Have you ever had a sudden realization that ended up changing your life? You may have had an epiphany, which can be defined as an intuitive flash of insight or discovery as to the deep meaning of something significant that comes through experience and leads to a sense of wonder.
Over the years I have experienced some significant spiritual and intellectual turning points. At the time of these events I knew I was encountering something special or unique. But only through looking back do I recognize just how important these experiences have been.
One such experience, an intellectual epiphany, came to me as a young student and it changed the way I thought about ideas and the importance of study. This experience has stayed with me my entire life.
My Intellectual Epiphany
Growing up I wasn’t a diligent student at all. In fact, if you spoke with my teachers (elementary through high school) I know what they would say about my effort. I know because I heard them convey it to me and to my parents often: “Kenny Samples only does enough school work to get by.” This deliberate approach was even more true by junior high school when I determined that what I really wanted in life was to be a professional athlete (I loved basketball and baseball). So sports trumped study.
But at age 13 when I was in the eighth grade I experienced an intellectual epiphany of sorts. In my social science/history class we studied the topic of World War II. My father, Jesse A. Samples, had been a combat soldier serving in the European theater of the war fighting against the German army. In preparing to write a school report about the conflict, my father and I went to a bookstore and bought a couple of reference books about World War II. That evening as my dad and I perused through the books my father discovered two photographs of himself in Hans Dollinger’s book The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.1 The photos were black and white, grainy, and from a distance but my dad, mom, and I could all recognize it was my father.
This discovery surprised me and made me think differently about my dad and ideas. World War II and my father’s participation in it sparked my intellectual life. I began to realize that ideas and ideologies have consequences and that my father and his band of brothers had been involved in a great crusade to stop Nazi tyranny and oppression. I began reading about various aspects of the Second World War including the Holocaust. And the profound topic of the twentieth century’s world wars has never left me to this very day.
I distinctly remember my eighth grade teacher Mr. Morris praising my report in class and saying that the topic of World War II had “turned Kenny on academically.” That event from my childhood stirred me and influenced my interest in the big questions of life. My decision to study history and philosophy in college and later, theology, were influenced by my intellectual discovery in junior high school.
Providential Church Encounter
Many years later, I attended a Dutch Reformed church where an elderly man in the congregation learned of my interest in World War II. Through our many discussions about the war I learned that this man knew Reformed theologian George Stob2 (1907–2002) who had served as my father’s chaplain during the war (U.S. Army’s 44th Infantry Division) and had signed my dad’s Bible. I didn’t even know George Stob was a theologian let alone a theologian in my denomination. Few people would have known of Stob (who at the time was 93 years old) outside of the closely connected Dutch Reformed community. I was first amazed, but then further interaction with my fellow church member led to a connection with Stob’s wife and she told me that her husband often spoke about the courageous young men he had ministered to during the war. Again, with another surprise encounter concerning my dad and World War II I sensed that God’s providence was at work behind the scenes of my life and the life of my family.
Looking back, I came to see that this early intellectual epiphany—affirmed many years later by learning about my father’s chaplain—was truly a turning point in my life. It set me on a trajectory of exploring life’s big questions and ideas. Has something like this ever happened to you?
Reflections: Your Turn
Have there been significant times in your life where you can reflect back and see that God was transforming your mind and soul?
- See Hans Dollinger, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan: A Pictorial History of the Final Days of World War II (New York: Gramercy, 1965), https://www.amazon.com/Decline-Germany-Imperial-Pictorial-History/dp/B000B2C1UE/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=hans+dollinger+the+decline+and+fall+of+nazi+germany+and+japan&qid=1569634440&s=books&sr=1-1.
- Concerning chaplain and theologian George Stob, see this historical note at https://archives.calvin.edu/?p=creators/creator&id=544.