Eric Metaxas Story of the Fish


We’re talking about reality here. We’re
not talking about some Pollyanna version of reality: That if I believe these things all my
problems will be solved. Or if I behave like this and
don’t do this and do this that somehow I’m going to have a good life. That’s
sort of like cheap religion. Like, that’s dead
religion. That’s not Christ. Following Christ means I’m going to follow him wherever he leads me, and even if He leads me into suffering
and difficulty there’s joy in the midst of it. That’s the paradox at the
heart of following Jesus. You know a life with
meaning is what we’re looking for. We’re not looking for
a life merely free of suffering. The Christian life is
supposed to be deeply examined life, and I don’t mean examined simply
to ask questions to ask questions to ask questions, but God says, “No, that there are
answers here, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Have fun. Enjoy it. You know: I’m with you.” I was born in Astoria, Queens. Anybody
with a Greek background in America has to be born in Astoria, Queens, it’s just part
of the deal. My mom’s German, but when your dad’s
Greek you’re raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox church. We moved Danbury, Connecticut,
when I was eight and a half. It was really a dream to move to
the country. I’d never played kickball. I’d never played softball. But as soon as we moved up there that
whole world open up to me, and I actually ended up doing a lot of fishing, and you know that kind of stuff. I had
an affinity for words, for poetry, but I never really got into
it. But as soon as I was in college I started studying the great books. I’m reading the great works of Western
civilization, and I said this is it: This is what I care about: Meaning, words, ideas. We were definitely, you know
working-class, middle-class European immigrants, so for me to be able
to get into a place like Yale was definitely a dream come true. Right
before I went to college I had a friend who was part of this sort of
charismatic Catholic community, and I would go, and we would sort of pray and hang out. I wasn’t plugged in, but it was something
I thought: This is really good, this is true, but when I went to college I drifted away from that pretty
quickly. I was somebody who wanted to figure out what’s the meaning of life?
How do people behave? What do people do? What’s the story? And it became pretty
quickly clear to me that being serious about Christian faith was
not the way to fly. I thought, okay, so that must be part of the truth, but
truth must be something much bigger than, just, you know this
parochial idea of the Bible and stuff. And so I became very deliberately open-minded in that traditional sense. I graduated
from Yale, and you know, I’m trying to be a writer. I sold a humor piece to the Atlantic
Monthly which was amazing. I sold a short story to some magazine, and I got into Yaddo and the McDowell Colony
which are very, very hard to get into. So I thought, you know, clearly I’m on this
path, and I’m gonna be a successful writer, and I was getting all these
accolades, but just about when I turned 24 I was really lost, and I didn’t know what
to do, so I ended up moving back in with my parents, which was in some ways a very, very bad idea. You know my parents had
this attitude which I think is a healthy attitude: That, “Hey, excuse me Eric, didn’t you graduate from Yale
University?” “Oh yeah.” “Well maybe should get a job.” I got a job as
a proofreader at Union Carbide in Danbury, Connecticut, which
is the Aramaic word for “hell.” I mean, it was the most boring,
mind-numbing horror for me that I could have ever experienced,
but while I was in this miserable job, living with my
parents, and you know really unhappy. I met a guy who was in the
graphic design department. His name was Ed Tuttle, and he was a serious
Christian. But he went to an Episcopal
Church. So I thought, “It’s so safe to talk to him. You know he’s not like one of those.” Of
course he was one of those, and he knew the Bible backward and forward. We had
these wonderful conversations, and I was always wanting to know more
and ask him questions, “But don’t get too close. Like I don’t want to pray with you. I don’t want
to go to a Bible study or anything, but what about this, what about that?” What ever. I had the basic questions, like I thought,
you know, surely civilized people cannot believe that, you know, there are angels and devils
and demons and Satan or that the Bible is literally true, that these miracles
happen. I mean, all that stuff struck me as being obviously
something from the past that we didn’t believe anymore. But I started asking him about this. And he always
had these amazing answers and I didn’t necessarily agree, but I was really
intrigued. I said there’s clearly much more to this than I
had been led to believe. I was at a real crisis point. Okay. I mean I
was 24 years old. I had been out of Yale for four years, and I’m now forced to look for answers. I’m
saying, “I don’t get it. What’s going on? Does life have meaning? Is there
meaning to life?” Every now and again this friend of mine said to me, “Look, why don’t
you pray that God would reveal himself to you?” And, I remember thinking, “Pray to what? Like
if I don’t believe God is there who am I going to pray to?” Part of me while I was
at Yale had thought about this whole idea of you know Jung’s idea of the collective
unconscious. Maybe this God people are talking about, really all they’re talking
about is this kind of new age, Eastern force: This intelligence behind everything.
