What Was Your Intellectual Epiphany?

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? 

Endnotes

  1. 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.
  2. Concerning chaplain and theologian George Stob, see this historical note at https://archives.calvin.edu/?p=creators/creator&id=544.

  One thought on “What Was Your Intellectual Epiphany?

    • September 15, 2020 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks for the link.

      Ken Samples

  1. September 15, 2020 at 11:41 am

    I think my intellectual epiphany came during my introduction to Old-Earth Creationism, when I realized that the God of Truth is not afraid of questions and the intellectual pursuit of truth. That may sound ridiculously obvious, but so many Christians I knew, myself included, were almost dogmatically afraid of considering scientific discovery on its own merits. Once I was “allowed” to consider that interpretations of scripture could be questioned and evaluated, it was like a light went on and I realized that to seek truth was to seek the one who is The Truth. To understand the creation is to understand the Creator. That now 15-odd year ongoing journey has revolutionized my faith and confidence in God and given me a bedrock foundation.

    • September 15, 2020 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing your excellent epiphany, Lawrence.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  2. MDL
    September 16, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    I had 3:
    1. My confrontation with the reality of predestination. It was utterly terrifying to an unwitting Arminian. I am now comfortably in the Presbyterian denomination.
    2. Hugh Ross’s book A Matter of Days. I was already old Earth but I wasn’t ready to defend it. Now I can.
    3. William Hendriksen’s We Are More Than Conquerors. Growing up inundated with dispensationalism, I knew by the end of my college years that there was nothing to be seen there. I still struggled with Revelation and finding a reasonable end times perspective. This book batted me right out of Left Behind park and into the amillenial camp where I’ve been happily situated for 25+ years.

    • September 16, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks, MDL.

      Ken Samples

  3. Bill Paladino
    September 19, 2020 at 4:06 am

    Thank you for sharing your story in this article Ken. I cannot describe an intellectual epiphany because I always enjoyed reading and learning even from the earliest age, but I did have an epiphany when it came to a Christian worldview.

    When I was in college (as an Accounting major) I was given a copy of Carl Sagan’s (at that time newly released) book Cosmos. Sagan as you remember was a fixture on public television and late night television at the time and an engaging public speaker as an astronomer and physicist.

    My epiphany came when I read the first sentence of his book – “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be”. When I read that, I recoiled for a minute and thought there was no way that can be true. My main focus at the time was the “ever was” statement – to me, that meant that the universe was perpetual and had no beginning, therefore time (as a dimension) had no beginning. I was not a philosophy or logic major, but knew enough that by definition time had to have a beginning or starting point. An infinite past means you can never reach the point in time where we are today, it must have a starting point. The other two parts of this comments are presumptions – he assumes them to be so, but he doesn’t know know for certain.

    This was the foundational statement of his book, and to me it crumbled like sand through our fingers. He was a brilliant scientist but was greatly lacking in logic and philosophic consistency. It was then I really began to read much more critically and came to an basic understandings – 1) that the naturalist worldview was inadequate to explain the universe around us and the Christian view was much more precise and logical, and 2) that authors can be extremely intelligent in one field and wander into other fields and disciplines and make simple and elementary mistakes.

    Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with people about this topic, as it seems Sagan’s description is often the default view of the universe to most people who deny a Creator but have not wrestled with the logical and philosophical problems of their view.

    • September 19, 2020 at 10:12 am

      Thanks, Bill.

      Ken Samples

  4. September 22, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Ken, I had a profound epiphany when I was about 10 years old. I was super interested in science (my family was scraping out a living on a family farm at the time, but my Dad was a high school science teacher and geologist by training and taught me a lot of things). I read all the science books in our little elementary school library and enjoyed browsing our unabridged Webster dictionary for pictures and definitions. One of my favorite images was a chart of the geologic ages of the Earth with brief descriptions. That year, I was given a Bible in Sunday school and not thinking there was any other way, started reading it from the start. Well, Genesis 1 kind of blew me away. I’d never heard the creation story before and I flipped to that dictionary chart of geologic ages. In my young mind, the two descriptions were so similar that it seemed uncanny. I thought, maybe the Bible really does describe the history of Earth. Maybe as scientists find out more and more about the history of Earth, the story in Genesis 1 will prove to be more accurate than anyone would imagine. I just wondered, and it made me really interested to keep learning about the Earth. Years later I met Hugh Ross while I was a freshman at Caltech (and again many years later when he visited Sherwood, OR) and learned about Reasons To Believe, which I have supported over the years. In 2016 I started researching alignment between Genesis 1 and the history of Earth and started a blog agesofjoy.blogspot.com to detail my findings which convinced me that the Days of Creation from Genesis 1 can be clearly seen in the geologic record.

    • September 22, 2020 at 9:08 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Will.

      Hugh will appreciate your story.

      Ken Samples

  5. Rita
    October 7, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    My intellectual epiphany came first in high school when I woke up one morning and realized I totally forgot about a paper due that day – in first class. I quickly wrote it up in a panic and the next day the teacher told the class mine was the best of the class and very thorough. I felt a bit of a hypocrite that I didn’t work hard at it, but it made me think I had some intellectual capacity. Then in college in an algebra class, we were to prove the square root of something and come up with the answer after that weekend. I spent time thinking and thinking about it and would not give up, even though it seemed impossible. I was the only one in the class who got it. Ever since the Lord has shown me that leaning into Him and that He Himself is the fuel we run/live on (as C.S Lewis put it), His genius leaks a little bit into our brains. (And by the way, I have some of the same experiences and affinity for WWII as you do – can’t read enough about it – but that’s a long story).

    • October 7, 2020 at 6:02 pm

      Great stories, Rita.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Keep studying WW2.

      Warm regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  6. Josh
    October 11, 2020 at 3:32 am

    What matters most to God in terms of religion and philosophy about any particular person is if they believe in the Golden rule where if they don’t believe in anything supernatural God still recognizes their attempts at being a good person as valid

    • October 11, 2020 at 8:30 am

      Thanks, Josh.

      Ken Samples

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