franklin, just outside Nashville. I had been enjoying a very prosperous career. I prayed over each promotion and move, and the Lord was blessing. But, before I moved to Tennessee, I had fasted and prayed for something more than just a job where I could achieve a measure of success. I asked the Lord to move me to a place where I could find fellowship with others who were seeing God's amazing grace in scripture as I had seen.
Same Bible, Different Conclusion
In my youth I had the good fortune of running across some books on the beliefs of the early church. There were good reasons to believe that the majority of the church in the first four hundred years after Christ's death did not hold the same view of eternal destiny that is commonly taught in modern evangelical Christianity. Church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa all viewed God's judgments to be remedial in nature, not merely punitive. They believed the purpose of "fire" and "punishment" in scripture was to purge, purify and restore. It was not until the time of Augustine that the doctrine of everlasting torture began to dominate the church.
Grace, Mercy, Redemption
As I studied the scriptures over the years, supporting arguments for Augustine's idea of endless conscious torment for the vast majority of humanity began to collapse. Most of these apologies are covered in the enclosed books, and I think you will find them fascinating. In its place, I was left with many scriptures that clearly taught the opposite. Here's a short list of scriptures supporting the fifth view, which I will call, The Restoration Of All Things. There is coming a day when "every knee will bow and confess" (Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11), "all nations" will "bow" and "glorify" his name (Psalms 22:27 and 86:9), "all creation will be set free... and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21), "all things" created would be "reconciled... by making peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:16-20 and 2 Corinthians 5:19), "Christ will be all in all" (Ephesians 1:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:28), and we will enter a period of "the restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21).
I Resolve To Act
As I prayed in earnest that morning about my move to Franklin, I asked the Lord several questions. Why had He moved me to Franklin where I had not found the fellowship of others who believed the same? Why was I so obsessed with this subject? I told Him that it would be easier on others around me if He would just tell me that I had it all wrong. I cried out with a loud voice and an open mind ready for correction. And to top off my frustration on that day of prayer, I reminded Him of my standing thirty-three year old question: when was He ever going to tell me what that vision was all about? In the next brief moments, the answers to two of the three questions came to mind. No audible voices, no visions, just thoughts and questions that came into my mind quicker than I could think. The two answers received were this; I was not obsessed, and the vision was all about this very subject. But He wanted me to see it in the scripture first, before He could give me an understanding of the vision. I had never connected the two subjects. To summarize the vision is to summarize my life's testimony- and yours too! The vision began with an understanding that I was "asleep". He woke me up to His presence. He lifted me up and put me in a place of comfort, the realization that He was in the process of bringing all to Himself. He opened my eyes to what He had done on the cross. He dropped faith instantly into my heart to believe. I did not ask Him to come, nor did I deserve it. He put His love in my heart. Does this sound familiar?
I then realized that Paul's experience on the road to Damascus was the same. He did not deserve, nor ask for it. God just decided to reveal Himself to Paul making him an example for us to see the depth of His love for us. That is why Paul could write to the Church of Ephesus the following, which I will paraphrase from Ephesians 2:8-9. For by unmerited favor [grace] were you saved, through the process of believing [faith]. But the process of believing [faith] was not even your own, but a free gift. So that when everything is said and done, no man will be able to boast in his salvation, because it was all Him from the start to the finish. He really is the author and finisher of our faith.
So, why would God bring us to this understanding before others? Why wouldn't He just "appear" to everybody as He did to me? I believe the answer is found in the mystery of His will- aimed at bringing all of humanity into a mature, loving relationship with Him. As Talbott explains in one of the books enclosed, the process is like a master playing a novice in a game of chess. Despite the free will of the novice to make any move desired, through time, the master will ultimately bring the novice to checkmate.
