Daniel Stevens graduated from UCLA in 2012 with a BA in Greek, and from TMS with an MDiv in 2015. He hopes to do further research in the field of New Testament studies. He enjoys coffee, reading, reading with coffee, board games, and food adventuring.
I grew up in a home that was influenced by Christianity, but neither of my parents were practicing in any way. There was a general cultural acceptance of Christianity, but I can’t really remember going to church or having anything particularly Christian about our home. The one exception to this was my grandmother. She had been married to a pastor (he died long before I was born), and was a consistent Christian witness. Because of my parents’ work, my grandmother had a very large part in raising me, and I even lived with her for a year or so.
I did, however, go to Christian schools. And, because I was good at school and proud, I took my Bible classes as just another excuse to do better than those around me, so I learned everything that I could. When I was young, I was probably indistinguishable from the average little kid at a Christian school. I was happy, eager to please, and able to rattle off a string of Bible verses.
Around the age of nine, this all fell apart.
From as far back as I can remember, I have had health problems. Somewhere in elementary school I developed a severe asthma that sent me several times to the hospital. As I grew, birth defects in how my back developed began to become more prominent, and I lived life in a constant state of pain. And then, in third grade, my grandmother died when I was visiting her apartment. My sense of stability was shattered. I didn’t know how to cope with this loss. I sank into a bitter depression that didn’t lift for years.
On top of this, as I got older, my health didn’t get any better. I developed digestive problems that caused rapid weight loss and yet more chronic pain. I sank further and further into depression, becoming numb to the world around me. I was proud. I was bitter. I thought the world hadn’t been fair to me. I still held on to school, because it was one of the few areas where I could be better than the people around me, and I placed most of my sense of self in my academic accomplishments. In pride, I began to look down on the people around me. With every year, I withdrew further into myself. When it comes to what I believed at this time, I essentially would have said that life is meaningless and we pretend like it isn’t.
But God was kind to not leave me there. The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I moved into the dorms at USC to take a course as part of a program. Now, this was the first time in my life I had been around people who weren’t influenced at all by Christianity, and I found myself judging them. After all, I was so much more moral than them, wasn’t I? But as the summer went on, something strange happened. I realized that I wasn’t any better than them. Half the things I condemned them for doing, I did my self. And for everything else, I either was too scared to do what they did, despite wanting to, or did something equally bad. I was overcome by the realization that I was not a good person.
As I moved back home, guilt weighed heavily on my shoulders, and nothing I could do would shake it. I tried being better. I tried making up for what I did. I even tried punishing myself and enforcing certain kinds of penance. But nothing would make the guilt go away. Nothing made it better. Everything I did felt wrong.
I knew I needed something. In desperation, I asked a friend where her church was. I went on a Friday night for youth group…and I felt even worse. Now, I thought, I was surrounded by people who were better than me. It was hard even to look people in the eye. But I kept coming. There was something there that I needed, though I didn’t know what. A few months went by and Christmas vacation arrived. Right before I left, one of the volunteers at the youth group gave me a book to read (Hard to Believe by John MacArthur), so I took it with me on vacation, along with a Bible.
As I was reading the book, I noticed it mentioned this Jesus a lot, so I figured I should check out what the Gospels said about Him. I set aside four nights and read through them in order. And, somewhere in that time, I was changed. I was captivated by this person of Jesus. I realized I felt guilty because I was guilty. I had sinned against God. I deserved punishment. But at the same time, I saw that Jesus came to take my punishment for me and to give me new life. And I repented and believed in Him.
And right there everything changed. The depression that had entangled me for seven years was gone. And although my body wasn’t healed (though I still hold out that He may), my outlook on it was different. It was as if the sun shone for the first time in my life.
Since then, God has been kind. He’s opened His word to me and carried me through college, seminary, work, and now on to further grad school. He’s let me serve in His church and grow not only in teaching, but in living with and for His people. He was even kind enough to use all the Bible things I learned out of pride as a child to humble me and instruct me as I follow Him. I can even say I’m grateful for the pains, because they bit by bit taught me to trust not in myself, but in God who raises the dead and richly supplies every need of ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has never been anything but good, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue Him at all, and especially to pursue Him together with you all at GOC this year.