The Short, Unusual Witness of Bennie Abernathy

By Keith Miller | August 10, 2009

Keith, the heroes in the Bible seemed to have much more vivid encounters with God than I do. I’ve been wondering what it might be like to have an encounter with the living Lord. And if I did, would anyone believe me? How would I tell if it was real?

Good question. Some years ago, not long after I had made a decision as an adult to commit my life to God, I was thinking of how little we know about communication. I tried to imagine the live television pictures from the moon hitting my brain with pinpoint accuracy after traveling untold thousands of miles through the fantastic speeds of the earth’s and moon’s orbits and their joint travel around the sun. This kind of communication is more than my father could have even imagined. As a matter of fact, I remember seeing a demonstration with him of the first live television equipment at a university exhibit when I was a boy. I overheard people saying that television was interesting but would never be feasible, because it could only transmit a stationary picture for a few feet.

Just now I thought about the intimate experience I am having as I communicate with you through this book in your mind, perhaps across thousands of miles . . . conceivably over years of time. And yet even if I am dead when you read this, my living mind is meeting yours, and we are sharing to some degree the communication I am experiencing as I write. It is eerie, but it is true.

We may be just beginning to learn about the transmission of information between persons and between God and people. If God is personal in nature and we are to pray, “Our Father . . .” as Christ suggested (Matthew 6:9), then we should expect some sort of response in meaningful terms. It may be that our ability to tune in to God’s frequency is blocked by our own self-centered absorption. Perhaps our sin is like “filling our receiving screens with snow.” Yet occasionally people get very clear “pictures” of God’s answer to a prayer in terms of a meaningful word or image. And whether the contact was actually with God or not, sometimes the depth of the experience carries with it the power to change the life of the person praying, and through him or her, the lives of many others.

Several years ago a good friend named Alan told me about a startling encounter he had just been through. My friend is an intelligent professional man and in some ways a little cynical about things he hears. I certainly do not know if the experience had a transcendent reference, but my friend had been deeply moved by the account he related.

A Christian, an automobile salesman, who was a friend of Alan’s, decided he was going to make hospital calls two days each week as a part of his response to Christ’s admonition to visit the sick. During a routine telephone call to a man named Bennie Abernathy, with whom he had talked earlier about buying a new car, the salesman, Bert Johnson, reached his potential customer’s wife. She said, “Mr. Johnson, I don’t think my husband will be needing a new car. He is in the hospital and has incurable cancer. He will probably never get out.”

Bert thought, “I’ll go by to see him, just to say ‘Hello.” When he got to the man’s room in the hospital, he had a very superficial conversation. Bennie was nice enough, but Bert didn’t know him very well and had no idea how he felt about death. Finally, just before leaving, Bert decided to get in at least a word about the real situation. He turned to the sick man, “Well I hope the Lord gives you peace about all this,” nodding toward his body.

When the man heard Bert, his face lighted with a wonderful smile. “Let me tell you something,” he said. “All my life I have never really known what I felt about God. I have heard that a person must ‘commit his life to Jesus’ or ‘be born again’—but I didn’t really know how. Yesterday I was lying here, very depressed, because I did not know what to do to tie my life into God. In desperation I decided to pray. I simply asked God how I could come close to him.” The man’s face was very sincere and intense as he remembered his experience. Now he looked into Bert’s eyes with great clarity. “And do you know what’s happened as I prayed? I saw Jesus—here in this room, as real as you are. He was standing over there (he nodded toward the corner), and there were people coming to him. As they got to where he was, each one would reach inside his own robe and lift out his heart . . . and hand it to Jesus. First there were grown men, all kinds, and then there were the children…” Bennie paused as he saw it all again in his mind against the wall in the corner of the room. Bert did not know how long they sat like that, but finally the man looked up calmly and said, “Then I gave him my heart, too—and he took it, put his other hand on my shoulder and smiled as he said, ‘Peace.’ And then he was gone.”

Bert could only nod his head slightly as if in agreement. “That’s . . . wonderful,” he said softly.

The man in the bed went on thoughtfully, “You know, Mr. Johnson, I realize this whole thing sounds absurd, but it’s true. It’s the truest thing that ever happened to me. And I am going to tell every person who comes in that door before I die.”

And he did.

. . . All I can do is indicate indirectly certain events in man’s life, which can scarcely be described, which experience spirit as meeting; and in the end, when indirect indication is not enough, there is nothing for me but to appeal, my reader, to the witness of your own mysteries—buried, perhaps, but still attainable.

Martin Buber, I and Thou

A miracle is “not contrary to nature,” but contrary to what we know as nature.

Augustine, The City of God

In the dispute concerning the true God and the truth of religion, there has never happened any miracle on the side of error, and not of truth.

Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées

Lord, sometimes in my cynicism I feel as if prayer is autosuggestion and that we are playing games with ourselves when we talk of communicating with you. And then I see the miracles of modern science and realize that we are already experiencing things which point beyond our intellectual horizons to a time when people may be able to communicate mind to mind across thousands of miles. With regard to you, we seem to see though a dim lens now; but I believe with Paul that someday we may communicate face-to-face. I believe, and I appreciate your help with my unbelief. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete . . . . We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright. We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us.

I Corinthians 13:9,12

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on The Short, Unusual Witness of Bennie Abernathy
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