...that's when the outer office door opened up. It had been raining the last few days; gray skies that hung around like a cheap drape over a poorly furnished flop-house window. I shook myself from my reverie, and rose from my chair to shake Frannie's hand as she crossed the room to the chair across from my desk. She tried to twitch out a smile, but her eyes said that her heart wasn't in it. Her hand seemed cool. It struck me that she was clearly nervous. I'd try to be as tactful and quick as I could be, for her sake...and for mine. It was clear she needed to get this over with; she wanted to end it more than I did the day she first left my office. That seemed so long ago...
"Well....?" she said nervously. I took a sip off the mug in front of me. "Coffee?" I asked. "No, thanks..." she began, but this time, I poured her a cup anyway. "Cream and sugar?" "Two of each, please.", she smiled.
It was obvious that the warmth of the cup in her hand, and the little routine pleasantries were putting her a bit more at ease. I'd hoped it would; well, I chortled inside, that was one "prayer answered." I shrugged that thought off, and began giving her my report.
"Frannie, I did quite a bit of research in the last few days. For example, I interviewed a number of people at the local university. I've got the tapes of those interviews, let me give them to you now." As I slid the clear package of micro-cassettes over to her, I followed up with a second stack of standard audio cassettes. "As a courtesy, I like to provide my clients with regular audio tape too, so you can listen in your car, home stereo, or your portable boom box." She seemed mildly amused. "Could you give me a summary of what you learned?" she inquired. "Sure." I said. It was obvious that any hopes of letting the tapes do my talking had just passed...
"One lady I talked to was a biologist. She had all the degrees, and I have a copy of her vita and credentials in the report," which I slid across the desk to her as I spoke, "along with the vitals on the others I talked with, and a written summary of our conversations. I told them someone might follow up with them. But do me a favor, if you do, don't let them know that I got their pictures too.", I said. She grinned again as I said that, "Taking pictures are one of those habits a gumshoe gets into. I thought you might be curious to see the faces that went with their voices and backgrounds."
"Let me give you the RD version..." I said, when Frannie cut me off with an, "Excuse me?" It threw me off, and I wondered if my stomach had gurgled audibly or something. But the puzzled look on her face quickly told me what she wanted clarified. "I'm, sorry ma'am. 'RD' is the "Reader's Digest" version, you know, the 'condensed' version." She giggled a bit, saying, "Oh.", which I took as my signal to continue. "Anyway," I resumed, "I wanted to discuss with her the latest takes on the theory of evolution. She seemed pleased, and you'll note from the tapes that she has that confident sounding voice of a full professor teaching their class. She is very thorough, and she is convinced that life's origins are from what she called the interaction of chemical and photo-electrical elements in the water and atmosphere on earth billions of years ago. She didn't believe in God at all."
"I see." Frannie uttered with a tone of finality. She seemed to be expecting that; still there was a lot of disappointment in the way she held herself at that moment. I related it as being the adult version of the look a child gets, when they learn that the Santa at the mall didn't live at the North Pole...
"There's more." I said. Her head's bob clearly meant she wanted me to continue.
"Well, I'd done quite a bit of reading before talking with her. My study seemed to point to some problem areas in the standard evolutionary theories, at least in my mind. On the one hand, it seems that there is quite a bit of evidence that life developed on earth from simple, single celled life structures to much more complex living creatures. Still, a few items bothered me, and apparently some scientists and thinkers too. You see, one of the things that a number of scholars wonder about is this: if life evolves spontaneously, without any outside intelligence guiding or aiding it, then how do we explain the problem of symbiotic relationships?"
My client looked stunned. "You know," she slowly began, "I should have wondered about that myself. I used to enjoy biology in school. I remember thinking how interesting it was that certain creatures were mutually dependent on others for their existence. That symbiotic or mutually dependent relationship, how DO the scientists explain that? They can't have existed without each other, by definition, right?" she asked, as she leaned forward just a bit. Frannie was clearly getting back into the subject.
"Well, that was the first time the professor kind of stuttered a bit during my chat with her. You'll hear her view on the tape. The simplest way I can explain her position is to say that she theorizes something so against the laws of probability, for it to happen a single time would be a miracle. But as you may remember from your school days, there are LOTS of creatures that share that symbiotic type relationship. If one follows the theory of evolution, how can an animal, fish or any creature exist without the others of the opposite sex suddenly appearing at the same time, nor could a creature develope without needed symbiotic 'partners.' Scientists are divided on that subject, and others regarding evolution. Like how did a whale breath, how did it survive, before it 'evolved' it's blowhole?" I paused, and let those thoughts soak in...
