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My Journey

By Vishal Mangalwadi 

My spiritual journey began in earnest at the university, where I went to study philosophy. Realizing that my university education could not account for the tremendous poverty of my Indian neighbors, I started living with the rural poor in order to understand the roots of India’s chronic poverty, corruption, oppression, and social evils. I also began to study history in order to understand how different worldviews have resulted either in poverty or development, oppression or freedom. Among other things, my actions and reflections have resulted in thirteen books, published around the world.
I was born in Chhatarpur (Madhya Pradesh) India in 1949. My parents, Victor and Kusum, raised me along with three brothers and three sisters. Quaker missionaries from America had introduced my grandparents to the Christian faith. I grew up knowing the basics of the faith, but had no real personal experience of its reality.
As a young boy I got into the habit of lying, cheating, and stealing from local shopkeepers. I believed that these things were wrong, but my “will power” was insufficient to break the bonds that these evils held in my life. The news that Christ came to save us from the power of sin appealed to me. A simple prayer asking Christ to save me, changed my life. I went back to the shops that I had stolen from and offered to make restitution. The shopkeepers were too stunned to accept the money.
I entered Allahabad University in 1967 to study philosophy, psychology and English literature. Here, secular, rationalistic philosophy shook my early faith. I came to the conclusion that I could no longer believe that the Bible was God’s Word. I began to recognize the merit of a traditional Indian parable about five blind men and an elephant. In it, each blind man can feel only one part of the elephant and comes to his own incorrect conclusion about the nature of the whole elephant. The parable seemed to say that arguing about truth is futile because every blind individual’s assertion about reality is only true relative to his own experience.
One of the most important lessons I learned at the university was that the professors knew that the philosophers knew that they did not know truth and that they could not know truth. Moreover, the professors said that our Creator could not possibly speak. They insisted that while they could write books, their Creator could not have his point of view written.
I discussed these philosophical issues with Hindu, Muslim, secular and Christian scholars who were better read and better informed than I was. My professors knew that they were as blind as the blind men of the parable. Their assertions about truth and God were based on ignorance. If reason cannot know truth then how can it know that the Creator does not exist or that He cannot communicate truth?
One day, an unexpected visitor from Australia, Ian North, encouraged me to read Francis Schaeffer’s book “Escape from Reason”. In this little book, the author explained why philosophy had moved from the age of reason to the age of non-reason toward contemporary mysticism. Intrigued by Schaeffer’s assertion that we can know truth if an all-knowing Creator revealed it, I decided to read the Bible one more time to see if it could possibly be God’s revelation.
I found some parts of the Bible to be arresting and more illuminating than my textbooks on philosophy. However, others were boring - sometimes even repulsive. I felt it would be more helpful to read Indian history than to waste my time reading these tidbits of Jewish history. But just as I was about to put the Bible away, for good, I noticed something strange.
My teachers of Indian history taught us how wonderful our ancestors were. But the Bible – the source book of Jewish history – was telling me terrible things about its kings, priests, prophets and people. It could not have been written from any of their perspectives. This book claimed to be God’s interpretation of Jewish history and the claim made sense. It explained why Israel and Judah were destroyed. The story of the restoration of a ruined nation fascinated me. Part 2.