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Seven years old, lying in my dark bedroom, saying a prayer to God, I realized that my words were bouncing down from the ceiling and hitting  me in the face. God was not with me in my heart, but out there somewhere—and there was a great blackness between us. I couldn’t reach Him, and I knew, truly knew, it was my fault. Terror leaked from  my heart into every bone of my body, and suddenly I had to run, to the light, to the safety of my parents’ presence in the living room. I dropped to the floor and hugged my mother’s knees, looked up into her face, and cried, “Oh, Mama! Something terrible is happening! I have been praying  to God, but He won’t hear me, and it’s all my fault.”

Daddy jumped up off of the couch and turned off the TV. That shocked me. I turned to him and begged, “Please, you’ve got to pray for me!” At that moment my father uttered words that I didn’t think parents were allowed to say to their children. “I can’t pray for you, Elaine.” I turned toward my mother, and he said, “Your mother can’t pray for you either.”

Mama intervened with the tenderest name she has for me. “Oh, Laney, the Holy Spirit is calling you to repentance.”

My heart pounded as Daddy continued, “Your mother and I cannot be saved for you. Only you can pray the prayer that is needed now. Go back to your room and pray.” At that moment I panicked, “But what am I supposed to say? I don’t know what to say!” The answer was simple, “Tell God what’s in your heart.”

In anguish I returned to my bed and poured out my heart. “O God, I hate this feeling, and I know it is my fault. Please, God, please forgive me. I don’t ever want to feel like this again.” A warm peace suffused my body, and I fell asleep as my life changed.

At that time we were Southern Baptists and held conservative religious beliefs that included a Creator and a recent creation. These beliefs were not challenged until my ninth-grade biology class, when I had to write a report on the book On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. At that time, I tended to read captions and introductory and concluding paragraphs of each section, so I can’t even pretend to have read the book. However, what I did read must have made me quite furious.  I know this because my teacher wrote on my paper, “Elaine, don’t let one man’s ideas upset you so much.” I translated that to mean, “Elaine, you are as smart as anyone else, so think for yourself.” Words to live by and woe to my parents and teachers since then!

During my ninth-grade year, a major change occurred that would have a profound effect on my theology: a new pastor was hired at my church.   His first sermon was on creation, and he began by telling us that we had misunderstood Genesis. I was startled. He didn’t say we had misinterpreted the text but rather that we had not fully understood its meaning. He then proceeded to introduce theistic evolution to us. I was thrilled. I could merge my science and my Bible without the least qualm. During that one sermon, I fully embraced the concept and gave up my Creator for a “Divine Guide.” The theological implications of such a transition are astounding, but 14-year-old girls don’t know very much about theology. I quickly became a diehard theistic evolutionist.

This change in my theology did not manifest itself in a slipping and sliding away from God, and, although political bickering within two different congregations had dampened my parents’ enthusiasm for church attendance, my commitment to Him was as strong as ever. Consequently, my father drove my brother and me to various church meetings. When I turned 16, he gave me a car, and our church attendance increased. God was very close to me during those years even as my understanding of who He is became more confused.

As I neared high-school graduation, I was faced with a serious problem. I was fairly certain that my father expected me to do one of two things: get married or get a job. I wasn’t very keen on either option, so I needed to buy some time. Attending college was the perfect solution! As a science lover, I had no problem selecting a major—I would study history. It doesn’t sound logical now, but at the time it seemed quite logical. I didn’t have any plans because I was just biding my time until I was ready to get  a “real job” or else . . .  

Things, however, did not go quite as I had planned. In the second  semester I was railroaded into a new class, Geology Concepts for Teachers. Over my protests, the teacher ordered me to the registrar’s office as he announced, “Elaine, what you need in your life is academic discipline!” I grumbled all the way down the hall, not realizing that minimum class size was fixed at eight, and I was number eight. Mid-semester I changed my major to reflect my passion for geology. My father was livid! His little girl was not going to work in the oil fields! Things were not going as Dad had planned either.

The following year I took my first class on fossils—invertebrate paleontology—the study of animals without a backbone that have been preserved in the rocks. The course was fascinating and included field trips. There was one trip I will never forget. The hill was well exposed by a road cut, and we crawled up the side of the hill noting the corals, snails, and clams buried in the dirt. I was the first to reach the top, so I sat down to enjoy the view. As I raised my left hand, I noticed something clinging to my palm and looked to see what it was. The tiny rock was the size and shape of a kernel of wheat, a Foraminifera, an extinct one-celled marine animal. Putting my hands down into those forams then lifting them up as they ran through my fingers like sand on a seashore, I was stunned by the thought What kind of God do I serve? In my theistic evolutionary world, these animals had lived and died catastrophically before humans even existed. My heart exploded with emotion. Who did this? Only One! The theological issue of “death before sin” was raging in my mind. Did God create animals with a life span? These animals had not lived out their lives! God had not created things to die! No! No! This was not my God! My God loves me! And I cried . . . and no one asked me why.

So I shelved it all. I refused to think about these issues until about a year after my honeymoon. Daddy’s little girl had married a wonderful young man and dropped out of school. We met at church, and during our first year of marriage we began attending a Bible study that was using the book The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. We were excited! Jesus was coming very soon! We were determined to learn more about these things, and that’s when The Prophecy Crusade with evangelist Kenneth Cox came to our town.

The meetings were riveting, and the sermon outlines that were provided for the attendees contained all the Bible texts that were used each evening. We could hardly wait to get home after each meeting. We would compare the texts with our book. The next evening we would go to the question-and-answer session after the service, and I would begin, “Hal Lindsey says,” and Pastor Cox would respond, “Let’s see what the Bible has to say about that.”

As we continued to study, the entire Bible made sense for the first time in our lives. The messages were life-giving meat for the soul, and we were ecstatic about the things we were learning—until Pastor Cox preached the sermon “Adam’s Mother’s Birthday.” There were no questions that night. I marched down front and said, “You’re crazy! You don’t even know what you’re talking about! I’m a geologist, and life on this earth is at least 600 million years old!”

Pastor Cox only had one question, “Will you come back tomorrow night?  I have a book I’d like you to read.” I wasn’t interested, and there was no reason to return. Then God inspired the pastor to appeal to my greed (good old American capitalism). “I’ll give you the book.” Dad always said nothing is truly free, but the cost for this book was only one more lecture, so we went back for the book Creation: Accident or Design? by Harold Coffin. Dr. Coffin wrote about the rocks I had been studying for three years, but his interpretations of the information were consistent with a conservative reading of Scripture. I was up all night reading scattered paragraphs, back and forth through the book. By morning I knew that the data was not problematic; it was the interpretations that I had blindly accepted as fact. One contented thought dominated my mind, “I can believe the Bible again.”

Since that time I have encountered some serious scientific arguments and information that have proven to be real challenges to my faith. In my daily work, I read journals and talk with people who remind me that what I believe is not the norm within the scientific community. Through all of this, I have found that by stripping away the rhetoric, explanations, and interpretations, the data is revealed and, in most cases, the information is consistent with a biblical understanding of earth history. I admit that there are some things for which I do not have answers. These things do not shake my faith but rather provide me with stimulating topics for prayer, thought, and research because my faith is not based on scientific data; it is based on a living, intimate experience with God and His Word.

It is His gift.

Elaine Kennedy has a Ph.D. degree in geology from the University of Southern California. She is a geologist for the Geoscience Research Institute in Loma Linda, California.

How I Became a Creationist

by Elaine Kennedy
From the September 2005 Signs