"Amazing." she almost whispered. "To think that I used to be fascinated with whales as a teen and young adult, and I never thought about that. Why, it would take a miracle for a whale to evolve the way evolutionary scientists claim it took place, wouldn't it?" she asked with her voice, and her probing, lively eyes. Those eyes...
I put on my most composed poker face, and proceeded with a professional and matter of fact tone.
"Sure seems like it to me. But I didn't stop there. I spoke with a micro-biologist, and another colleague of hers at the same college who does research too. Same problems. In fact, one gent told me that some today are openly proposing that there is evolution, all right, but that it is entirely dependent on a Superior Intelligence and Power that guided it. That PhD said that school of thought points to the tremendous complexities of human and animal organs, like the heart, reproductive system, the brain and the eyes...", I paused
to drain my mug, "how does something as complex as an eye evolve? Surely, the eyes and other organs reflect a design, not some mere accident of nature. And how do you explain all of those different organs evolving at the same time, in the same creature, when each organ is dependent on the others for the creature to survive?" I caught myself sounding a bit, well, emotional as I said it. I know I felt it...Lord, did I feel what I thought I felt?
Frannie seemed to be feeling it too. But I was impressed that her next question showed objectivity. "Have you heard about that theory that intelligent life from another planet guided man's evolutionary development on earth? Isn't it possible that something like that would explain the gaps in evolutionary science?" "I had one man pose the same notion to me," I replied, "but science uses a great little law, the law of cause and effect. Even if we say, for discussions sake, that some other being from another planet helped evolution on earth, we'd still be stuck with the question, what caused that extra terrestrial life? How did it develop? Someone, sometime had to set up the first domino in the chain of causes and effects, and that Prime Mover had to always exist, or evolution makes no sense. It would run into too many unanswered questions."
"Did you check with someone about the Big Bang theory?" Frannie asked. I noticed she'd moved forward in her chair, one of those little signs of interest and emotion that a gumshoe is supposed to look for when they're 'reading' people.
"Yeah, I did. It seems that science, properly understood, doesn't undercut the notion of belief in God at all. In fact, one article I read stated that something like 85% of all scientists believe in a God who Created.
We can talk about the universe beginning with an explosion from a single point of condensed matter, but the questions then are: where did the matter come from, and what caused it to explode? I had one scientist who told me about the theory that the universe's matter always existed, and that it expands and collapses in a cycle that doesn't end. He said that theory is easier to believe in than it is to believe in God." "Is it just me," Frannie began slowly, "or does it sound to you like there is a weakness in that man's argument?"
I thought at that point that she must have been a good student, and probably one heck of an intuitive woman. "I want you to look at the part of my written report that talks about quarks, which are types of sub-atomic particles. I pointed out to that man that some quarks are known to simply wink out of existence, a process that is constantly taking place. So our planet and the universe, is always changing and decaying. It can't be eternal, since the matter it is made of isn't eternal. It seems that this old world really is passing away, billions of tiny sub-atomic particles at a time. "
Frannie smiled. "I didn't think I'd find your report so interesting, and frankly didn't imagine having a conversation about science like this either. You've done good work." I think I might have blushed at that, but if I did, she didn't let me know; she just went on. "But I still have questions, and my son would too." "Ok, Ma'am. Shoot." "Even if we realize that God had to cause everything, why can't we see or touch God?" "Well," as I fumbled for words, "it seems to me that if matter is always changing, and decaying, then God would have to be immaterial." "How can we believe in something we don't see?", came her query.
"Can you touch or see your emotions?" I asked. Frannie thought for a moment. "No," she said slowly, "we can feel or sense an emotion, but we can't touch or see it directly." "That's right." I stated. "You can't see or touch an emotion, or a thought for that matter, but they are still very real. So just because you don't see or touch the Creator in the same way as you would another person, doesn't mean that God isn't real. God is very real! So real, that without Him, nothing at all would exist." I paused as we both pondered that for a few moments, and continued.
