My Eyes Have Seen God (I): An Atheist Converts to Christ
From the book “My Eyes Have Seen God” by Sun Tao Hsieh—Taichung, Taiwan
In his book “My Eyes Have Seen God,” Elder Sun Tao Hsieh shares how he and his family came to worship the true God and how they have personally experienced God. He also describes his journey to full-time ministry and the mighty works of God that he has witnessed while serving the Lord. In this first installment, Elder Hsieh relates his journey to conversion.
Before Believing in the Lord
On 15 August 1945, the emperor of Japan announced on the radio that Japan had surrendered to the United States, marking the end of World War II. Following this, on 25 October, power in Taiwan was transferred from Japan back to the Taiwanese.
At the time, I was in my third year at the Agricultural Polytechnic School in Huwei, Taiwan, and had been educated by the Japanese educational system. I am only able to speak Mandarin and write Chinese because I taught myself, which is why my Mandarin is imperfect and tinged with a Taiwanese accent. In September 1946, I began studying at Nanshi Teaching Academy, a teachers’ college in the city of Tainan. Even though we were no longer under Japanese rule, there were still students who carried on living the old way of life—they spoke Japanese and would beat us if we failed to salute them in the streets.
The following April, in 1947, I withdrew from the teachers’ college. I was nineteen years old. I had originally enrolled to lighten my parents’ financial burden—the school was publicly subsidized so I did not need to pay tuition, and I even received a stipend. But after eight months, I was certain that I did not want to continue my studies. Before I believed in the Lord Jesus, I was very ambitious. I figured that if I finished the course, the best I could hope for was to become a school principal, something that I no longer considered to be such a great achievement. I withdrew from college against the advice of my father and my teachers, and started studying day and night so I could retake my university entrance examinations.
I was born in the tiny township of Tuku in Yunlin County. My older sister, who is six years older than me, was married and lived in Huwei, only five kilometers away. In June of the same year, she invited me to stay with her while I prepared for my exams, so I could have a more peaceful study environment.
At the time, my sister and her family were pursuing the gospel at the True Jesus Church in Huwei, but they were not yet baptized. Nonetheless, they were quite zealous and attended services every night. On Saturday, the Sabbath, they would rest from their work and go to worship. Not only that, my sister would preach and testify to everyone she met, and would not stop until the other person had really had enough.
Before I had a chance to get comfortable in her house, she started to preach the gospel to me, saying, “You should come and believe in Jesus, for worshipping Jesus is to worship the Creator of the universe, the Almighty God.”
I asked her, “How tall is your God? How fat or thin is He?”
She paused to think, then replied, “We can’t see God with our eyes, so how would I know how tall, short, fat or thin God is?”
Then I said, “Since you can’t see God, how do you even know there is a God? There’s no God in the universe, because anything that cannot be proven scientifically is not worth believing in. If I had to guess what God is, then I’d say that God is the conscience within every one of us. So I don’t believe in God; I believe in myself!”
My sister replied, “I’m not that acquainted with the truth, so I don’t yet know how to answer you. But if you really want to know the answers, you can come to church and ask the minister.”
I thought to myself, “This will be
a good opportunity. I’ll go to church tonight and challenge the minister. Let’s
see how he responds.”
Pursuing the Truth
That night I went to church. This marked the beginning of my pursuit of the truth. I listened very closely to the sermon that night, not because I wanted to believe in Jesus but because I wanted to find fault with the minister’s message.
In those days, I loved arguing with others and found great joy in winning debates. I relished the thought of defeating the minister in an argument and making him suffer the humiliation. I could not wait to see the expression on his face when he lost the debate to me, so I listened intently to the sermon. However, the minister spoke of nothing but the Bible from beginning to end. Even if he had made a mistake, I would not have known, since I had never touched a Bible before. I had no questions for the minister that night, which left me quite frustrated.
I made up my mind to not only go to church every night to listen to the message, but to also study the Bible on my own so that I would become familiar with it. Then, I would surely be able to catch any mistakes the minister might make. I had originally gone to stay with my sister to prepare for my exams, but I ended up putting aside my books to study the Bible and to listen to the word of God.
