[My] encounter [in 1950 with Dr. Alfred Fisk, a liberal philosophy professor known as “The Lion of San Francisco State University”] was a crisis in a positive sense for me, a defining encounter with merely human faith.
The Holy Spirit enabled me to reject it emphatically. Fisk was believing where he should be skeptical. He had his faith entirely in the wrong place. He was trusting reason as his final authority, making his human mind into his bible.
With my thinking clarified by this conflict, I resolved to witness as God’s skeptic in a world where people were increasingly putting their faith in all the wrong things.
This was, of course, pretty heady stuff, and I needed the help of Gracie to put my feet solidly back on the ground. Gracie was an African-American woman who worked in the dishwashing room in the college cafeteria. I now worked in the same place as Gracie, as the student manager of the dining room.
I loved Gracie, and so did everyone else. But there was one thing she would not tolerate from me and that was bad manners in relationship to her, and her standards were high.
On rainy days, the cafeteria was jam-packed with students and tables overflowing with dishes … Gracie taught me that no matter how overwhelmed I was with work I was never to enter the dishwashing room without a warm smile and a clear greeting—no matter how busy I was dealing with dining room chaos. When I fell below her standards, she thundered, “White boy! White boy!” She threw in other choice comments until I stopped and apologized.
Gracie also would not let me go rushing by after the greeting. I had to stop for a little chat, not long, but enough to show her I cared about and respected her.
Sometimes on rainy days I would forget, and she shouted at me. Of course, she forgave me, provided that I reenacted the scene and did it right. Now this was embarrassing. In front of everyone I would walk away and then turn around and make a new entrance with perfect manners—to the delight of Gracie and the thorough enjoyment of any staff seeing this.
I believe in God’s sovereign plan. I believe it holds the world together (both laws and miracles) and gives it a destiny. [M]y encounter with Dr. Alfred Fisk was part of that plan. Who but a naive student would tell this prominent scholar and churchman he needed to become more skeptical about his faith in human reason?—And like a childlike friend ask this famous man to surrender his life to Christ?
And Gracie too was part of my training. Who but beloved Gracie would beat into my thoughtless head the importance of my taking time to show respect for people? In the years that have followed I look back at her as one of my best teachers and mentors.
Inspiration: What [is] the ultimate cause of [people] choosing Christ? [Is] it because [some people are] wiser than [others]? Not at all. The difference [is] the Father in His sovereign grace has chosen to reveal these things not “to the wise and the prudent” but to the “babes” (Matt 11:25–27). Why God chose [someone like me] we do not know; we can only wonder at such undeserving love.
Perspective: Salvation is a matter of sovereign grace. God plans our lives and orchestrates the details in such a way that we hear the gospel from people at just the right time in our lives. It is all part of a glorious program in which God is saving a number of people so vast that no one can count them.
Prayer: Sovereign King, Father of the Lord Jesus, we adore You for the mystery of your immense mercies and your choice of us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Grant us, as partners in Your sovereign working, to press with all urgency the claims of the gospel upon all who cross our paths, knowing that You will bring to Yourself a vast multitude. For Jesus’s glory. Amen.
Jack Miller, A Reasonable Faith for Unreasonable Times (1996, Unpublished), Ch. 5.
A later published version of this excerpt can be found in A Faith Worth Sharing by P & R Publishing.