"Now, I want to touch on something you and your son need to think about. Ok, there is a God. Since we believe in Him, we can also take a few minutes and show why we should believe that God inspired people to write the Bible; that Scripture is God's Word. I have some details on that in my report, so just read that later. You'll see that in spite of the arguments of all the skeptics, there are plenty of reasons why the Bible is a trustworthy source of moral and religious truths." Was this me that was talking? What a difference that one week of research had made in me...
"The Bible tells us that there is an afterlife, heaven and hell. We could get into a discussion about other places theologians call limbo, or purgatory, but let's keep it simple for now. Heaven in the New Testament is described as a place of eternal joy and happiness. It is the reward that God gives those who respond to His Saving Grace. You told me you thought your husband was a good man, someone who lived a Christian life, right?" "Yes." she said, with evident conviction. "Well, you have reason to share in the Christian hope for his soul's salvation, and for the reward of eternal joy that Jesus promised His faithful followers."
"Yes, Frannie, some criminal cut your husband's life short, it is wrong in an earthly sense, and it is a loss for you, your son and many others. But from a Christian perspective, shouldn't you be happy to think that your husband can no longer feel any sorrow or pain? Don't we want to 'live happily ever after' for ourselves and those we love? Well, it seems to me that your husband has that, and you and your son can one day join in that same happiness too." Naturally, I'd been following Frannie's reaction to all this, and it was now time. I reached for the tissue box, and passed it to her.
I've seen lots of different types of tears over the years, and I guess after a while a person can spot the tears of joy, the tears that come from relief, and those caused by sadness and other emotions too. These tears of hers looked like relief and joy; and her voice's quiet "Thank you." confirmed that for me.
After a few moments, I refilled her cup with java, and added two spoonfuls of creamer and sugar. I slid it over to her side of my desk, and poured myself a mug full of the warm, rich brew. The aroma seemed to fill the air, or at least for those moments, that's what we focused on.
In life, we can 'tune in' to someone or something, or 'tune things out.' Just as we chose to focus on the aroma of that coffee, we can find in nature and the universe that surrounds us all the wonders of God and His Creation. To some people, the wonder of childbirth, the budding of a flower, the sight of a bird in flight or the order in the universe are all powerful proof of a loving God that has always existed. Yet there are those who can stand there, look at the same things that a believer sees, and say: "Where is God? I don't believe what I don't see." Go figure.
You can not see the wind. Yet, you know it is there from the effects of the wind. You can believe in the wind, based on faith, or based on the evidence. The wind is unseen, but is real!
Just so, God is unseen, but is real. We can know God from the beauty of Creation, and the good fruits we see in faith-filled lives.
We can know God from His Revelation and from the lessons of the world around us.
It's a matter of how we use our "free will." When I began that lady's case, I frankly didn't give the Big Man much thought. When I did, it was the type of accusatory thoughts or denial of Him that He allows His Children to have.
But in the last few days, it dawned on me. Like a loving parent, God gives us all the tools, the talents and graces, to learn the truth and follow it. He provides all that we need to make the most of our lives. I've seen kids share a room, one keeps their side neatly, the other decides to be messy. But they had the same chance; it's all in what they did with it. Even given the great differences between people, God's gifts provide an eternal balance of opportunity. I shared a few thoughts out loud with my client. "We know that we have free will, the ability to choose one thing over another. If God took away our free will, we'd all be like robots. There would be no evil choices or actions. But, we wouldn't be individuals who could take credit for anything good either. God gave your husband's killer that ability to choose, and it was that man who abused God's gift. In fact, most evil comes from abuses of free will."
"But God isn't finished with him yet," Frannie noted, "maybe in some mysterious way, it will work out for everyone touched by this tragedy. At least we know that there is ultimate justice and mercy, just as surely as there is a God." I've met a lot of women in my days. At that moment, I couldn't think of a another who had as much balance as this gal did.
I could tell that Frannie Olsen had a final question on the tip of her tongue, so I prodded her: "Out with it. What's still on your mind?" Even as I spoke, it seem that she came more alive, with every passing moment turning into the joy of yet another smile. "Your report seems to favor Christianity. What about other religions, and all of the different Christian churches? How does someone know which faith or religion to choose?" She'd asked yet another intelligent question, one that demonstrated that she wasn't biased or bigoted by her upbringing or experiences. But I couldn't help but laugh a little at that. "Fran, I think that sounds like another case. But logic tells me that the Creator, a God of Truth and Unity, didn't want man to follow one of thousands of different churches or religions. He is truth, and so He would make His Truth knowable. I mentioned that the Bible has proofs of its reliability; among them, I found that hundreds of Old Testament prophecies came true in the person of Jesus Christ. Considering there are non-Biblical facts that supports the realities of the life of Jesus, I'd say the evidence is there to trust the New Testament and Christianity."
