Our Transformative Experience

 
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There are times when I wrestle with understanding how what I am studying glorifies the Lord, deepens my knowledge of His character, and broadens my appreciation for His activity in the universe. After all, studying philosophy and being Christian seem to be in direct contrast in the minds of some—Christian or otherwise. I think, as a general principle, we should all consider how our tens of thousands of dollars in education go towards loving the Lord (in addition to helping us find a career). As I consider philosophy’s contribution to my faith, I rest on this thought of living a transformed life. After all, the Bible says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18); “and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2); and “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). How can I use philosophy to more deeply stamp these truths on my heart? 

At the intersection of epistemology (the study of knowledge) and philosophy of mind, L.A. Paul, professor at Yale University, has written a book titled Transformative Experience, and she creates a thought experiment that I think is helpful for understanding the significance of the moment when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It is sometimes called the “vampire thought experiment,” and it is couched in a powerfully interesting illustration to motivate an understanding of what a transformative experience (such as conversion) is like and what is involved in it. It goes something like this:

Imagine that you have been given the chance to become a vampire (clearly this does not appeal to the believer, but bear with me). The transformation would be painless and would not hurt others, but you would gain superpowers in exchange for letting go of your human way of life. All your friends have taken the risk, and they love it—will you do it? 

She goes on to say that it is difficult to make a rational choice here; indeed, it might be impossible! This is because who you are now and who you will be after the transformation will have fundamentally different core preferences.  Before becoming a vampire, you might have enjoyed cheesy garlic bread—cheesy garlic bread is life, after all. Following the transformation, cheesy garlic bread will not be life; in fact, it will be death (or something near enough). And yet, something about the transformative experience changes you in such a deep way that you’re okay with never eating it again. This kind of change is unfathomable. No amount of preparation or contemplation or deliberation can prepare you to experience life as a vampire except becoming a vampire! This is where the thought experiment affords us some spiritual exhortation. 

Does this vampire transformation scenario remind us of anything we’ve had to go through in our own lives? I hope that as we read the summary of this philosophical thought experiment, the word “CONVERSION” flashed across our minds. As believers, we’ve all undergone a transformation, and I dare say, we love it. But I wonder: how transformative was our conversion? 

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” Some will take this verse to mean that God is going to bless you with the things that you desire—a good job, a good husband or wife, and a good life. How quickly we forget the first (and more important) part of the verse: delight yourself in the Lord. When we accept the offer to have our lives be transformed, our core preferences change. The Lord is who we delight in now, and He always satisfies our desire for Him. The one who has transformed has a new appetite for the Word of God that they didn’t have before. The one who has transformed is less interested in some of the hobbies they used to have. The one who has transformed delights to ask what is on God’s heart when they might not even have believed in Him before. 

We can provide evidence for the transformative power of the Gospel by living transformed lives. This is not to say that upon receiving the Lord, we will not fall into sin or temptation. Paul writes passionately (and relatably) in Romans 7:18-20, saying: 

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

When we receive the Lord into our hearts and become transformed, we might be confused by the sin that we still see in our lives. Take heart, and trust that you have already been transformed—it’s a process that God is unfolding. Press into the new desires that have been placed in your heart, and know that, at your core, you have been made new. Think about where you have come from and where you are now; my hope is that you are able to see how the Lord’s transformative love has shaped you and continues to shape you. 


I’ll close with this: has conversion been a transformative experience for us? Or have we held onto the same preferences we had before giving our lives to the Lord? When we said ‘yes’ to the Lord, we said ‘yes’ to a new life—life as His beloved children, and life as those who love and serve a great God. Remember that your life has been transformed. Prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Ben Fan (@thatcoldbrewguy) is an M.A. Philosophy student at Talbot School of Theology and is the high school pastor at Renew Church OC. He is currently applying to PhD programs in philosophy because he hopes to engage academia as a mission field and is a big NBA fan, specifically the Spurs! He also sells cold brew @thatcoldbrewguy on Instagram and maintains a personal blog afeathersfall.wordpress.com.

 
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