I continued to do this for about a month, but there were two things that made me anxious. The first was the appearance of the believers when they were filled by the Holy Spirit. When they prayed, they spoke in tongues, so observers could not understand what they were saying. Furthermore, their bodies would tremble and shake. If they were pretending, why did they assume this less than graceful form? Perhaps they were not pretending; perhaps there really was a power emanating from within them. The second thing that gave me pause was the presence of divine miracles. During that time, there were many miracles and wonders at the church in Huwei. Many who were ill were healed after coming to church to pray. After seeing these miracles, I began to think that perhaps there really was a God in this church.
The fact that I was experiencing a 180-degree change of heart caused me to doubt myself. One could say I was confused—but my consciousness was very clear. Or one might say that I was being flippant—but my attitude was very serious. Maybe I was weak—but I had a very stubborn personality. Or maybe I compromised—and yet how could I do so as a committed atheist? Why did I experience such a dramatic change? I can only say that this was a miracle, that it was the compassionate love of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
By this time, I had found the answers to the questions I had raised with my sister:
First, Jesus Christ possesses both a human and a divine nature. In terms of His human nature, He was a Jew, the descendant of Abraham and of David. In terms of His divine nature, He is above all things and prior to all things. All things were made through Him and are sustained by Him. He is the God who is eternally to be praised (Mt 1:1–18; Rom 9:5; Col 1:15–17).
Second, God is Spirit and not a physical entity. He cannot be seen with human eyes nor touched with human hands (Jn 4:24). He is so large that He can fill the universe, and so small that He can dwell within a person (Ps 139:7–10; Eph 4:6). Thus, humans cannot determine how tall or large, short or thin, God may be.
Third, this world can be divided into two realms: the physical and the spiritual. Science seeks to solve questions concerning matters within the realm of things, and deals with objects that take their form in the material world. Religion, however, seeks to solve questions that relate to the world beyond things, dealing with matters of formless spirit. Thus, even though science has no means to verify the existence of God, God undeniably exists (Rom 1:19–20).
Fourth, the spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord and can perform the function of God in examining the innermost being (Prov 20:27). It can also help a person determine what is right and wrong (Rom 2:14–15). Thus, the conscience is a result of the working of the spirit, but the conscience is not God and cannot help people gain the power to abandon evil and follow good (Rom 7:18–20). I had always thought I could rely on my conscience, but in the end it cannot be relied upon (Rom 7:21–24).
Coming to the Lord
On Saturday, 5 July 1947, a Sabbath day, the church in Huwei held a special service and also offered water baptism for those who wanted to be baptized. My older sister’s family registered for baptism. She asked me, “Would you like to sign up too?”
I replied, “Let me think about it.”
“What is there to think about?” she said. “No one has listened so intently to the sermons as you. What other doubts do you have? If you still have questions, just ask the minister. Baptism doesn’t happen that often—in fact, only once a year, or at the most, twice. If you don’t get baptized this time, who knows when you’ll get another chance.”
After my sister’s encouragement, I began to give this question some serious thought. If I missed this opportunity, I might not get another one again. Moreover, since I had seen how the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and had witnessed numerous miracles, I felt this faith was worthy of acceptance. I decided to be baptized. I did so without obtaining my parents’ approval, because my father was a stubborn man who was always teaching me with the words of Confucius. If I wanted to believe in Jesus, I knew that he would object. However, I considered believing in Jesus as something wonderful, and not to be given up just because of opposition. I decided not to tell my father: he would surely rebuke me when he found out, but I would deal with that when the time came.
Twelve were baptized that day. Before the baptism, everyone stood in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to personally guide the baptism. Then we sang a hymn as each person went down into the water to receive baptism. The whole scene was quite solemn. After being baptized, my heart felt relaxed and at peace, and was filled with an unexpected joy. I felt that I was starting a new life as a disciple of Christ.
Among those baptized was an elderly sister from the countryside who had never received formal education and was very simple at heart. When she entered the water, she said in a surprised voice, “Why is the water red?”
The believers replied, “How blessed you are! You’ve seen the blood of the Lord Jesus!” This sister’s testimony greatly encouraged me in my own faith.
