What it Means to Believe
This excerpt from my recent novel, A Spent Bullet, is a conversation between Harry Miller, a young soldier and Levon Reed, the father of the girl he plans to marry. It’s a conversation between two men about belief.
A ninety-two-year-old cousin of mine wrote, “I’ve taken college religion classes and lived nearly a century. Mr. Reed’s A Spent Bullet explanation of belief and being born again may be the best I’ve ever heard.”
Sit back and eavesdrop in on this 1941 conversation in a Louisiana pasture.
Levon Reed spat again. “Boy, you might fit in with this family after all.” He tossed a loose end of wire at Harry. “Now start making yourself useful.”
The only sound was Levon Reed’s tuneless whistling. As the last of the wire was rolled up, he stopped. “Harry, I know we seem like backwards folk to a city boy like you, but we’re just different.”
He pointed toward a nearby lone pine. “Our tap root’s pretty deep too.”
“Mr. Reed, your tap root is way deeper than mine will ever be.” Harry picked up a coil of wire. “I got a question that’s been bugging me: what do folks mean when you talk about being ‘born again’?”
Levon Reed hefted three rolls of wire on his shoulder. “It’s something that happens in a fellow’s heart.” He seemed deep in thought as they walked toward the house.
“Let me give you an example: my boy, Jimmy Earl, joined the Air Corps. He and I both love aeroplanes, but there’s a distinct difference. He’s flying in them now. I’ve never flown in one and probably will die without getting off the ground.
“We both believe planes can fly, but there’s a difference in our beliefs. Jimmy Earl believes in planes. He’s willing to put his butt in a seat and let someone fly him up into the wild blue yonder. Me? I just believe about planes. I believe they can fly, but I’m not willing to commit.”
Mr. Reed pointed to his head and then his heart. “There’s a heap of difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. It’s commitment. A willingness to strap yourself in and trust something else or someone. I believe a fellow’s ‘born again’ when he goes from standing on the ground admiring the plane to crawling in and trusting. It’s letting Jesus be the pilot of your life.”
“Do you trust Jesus like that?” Harry asked.
“Sure I do.”
“Even . . . uh, even after what happened to Ben?” Harry shuddered at his own question.
Tears filled Mr. Reed’s eyes and he sighed. “That’s a good question and also a hard one.” He removed his hat, wiping his forehead. “I’ve been trusting Jesus all of my life. I’ve trusted him with all I’ve got, including my family. I can’t get my arms around why God let Ben die—been talking to the Lord about it—haven’t got a good answer yet.”
“Do you think God caused the accident?” Harry said.
“Heck, no. A boy chasing a dog ran out in front of a moving truck. That’s what caused it. I don’t believe God caused it, but I do believe he allowed it. And I trust him in spite of my son dying.”
“How do I get that kind of faith?”
“I believe you’re getting it.”
“But I haven’t . . . I haven’t felt any fireworks go off.”
“Fireworks ain’t a sign of being born again. I’ve seen folks jump high for Jesus and two weeks later be back living like the devil. My experience has been that being born again happens in an instant, but becoming a true follower of Jesus—growing to be like him—is a lifetime process.”
Harry kicked at a clod of dirt. “I can feel some changes, but there’s a lot more needed.”
“It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Let me see . . . .” Pulling his pliers out, Mr. Reed clipped off the wire. “Son, let me think about how to best describe this growth process.”
The old farmer walked in silence for the next minute. “I was in the Great War. When my unit went across the Atlantic—The Big Pond—I studied that big ocean liner, and watched how they adjusted course. It wasn’t all at once. It was more a matter of the captain bumping—or nudging—that rudder a wee bit at a time. Crossing the ocean on a liner isn’t made with 180-degree turns, but steady bumps on the wheel. Same thing’s true in life-change. Often it’s a series of gradual changes that determine a man’s course and direction.”
“Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved . . . .”