When I was a child, the town I grew up in was a small distance away from the city where my grandparents lived, and where, a bit later, my parents worked. So we frequently made the drive into the city, and I have many memories of the drive and of different parts of the large city. But since my family moved away before I learned to drive, I never navigated around the big city or the route between my hometown and the city. I paid very little attention to street names or cardinal directions from my vantage in the back seat of the car.
As an adult, I have visited the city where my grandparents still live repeatedly, and I have had to learn to navigate between the islands of familiarity. This most recent trip, from which I just returned, yet again involved stitching together more of the isolated memories into my larger mental landscape of the city and its surroundings. Almost every time I return, I find more of the childhood memories and how they fit into the topography. It’s a little surreal, to be honest, driving along a road I have never previously followed, and suddenly happening across a corner which looks the same as when I saw it last, two decades ago. There still remain dozens of places familiar to me by sight, but which I have not yet adhered to my mental map, because I have not navigated my own way to them and back again.
In a way, I think converts growing in their understanding of Christianity is like this. We all have certain elements of truth which we just know and have always known, and we often get impatient with those who don’t recognize what is to us the self-evident nature of these elements. But before we become Christian, these truths are islands which we hold on to, but we don’t know how they relate to each other, and their relationships to other isolated commitments of truth may seem to change over time. But that is because we lack the framework which makes them all make sense. When we become Christian, we get Jesus Christ, who is the center of all truth. At first, indeed, the lordship and resurrection of Christ may seem to be just additional islands of truth which we have newly discovered. But the longer and deeper that we know Christ, the more we see how who he is relates to all the other isolated truth commitments we’ve known all along, and others that we hadn’t known. As we revisit certain issues over the course of years, we might suddenly see how Christ relates to this or that, and thus how our islands of truth fit together. This isn’t instantaneous, and it frequently involves a few wrong turns and circling back around, but our mental map of truth gradually gets filled in with highways and street names.
In a sense, I wonder if this is what C. S. Lewis (I think it was) meant when he wrote that we believe in Christ not so much because we see his light, but because by his light we see everything else.