"Scholars say that the apostles were mostly commoners, not educated enough to pull off some elaborate hoax. Besides, what would they have gained from a hoax anyway? In those days, to be a Christian meant you risked your social status, your livelihood, freedom or even your life. Today, we have people that cash in on religion; but the early disciples didn't seek or do that."
"But what about all the other faiths in the world, and of the Christian churches we have today?" the widow Olsen prodded. "How would they fit into a loving God's plan for mankind?"
"Good question. I think that other faiths, other churches might be stepping stones to the Creator or away from Him. It would be in part an issue of how one responds to God's grace in their life's circumstances. But the Bible states that while there are now many flocks, some day, there will be just one flock, and one Shepherd. Jesus will be that Shepherd, but He will use His disciples on earth to help guide the rest of His people to the truth of the Good News; His Gospel of Salvation. If a person studies some Christian history, and is open minded, they will find which modern Church is the one that Jesus promised in Matthew 16 would endure even hellish attacks. I think a lot of people will be surprised, but as I said, to do that properly would take another assignment."
I felt a little like Paul (or should I say, at that point in his life, he was called Saul), having been knocked off my donkey onto my you know what. Yeah, my 'posterior' hurt a bit, but it was one of the pains that allows you to grow. I guess I could have told her about a few other stops I'd made during that week, notably to the little house next to a nearby church to, well, get my life going in the right direction. If the Apostle Paul needed others here on earth to guide him after his conversion, then I'm not ashamed of saying I need others so I too could advance in this new life in the Spirit; to worship God and try to live in the way He wills. But if I would have said all that to you earlier, it would have given away the story. I hate it when people give up the ending too soon, don't you? I don't want you to think that all this means that I'm now a perfect little choir boy. I'm not. I try to let His Spirit shine through, but there are plenty of times that I fail. That's tough, admitting error, and trying to make up for whatever wrong I've done. But it is healthy and good; it makes me and the world a little better. I still think about all the sadness and evil I've seen. But now, it isn't all the world's evils that is striking, or that Christians, even clergy and church leaders fail. It is that in a troubled world, sinners can change and become saints. Imperfect 'saints' on earth, to be sure, but glorious when it's all said and done... Oh, about Fran. No, I'm not going to get into all that; not right now, anyway...maybe another time. But getting back to my client and that wrap up meeting.
I passed Fran some other literature I'd downloaded from the 'Net, and had picked up during my assignment. I told her to ponder the mystery of sin, and the greater wonder of God's love, redeeming mankind in spite of our sinful tendencies. I told her that any day could be Christmas, a HOLY day, if that was a day that Jesus was born into someone's spiritual life. I also told her that God was still a God who loves us, carries us when we are down, weak or hurt, and heals us when we turn to Him in faith and prayer as we should. Yeah, I felt a little awkward about it all, but it was the right thing to say...
Frannie was about to go, and I took a breath as we both stood up. Yeah, she hugged me, and I hugged her back. "Thanks." she smiled. Her touch and scent lingered in the air, and in my mind too... I passed her an envelope, which she opened up. Her initial retainer and expense money was inside it. Her confused look was priceless, and though I'd never done anything like that before, I knew at that moment that I'd done it right."Thank you." I said. "You came to me for help. But the truth is, I've been helped far more than money or words could say."
It was about at that moment that a shaft of light penetrated the gray skies outside. We've all seen those rays of sunshine, which pierce the gloom that existed just before the illumination takes place. It seems that life is full of symbolism of the reality of God, of the struggles between good and evil...
The scene outside had drawn us both to the window. "I am the Light of the World." Frannie said, recalling Jesus' words from a verse from John's Gospel.
I put my arm around her. "Yes," I agreed, "and His truth has set us free."
Author's Note: Believers from time to time experience doubts, and atheists as well as agnostics seek and deserve the truth as well. This story is dedicated to them, based on the Scriptural admonition: "Always be prepared to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..." (1 Pet. 3 15)