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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Importance of Religion

Religion is a topic that has prompted great debate during the history of man. Such debate has not been without severe disagreement, even violence, and sadly, war. None of these outcomes should deter us from seeking the truth about religion, faith, and God. Why? Because, if there is in fact a God, then you and I are directly answerable to this God. If there is no God, then the debate is at best an academic exercise, and at worst a delusion of man’s hope of making sense out of this world.

American history is filled with some of the most colorful characters to be found anywhere. Lew was born in Indiana in 1827. He had a dislike of school, and a love for fishing. He even patented a new type of fishing pole. He served in the Mexican-American War of 1846, and earned his law degree in 1849. A couple of years later in 1852 he was married to Susan Ellston. They had their only child the following year. At age 29, he was elected to the Indiana State Senate where, among other things, he organizes the Montgomery Guards, a state militia unit that will mark him for later appointment as a Colonel of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War. This is fortuitous because he is promoted the next year in 1862 to Major General (two stars), honorably serving the Union throughout the remainder of the war. Most notably, he leads troops into the fight at the Battles of Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, both in Tennessee. In 1864, Lew successfully defends Washington, DC from Confederate forces advancing on the capitol. With the war over in 1865, Lew is assigned to be the judge over the assassination case of President Abraham Lincoln, and also over the trial of Henry Wirz, Commandant of Andersonville Prison where so many Union soldiers were abused and killed. In 1881 he served as a government minister to the nation of Turkey under President Chester A. Garfield.

You would think this was more than enough service and acclaim for one man in life. But, these are not the things Lew is best remembered for in our nation’s history. Among his many interests and pursuits, Lew was also a writer. He published his second novel in 1880. The name of this novel? Ben Hur! The official name of the book is: Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

So how did Lew Wallace come to write this book of faith which became the most popular book of the 19th Century?

While on a train ride in 1876, Major General Lew Wallace had a chance meeting with a Colonel Robert Ingersoll (I use their military titles because at that time in our history a man often used his military rank even after his military service was completed. It was considered to be a sign of respect and recognition of accomplishment.). Ingersoll was a well-known atheist. In his own words, Wallace says, “I confess that my attitude with respect to religion had been one of absolute indifference.” Born and raised a Methodist, the importance of religion in his life to this point, failed to make an impression on Wallace. Here is the dialogue (in part) between these two men.

"Is there a God?"

Quick as a flash, he replied, "I don't know: do you?"

And then I --- "Is there a Devil?"

And he ---"I don't know: do you?"

"Is there a Heaven?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Is there a Hell?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Is there a Hereafter?"

"I don't know, do you?"

Wallace then explains what happened next. Ingersoll had been asked to explain why he was an atheist to a group of folks on the train which he did for the next two hours until they arrived in Chicago. Wallace says, “I sat spellbound, listening to a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”

Lew Wallace was ashamed to admit that he could not even begin to defend his religious beliefs or explain what little he knew of his own Christian upbringing. He set out on a course to remedy this situation. “To lift me out of my indifference, one would think only strong affirmations of things regarded holiest would do. Yet here was I now moved as never before, and by what? The most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven, and the Hereafter which figures so in the hope and faith of the believing everywhere. Was the Colonel right? What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then---here is the unexpected of the affair---as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion. To write all my reflections would require many pages. I pass them to say simply that I resolved to study the subject. It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results---first, the book "Ben Hur," and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

How important is your faith to you? Do you know what you believe about God, Christ, Heaven, Hell, Eternal Life, the Hereafter? If not, this Christmas Season is a great time to begin again. Dust off your Bible, and go to church.

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