In accomplishing His will, He uses people. As Paul explains in Romans, God's choosing of you and me (predestination) had little to do with foreknowledge or with our righteousness as compared to others. Rather, it had everything to do with demonstrating His greatest work: turning objects of wrath into vessels of mercy. We are left with nothing more to do than marvel at His love and become willing servants participating in His magnificent plan. If God is just and fair, and no respecter of persons; then I submit your testimony as the most compelling argument for believing in the ultimate Restoration of All Things. Furthermore, I believe that as God brings us to the climax of the greatest drama and love story ever written, the prophetic statements found in Ephesians 2:7 will be fulfilled, where He told His Church that there was coming a day when He would show us the exceeding richness (beyond our expectations) of His loving kindness. In doing so, He will grant the desire of the heart of the Church throughout the ages by bringing the rest of creation to the knowledge of Him as He opens their spiritual eyes and ears to hear Him say these awesome words; "It is I, when I died on the cross for you".
In my attempts to point to the message of ultimate reconciliation for all, I've tried to emphasize our own individual stories, which serve as the best examples of God's inescapable love.
I say that not because we don't have sufficient examples in His Word, but upon the realization of what He did in each of our own personal testimonies, we are able to internalize His Word building a faith that can't be moved. A man with an argument can't hold ground against a man with experience. So, in addition to His Word, He gives us the perspective of experience. So let's take a few moments and think about our own conversion experience and compare it to that of the apostle Paul. He tells us that he was the example for others who would follow. From his demonstrative conversion experience, we should be able to see parallel themes in ours. From the Damascus road miracle and from Paul's tenets of salvation as expressed in Ephesians 2:8; as believers, we share in the following:
* Jesus was the one pursuing
* We were undeserving
* We were saved by faith
* The faith to believe was given to us by God
* His will overcame our own
* No man will be able to boast
* The experience was a miracle
Seeing Jesus as the one pursuing us should be rather obvious as was the case with Paul. He was on the road to Damascus, which was symbolic of the world, doing what he thought to be right, but as an enemy of God. Hence, as a murderous traitor to his own people, he was grossly undeserving. Our testimony may, or may not be as exaggerated, but nonetheless, our sinful nature pulled the plug on any hopes of justification for being "good enough" to warrant such pursuit. The revelation of Jesus brought about acceptance and repentance. The faith granted to Paul was a free gift given to him by God since it could not have possibly originated in Paul. Prior to the blinding light and voice, Paul simply did not believe and had no intention of believing.
One of the laws of thermodynamics states that an object at rest will remain at rest, or an object in motion will remain in motion at a constant speed and direction unless acted upon by an outside force. In Paul's case we have clear evidence of the sovereign force of God overriding the will of a man, changing his direction and focus eternally. This cannot be denied. Paul was overcome by a tidal wave of love that changed his destiny forever. Let's be clear. Paul had no choice but to believe once God decided it was time, and neither did you. There are plenty of examples in the scripture where the heart of man was turned by the will of God. It was so powerful in Paul's life that he boldly began his letters to the saints by stating he was an apostle by the will of God. There was not any hint whatsoever that it was a joint decision. It was a clear statement and example to the world, which you now have become, of the potter molding the clay as he sees fit, in his own timing.
Paul didn't stand a chance, and neither would anyone else under those circumstances! And if God is not a respecter of persons, why wouldn't He do the same for those who have to date rejected Him, or have never met him? The fact that He is just and fair leads us to the only logical conclusion stated plainly in scripture that He will grant them the faith one day to believe as He did with you, so that Christ will be all in all in the heavens, and on the earth, and under the earth. For He has considered us all in disobedience that He might have mercy on us all! The choosing of you and I to come to this wonderful realization of His inescapable love first is to serve as a witness and example for the rest of the world of God's plan to take objects deserving of His wrath and turning them into vessels of His mercy; so that no man will be able to boast that he was smart enough, or good enough to choose God. You didn't choose Him; He chose you. Salvation is, was, and will always be His work.
It is the philosophy and beliefs of humanists and evolutionists that we are products of chance. If there was a choice in the matter of salvation, then it follows that there was a "chance" of making a wrong decision. But because of His great love for us, He did not leave it up to "chance". His Word, your story, and the entire universe shout of design reflecting a plan of amazing grace.