Afterwards, we returned to the chapel to pray for the Holy Spirit. Many received the Spirit, but I did not.
I asked the brothers and sisters, “Why have I not received the Holy Spirit?”
They told me, “Your faith is still not sufficient and your prayers are not fervent enough.”
I asked them how I should pray, and they replied, “You can fast and pray, which would mean not eating or drinking in the mornings.” I did this without difficulty, but I still did not receive the Holy Spirit. I returned to the brothers and sisters, and they said, “You’re still not praying enough.”
I felt that maybe fasting for one meal a day was not enough; maybe I could try fasting for nine meals over three days. That should do it! But by the end of the three days, I was hungry, thirsty, and tired as well. I asked the brothers and sisters again for advice, but they said I was not praying enough. I thought, “If fasting for three days is not enough, should I go up to five days?” I simply could not continue in this way, so from then on I changed tactics and only fasted every morning.
“Why are you so thin?” he asked me.
I dared not reply, but my sister responded, “He’s started to believe in Jesus and is very fervent. He’s been fasting for nine meals over three days and is earnestly seeking the Holy Spirit!”
My father grew silent. It was as if oppressive black clouds were hanging low in the air. I could feel a storm was coming.
My father was angry, but to my surprise, he spoke with deliberate calm: “You believe in Jesus? You haven’t eaten for three days? Do you want to starve to death?” He then said, “How dare you! Why didn’t you tell me you were converting to Christianity? Did any of our ancestors ever worship Jesus? Since you don’t seem to acknowledge me as your father, I will not acknowledge you as my son!”
I thought to myself, “I’ve committed no crime in believing in Jesus! But if I can transform my character and become even more filial and obedient to my father, maybe he will change his mind.”
Later that night, my sister was to return home. She asked if I wanted to come back with her.
I replied, “Sure. I need some shelter from the wind and rain.” And so we went back to Huwei, and I continued going to church.
Thank the Lord, my father eventually came to respect my faith. Whenever a new year or a holiday came around, he would instruct my mother to prepare a portion of the meal that had not been sacrificed to the idols. This was because he knew that I held fast to the biblical teaching of not eating foods offered to idols (Acts 15:28–29, 16:4–5).
Receiving the Holy Spirit
The 14th of July marked the tenth day after I had received water baptism. Everyone had gone home after the evening service, but I stayed behind to pray by myself in the prayer room.
I knelt down before God and sincerely addressed Him: “Hallelujah, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I pray. Praise the Lord! Please let Your Holy Spirit fill my heart.” I then made the determination that if I did not receive the Holy Spirit that night, I would pray until the next morning. Perhaps God wanted to test my faith, so He did not grant me His Holy Spirit immediately. I prayed for over an hour and my legs grew numb, but there were still no signs of His Spirit. I thought, “Forget it, I’ll try again tomorrow.” But when I realized how long I would have to wait till morning came, I thought, “If I give up now, it might be even more difficult for me to receive the Holy Spirit in the future.” So I continued praying.
At that moment, there was a sudden power that flowed down from above. I thought, “Could this be the Holy Spirit?” So I prayed even more fervently. Then my body began to shake and my tongue started to roll. My heart was cleared of all of its burdens, and I experienced a joy that no pen could ever describe. I realized this was true inner peace, a joy in the Lord that I was experiencing for the first time in my life.
I thought everyone had gone home, but a pastor and a brother were in fact waiting for me. I heard the pastor very clearly telling the brother that I had received the Holy Spirit, so I continued to pray zealously. During my prayer, I saw a bright light flash three times. It was a very powerful light, like lightning. Even though I had my eyes closed, I could see it clearly, which made me even more joyful. After my prayer, I asked the pastor what those three flashes of bright light were. He said, “Thank God! You saw the glorious light of God.”
This was my experience of receiving the Holy Spirit.
Jesus once proclaimed:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
In my experience of receiving the Holy Spirit, God’s words were completely fulfilled. I understood that whoever seeks with sincerity and urgency will certainly receive the promised Holy Spirit. For those who have not yet received the Spirit, do not be discouraged, continue to ask of Him. You too will one day be filled with the Holy Spirit and share the same joy I have experienced.
[To be continued …]