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Personality profile

Schaeffer gave a life-changing explanation of a personal God

Personality profile

Only one thing mattered about God in the beginning. I have in decades since been briefed on His other attributes-infinity, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, righteousness, aseity. But these are all refinements, in a sense, of the only question that was important to us in the '60s-whether god was personal. Every mother's fool had been versed in college in a lower-case and upper-story god who was the "ground of being." Cold comfort.

Like the dragon of Revelation 12, the Enlightenment had crouched at the delivery room door to devour Personality as soon as it was birthed from the Bible. Paul Tillich nibbled at it in the theology school and Freud finished it off in the psychology school. Personality was dead by my generation, collateral damage of science unmoored from Christendom. There was no "you" there, we were coolly told-all dissected and deconstructed into a gaggle of libidinal urges, with nothing at the center. Personality remained only as a chimera, a Hallmark card, the crutch of wimps not "worthy of their beards."

A 1959 Twilight Zone episode, "The Lonely," nails the dilemma. A convicted murderer is banished to an uninhabited asteroid for 40 years, serving his sentence alone in the universe-except for the presence of a robot dropped off via supply ship. She looks like a woman, talks like a woman, feels like a woman. And when one day a flying saucer from Earth appears with parole, she cries tears like a woman. After agonizing, the prisoner, over the baffled entreaties of his liberators, elects to live out the rest of his days on the asteroid with his ersatz companion.

An honest man born after Freud must at this point ask himself about the movie: "What is the difference between that robot and my wife, really?" In a less than honest (or consistent) moment, Freud himself, the man who killed love, writes desperately to his fiancée, "When you come to me, little Princess, love me irrationally."

Just then, when Kerouac's On the Road seems the only option, my brother Marc pulls from his knapsack in 1971 a new find, The God Who Is There, and before I get past the title I am "disbelieving for joy." The author, Schaeffer something, names the cause of our collective depression before we can name it ourselves. We had been alone in the universe. We had had enough of "god" and were ready for a god who was there! Our bodies and minds had ached for it-our experience had fairly demanded it!-but our educations had forbidden it. We had lived close to our presuppositions and far from reality, and the trip was starting to tell.

Brothers, what happened next is hard to explain, but when God became a personal God a few things ensued simultaneously, like the call of a lark as the signal to awaken the whole woodland. It threw open the windows to music. Everything was delicious-Smetana's Moldau, Beethoven's 7th, Birchermuesli, the Alps, old Mr. Ruchet bent over his cane, the strength in our limbs, the drip-drip of icicles dissolving into spring from the eaves of our chalets in Huemoz sur Ollon.

A recent trip to the attic lured me from my purpose to a dusty volume I unshelved and, slouching in a corner, thumbed through once again, curious to know if what I'd felt so long ago was the impressionism of youth and nothing more. He speaks my language still. He has one song in all his books-of a Personal God who is there and who is not silent and who makes this place a personal place and gives my life meaning-and I love the way he sings it.

When I walk down the street in Glenside in 2005, I walk differently than if Francis Schaeffer had not lived a continent and a generation away. Because of The God Who Is There, I make eye contact with the pedestrian who enters my space, conscious of the presence of another authentic personality created by the Personal God who is the father of us both. I do not see him as Camus's The Stranger. For this I make my tribute to Francis A. Schaeffer, not as other tributes I may have made in this column: This one is personal.