From Augustine to Bono — and Beyond (Excerpts from Finding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories)

Finding God

Finding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories — which builds on editor John M. Mulder’s earlier work with the late Hugh T. Kerr — is an anthology of inspiring accounts by and about people from the first century to today.

Many of the people featured in this wide-ranging collection are familiar; some are unknown; one is anonymous. They come from places scattered around the globe and throughout time — ancient Rome, medieval Europe, India, China, Latin America, the U.S.A., and beyond.

What all of these people have in common, however, is that each of them experienced a powerful spiritual conversion and was profoundly changed by it.

They include . . .


I flung myself down under a fig tree — how I know not — and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: “And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities.” For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”

Teresa of Ávila

Oh, God help me! How amazed I am when I think how hard my heart was despite all the help I had received from Him! It really frightens me to remember how little I could do by myself and how I was so tied and bound that I could not resolve to give myself wholly to God.

Martin Luther

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

Sojourner Truth

But, ere she reached the vehicle, she says that God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, “in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over” — that he pervaded the universe — “and that there was no place where God was not.” She became instantly conscious of her great sin in forgetting her almighty Friend and “ever-present help in time of trouble.” . . .

A dire dread of annihilation now seized her, and she waited to see if, by “another look,” she was to be stricken from existence, — swallowed up, even as the fire licketh up the oil with which it comes in contact. When at last the second look came not, and her attention was once more called to outward things, she observed her master had left, and exclaiming aloud, “Oh, God, I did not know you were so big,” walked into the house, and made an effort to resume her work. But the workings of the inward man were too absorbing to admit of much attention to her avocations.

Leo Tolstoy

Not twice, not three times, but tens, hundreds, of times did I pass through these alternations, — now of joy and excitement, now of despair and of consciousness of the impossibility of life. . . .

“What more, then, do I seek?” A voice seemed to cry within me, “This is He, He without whom there is no life. To know God and to live are one. God is life.”

Live to seek God, and life will not be without God. And stronger than ever rose up life within and around me, and the light that then shone never left me again.

Thus I was saved from self-murder. When and how this change in me took place I could not say. As gradually, imperceptibly as life had decayed in me, till I reached the impossibility of living, till life stood still, and I longed to kill myself, so gradually and imperceptibly I felt the glow and strength of life return to me.

Ethel Waters

I was praying hard and hopefully, asking God, “What am I seeking here? What do I want of You? Help me! If nothing happens, I can’t come back here any more!”

And then it happened! The peace of heart and of mind, the peace I had been seeking all my life. I know that never again, so long as I live, can I experience that wonderful reaction I had that night in the little church. Love flooded my heart and I knew I had found God and that now and for always I would have an ally, a friend close by to strengthen me and cheer me on.

Charles Colson

Just as a man about to die is supposed to see flash before him, sequence by sequence, the high points of his life, so, as Tom’s voice read on that August evening, key events in my life paraded before me as if projected on a screen. Things I hadn’t thought about in years — my graduation speech at prep school — being “good enough” for the Marines — my first marriage, into the “right” family — sitting on the Jaycees’ dais while civic leader after civic leader praised me as the outstanding young man of Boston — then to the White House — the clawing and straining for status and position — “Mr. Colson, the President is calling — Mr. Colson, the President wants to see you right away.” . . .

Now, sitting there on the dimly lit porch, my self-centered past was washing over me in waves. It was painful. Agony.


It dawned on me for the first time, really. It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. . . . There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.

. . . and many others (sixty in all).

The Apostle Paul, Constantine, Augustine, Martin Luther, Bartolomé de Las Casas, Ignatius Loyola, John Calvin, Teresa of Ávila, Richard Baxter, Blaise Pascal, George Fox, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, Elizabeth Bayley Seton, Charles G. Finney, Sojourner Truth, Phoebe Palmer, David Livingstone, Fanny Crosby, Leo Tolstoy, Charles H. Spurgeon, William Booth, Francis Thompson, Thérèse of Lisieux, Black Elk, Pandita Ramabai. Billy Sunday, Sun Chu Kil, Evelyn Underhill, Albert Schweitzer, E. Stanley Jones, Toyohiko Kagawa, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Samuel M. Shoemaker, Bill W. (Wilson), Dorothy Day, C. S. Lewis, Howard Thurman, Ethel Waters, Clare Boothe Luce, Malcolm Muggeridge, Simone Weil, Mother Teresa, Clarence Jordan, Thomas Merton, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Festo Kivengere, Martin Luther King Jr., Charles W. Colson, Alvin Plantinga, Millard Fuller, Francis S. Collins, Pat Day, A Chinese Christian, Latin American Pentecostals: Juan Gonzáles and Rosa, Bono.

Click to order Finding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories, edited by John M. Mulder.