Just recently retired at age 65 from a career in pathology, I happened to meet a casual friend, an old university professor and president, in the church foyer.
Himself long retired, he indulged the standard retirement question about what I was doing with my time. “Thinking!” I replied instantly and excitedly, adding, “And boy! -- is it fun!” Sated and jaded to every kind of eruption from youthful students except maybe “thinking,” and expecting in response a pleasantry as trivial as his question, the old professor was agape.
So nonplussed was my professor that he didn’t ask what I was thinking about. I was thinking about God. And finding it, the novelty of it as well as the substance, exciting.
Although born and raised as an SDA, I’d never as a pathologist had time at the microscope, or even shaving in the morning, for thinking about anything but diagnoses; or in residency tomorrow’s case presentation to the chief; or in med school class standing; or in college, exams; or in elementary school the multiplication tables. And that’s how I thought it should be. If I had any thinking energy left over, it went to fiction. I found Updike and Hemingway
especially alluring, and the New Yorker. And then there were the nonacademic enticements young men are susceptible to without thought. Re. God, what’s to think about? God exists and that’s that, and SDA doctrines are inspired and settled and that’s that. That was until I retired.
God, having created my mind for thinking about Him first and before everything else had to wait with patience divine and beyond reason or logic or a sinner’s expectation for me to retire to get my attention. Somehow retirement seemed to be His go signal and, mercifully, He hasn’t stopped since.
That was about a quarter of a century ago. Looking back, the thing that puts me in awe of what God was up to is how organized it has been. He had an agenda, rather like at all those committee meetings I used to attend and sometimes chair. His Agenda was not unfolded right off. It wasn’t until now as our meeting is nearing its mortal end that I am beginning to catch how masterly the master Chairman had planned it.
Reading The Word
No longer planted in an office swivel chair, I plopped myself down into my enfolding leather den chair, a Nordic hand-made molded plywood structure, with my library within easy reach but no microscope within 20 miles. For some reason I reached over and picked up the Bible, a KJV, blew off the dust and, to my surprise, found myself reading it as if it were in the top ten of
The Bible is famous for stories of plagues, concubines, and mass extinctions, but I'd had my full dose of that in cradle roll. Now I was especially drawn to the gospel of John. That’s a good starter for a beginner, even a re-beginner, because it seems so simply yet poetically written, a quality I’d come to rather like and heartily envy in old age, which is why I chose the KJV. But it turned but to be booby-trapped. It doesn’t get you at first but when you’re done with the book you realize that therein Christ has laid down a cosmic challenge. As C.S. Lewis so wonderfully put it (I took to reading a lot of Lewis too), He’s either history’s most evil and cunning liar (as Satan has insisted since the beginning, in heaven and the Garden), or a lunatic, or who He says He is, the Son of God, the only being in the cosmos able to redeem mankind. Somehow I’d never picked up on it before.
After this shock, I figured it was fully time that I really knew what the Bible itself said, from the horse's mouth, rather than from study guides as always before in school, or second hand from wise professors or commentators, too often with mischievous academic higher critical spins. And if the Son of God Himself, when incarnated as a man, could fight off Satan only by recourse to "it is written" and by "every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God," I
figured that I, whom the tempting devil had found a piece of cake, should jolly well stock up on as much of what is written as my aging memory banks could hold. So I went straight to all the other gospels, and Paul, this time in the Phillips or 21st Century KJV versions, eventually as ebooks; scanned Revelation; hit on Isaiah, my new best friend, and found him (in most places)
as poetic as John, even more poetic in the deep ancient way, and as remarkable a writer as Paul, the most lawyerly author prior to Luther.
And I re-acquainted myself with E.G. White, whom, back in my school days, I’d always before felt obliged at least to scan. Now to my surprise and delight, I discovered that she's a better read than anything on Goodreads, not only credible (read "inspired") but a really creditable writer, forthright, sometimes downright blunt but gently so. I hungrily scarfed down for the first time the bread of life which she serves up as only she can.
Faith Meets Doubt
It turned out that the timing for all this was providential. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that after I had reread John for the 4th or 5th time and Steps to Christ for the 3rd, an elite detachment of brilliant degreed professors, two of whom had been SDA senior pastors at Sligo, descended upon our church. From Sligo they had segued smoothly into Harvard and the U. Chicago and from thence to us. With day jobs at the burgeoning medical center across the street, they were ensconced in elaborate suites with executive assistants answering the phone with, “Office of the Earl of Compliance,” something like that. Come Sabbath, without a shred of compliance to predoctoral doctrines, they bestowed upon our Sabbath School contemporary issues hermeneutics, aka, holy agnosticism as one of them in a moment of whimsy called it. Every Sabbath a different book by Dallas Willard or Richard Capon was held up before us like the snake hoisted on the pole before the Israelites.
