Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
CCRC Executive Technical Director – Plant and Microbial Complex Carbohydrates
Dr. Carlson’s spiritual journey – The decision came while I was in a stairwell of a seven-story science building. The questions plaguing me were: Should I continue to believe God exists and that I can know him, or should I abandon any idea that there is a God and live my life accordingly? It was 1967. I was a 21 year-old college student when my life and the necessity to make such a decision collided in that stairwell. I am, and will forever be, grateful that God remained, and became even more real, in my life on that day between classes in that strange place.
I was not entirely surprised when this “collision” came. Since entering college I had been obsessed with two concerns. First, what was God’s plan for me? How could I find out? Why didn’t He just tell me or show me? I wanted more than anything to know the answer to this question so that I could follow His will. The second concern was to doubt whether God even existed. I began to wonder if my inability to know God’s plan for me was because there really was no God, or if He did exist, He simply didn’t care what I or anyone else did with their life.
I should have known better than to have these concerns and doubts. You see, I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a pastor. My grandfather was also a pastor. Most all of my closest relatives were Christians. I had lived my entire life with people who sincerely loved God. I had seen in their lives a faith in Christ so real that hardships and sacrifice only made their love for Him stronger. I remember committing my life to Christ when I was seven. Therefore, when I entered college in 1964, if anyone should have been prepared for challenges to his faith, it should have been me. However, college proved to be a traumatic time for me. I was forced to think through my beliefs for myself, because what I was taught in college raised many questions in my mind. Was it reasonable to believe in God and in Jesus Christ? Was what the Bible said about God and how to know Him true?
I have always enjoyed science, but it was not science or my college science professors that challenged my faith. I attended a Christian college, and the challenge came from courses in Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian Ethics. My professors questioned the reliability of the scriptures, the miracles in the Bible, and the miracles of Christ, including the importance of His resurrection. How could, my professors questioned, a miracle such as resurrection from the dead really occur? Wasn’t the really important thing about Christ His teachings such as “love thy neighbor”, forgive others, etc.? Perhaps, they suggested, an actual resurrection (which they implied was impossible) isn’t important. I was not well prepared for such challenges. After all, they were the professors; they must be right. Right? I came very close to abandoning my faith in Christ. Yet, I could not forget my own experience with Christ, I could not forget the examples of my parents, my grandparents, or ignore the experience of my future wife, as well as the wonderful example of her parents and grandparents. I was forced to evaluate more critically what my professors were telling me about the Bible and about Christ. I found out that they were teaching from the works of prominent theologians whose analysis of scripture was based on their assumption that God does not exist. I discovered that other Biblical scholars did not share the views of these theologians.
It has now been many years since that intense time of questioning in my life, but the learning process for me has never stopped. I have learned that the Bible is reliable and true, and that it can be trusted as a guide for my life. I have learned that God is real; that it is reasonable to believe and trust Him, and that He has been directing and guiding my life. I have learned that, while it is important to know God’s will for my life, it is even more important for me to be willing. I have learned that by being willing, I was able to follow the interests and talents that God gave me which, for me, were to pursue my interest in science. As a scientist, I have learned that faith in God and science are complementary and that knowing and trusting God through Jesus Christ has enhanced my understanding and appreciation of nature.
Everything that I have learned depended on one additional lesson, actually the first lesson: I needed to have a personal relationship with God and that to have this relationship required me to make a decision. That decision was to recognize that I was separated from God by sin, to believe that Jesus Christ died so that I could have a relationship with Him, and to ask for His forgiveness. I made that decision when I was seven years old, but it also involved making a commitment to continue believing and trusting in Him, a commitment made in that stairwell of the science building in 1967.
I have had the wonderful privilege of knowing God for many years, of seeing His guidance in every aspect of my life. He has blessed me with a great wife, six wonderful children and, at the moment, seven terrific grandchildren. It is a great honor for me to know Christ. I highly recommend Him to you.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.