I remember one such scholarly session in which the Investigative Judgement and sanctuary were being reviewed from the perspective of exotic authors and higher hermeneutics, and found wanting. Nonplussed and on impulse, I blurted, “But that takes down a very pillar of Adventism!” At this the scholar paused, bowed his head, lowered his eyelids, and sighed compassionately, “I feel sorry for you.”
Thus browbeaten, I was moved to change my study focus from the nature of God and Christ and knowing Him to our SDA doctrines.
To accommodate the academic admonitions to be open and broad-minded, I duly glanced at Willard’s and Capon’s dust jackets and took a token dip into Hegel, even some Kierkegaard (as my wife is Danish), but choked on Derrida.
Eventually I scanned Google’s Plato and was entranced to learn that the 4th century BC founder of Western Civilization and the 4th century AD academic remodeler of the Church, is the flip side of God, made in the image of God but as a negative of Him. If God warned that death follows sin, Plato conjured the immortal soul imprisoned within the abhorrent body until liberated by the body’s death. To everything God says and is Plato has a substitute, even for
being “born again.” If God offers commandments, Plato offers ethics. If Christ offers Himself and salvation, Plato offers the “Form” (his stand-in for God, an intellectually hewn idol and no more alive) and emanations. If the prophets offer inspiration Plato offers reason. All that sounded awfully familiar.
Suffice it to say (and there's a lot to say), I found less than satisfactory scriptural evidence in the Bible, or E.G. White, for the new academic aberrations. I know Christ is not just a platonic or Laodicean “Form” but God yet a person, the one most crucial person in the cosmos, our, my Redeemer.
Thus over the decades The Agenda moved from God’s directly instilling within me a new familiarity and love of the Bible and Christ to a coterie of Adventist scholars’ shocking me into reexamining and reaffirming SDA doctrines. And just now from my fellow defenders of SDA tenets (should I say culture?) has come surely the last item on The Agenda, curiously the most guilt-evoking matter yet -- eating out for Sabbath lunch, our lifelong practice. It started with
my dad, an MD from the College of Medical Evangelists, class of 1925. After church he would make rounds on his patients at the new Adventist hospital, long ago replaced, while I, a small kid, and my kid brother would enjoy sabbath nature at the hospital zoo, long gone. On the way to the hospital, 20 miles from our home, we’d have lunch at Van de Kamp’s. Was that wrong?
As a pathologist, I didn’t make patient rounds. But why does the thought come to me that the issue might be comparable to that of circumcision that newly arrived orthodoxians urged upon the newly-converted early gentile Christians as the final proof of the authenticity of their conversion, provoking the sharply worded paternal ire of St. Paul? Our after-church lunch is now a pre-sliced cheese sandwich on a paper plate, at home. Amen.
A Gracious Redeemer
I had always known, and trembled at the thought, that such an interfacing with God as I have experienced must surely involve what most spiritual coaches nowadays are quick to call "guilt," and with their next breath they insist that since there is no Satan, such an unpleasant feeling is proof of the evilness of God. Why is it that progressive Platonic "Form" religion is so scared of the word “sin” and so cherishes the word “guilt”? As for God, He will wash you clean, and you really need to realize full well what you have been cleansed from. Rather than a prosecutor God stoning you to death with guilt, a kind God is sustaining you by informing of poisonous things and moving you to yearn to trash them. I like it that the Old Testament writers,
even those of famously frowning old prophets with lightning bolts rather than halos orbiting their white heads, preferred the word “shame.” They were embarrassed by what they had done. Now that's the more apt word, especially for those matters, enhanced by mod technology, that young men are so susceptible to.
In due course I began to sense that I was in danger of being changed by all this into a new person, embarrassingly and uncomfortably different from the person I had always been. (Of course I thought of 2 Corinthians 5:17, the KJV version with its quaint punctuation and syntax:
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
Was I being “born again,” metamorphosed from a chrysalis to a butterfly, all viscera liquefied and remanufactured new? Was it the old familiar school-days altar call that always had set me squirming? Not exactly, no soft background organ music and no squirming this time.
We Have This Hope
As I write this I am back in a swivel chair at a desk in front of a computer, in my sunset years with the golden clouds scudding across my sky and the velvet fog settling in, and my thinking machine getting pretty thready and unreliable. Although one eye is out because of macular degeneration and the other fading, I see Christ more clearly than ever, but still through a glass,
darkly. When He cometh I shall rise from my chair or grave and see Him as He is, face to face. That indeed must be the last item on His Agenda, and the beginning of the Eternal and Endless Agenda.
Dr. Kime was born 1929 in Los Angeles, California.
Kime pursued dual careers in art (since childhood) and medicine (physician; specialties in internal medicine and pathology; clinical and academic). He studied the principles of art, chemistry of paint, and the works of master artists as assiduously as medicine. After retiring from pathology at Kettering Medical Center in 1994, Dr. Kime has concentrated on his art, producing portraits, seascapes and figural work mainly in oils, and urbanscapes predominantly in watercolor. Dr. Kime currently lives in Redlands, CA.