Maybe it’s kinda a cosmic energy force perhaps. There’s
something that connects us all together. Jung called it the collective unconscious. That sort of
appealed to me a little bit. It wasn’t so anthropomorphic and sort of
old fashioned with the guy on the cloud with a beard, or Jesus
or anything like that. I wanted to know what’s what, and I didn’t know how to find out. My uncle got sick, and actually passed away. And in the
middle of that crisis this friend of mine said, “Can I pray for you?” And then he said to me, “All my friends
in my church are praying for your uncle.” I was staggered. Now we’re not talking about intellectual conversations and questions we’re talking about this sweet man telling me this sweet
thing: That all these strangers are praying for my uncle. I was
really moved by that. And I was also really touched by this idea that they’re praying to some God about
something. Like they really believe that God answers prayer, you know: Not that
He’s going to answer prayer every time or the way we want Him to, but just the
concept of it kinda blew me away, and as it turned out the guy asked me could he pray with me, and
because my uncle was in a coma I was suddenly willing to say, “Yes. Let’s
pray.” So we went into this miserable conference room at Union Carbide, and he
prayed. I’d never done this before. I closed my eyes, and my friend prayed, and something happened. I mean it was
really clearly real. Something real happened. I
can’t put my finger on it, but when I opened my eyes I thought that was real, what
was that? You know. I had suddenly become engaged somehow, and it was right around that time that I had this dream, which changed
everything. So the background of the dream or the background
of my life: At that point in my life they were roughly
three things that I would say were important to me. Number one was growing
up with this sort of Greek identity. Growing up my dad always would explain
to me that the fish on the back of a car, okay, it was five Greek words. It was
an acronym: ΙΧΘΥΣ: fish. Ίησος Χριστός, Θεο Υός, Σωτήρ”, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr): Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior. The other piece was that I grew up in Danbury,
Connecticut, and I did a lot of fishing I mean if someone said to me, “What’s your hobby?” I did a lot of it. I did bass fishing and fly
fishing and ice fishing. That was my life really, and then the third piece of
it is the intellectual piece. I was trying to figure out the meaning of life, and I came up with
this idea about God and everything. I thought, okay
maybe what all religions are talking about is sorta the same thing. It has to be the
same thing. It couldn’t be that Christian thing. So probably what they’re talking about is this
eastern idea, and I remember I came up with this image which borrows a little bit from Jung and a
little bit from Freud. This idea of a picture of like a frozen lake, and the ice is the conscious mind, and the water beneath the ice is the
unconscious mind. And so the unconscious mind, the
collective unconscious is God it’s this energy force that’s beyond us, and in a sense the goal of life to have
spiritual health or psychic health is to have some sort of conversation between the conscious mind and
the unconscious. That they’re sort of communicating with each other, I should
say. So I thought in a way the goal in life is
to drill a hole in the ice, to drill through the ice, to touch the
water, collective unconscious, God, whatever you wanna call it. That’s
probably the goal of all these religions. So these are three things that form the
background: So the Greek thing the fishing thing and then this
intellectual journey, and here I am at this point around my
twenty-fifth birthday where I’m really searching, I’m in pain, I’m suddenly open
to the idea of God, what have you. So one night I go to sleep, and
I have the dream, and the dream is that I’m standing on a frozen lake. I’m standing on Candlewood Lake,
Danbury, Connecticut. The lake is frozen. It’s this glorious
winter day. The sun is bright. The ice and the snow are are bright. The sun is shining
off them, the sky is incredibly blue, and there we are ice fishing. I look down and
I see a fish kind of sticking its snout out sort of through the hole, which tends
not to happen when you’re ice fishing. It’s usually a little harder than that. Right? So in
the dream I kind of lean down, and I reach down. I pick up the fish by the
gill. I hold it up, and it’s a pickerel or a pike. Its this beautiful bronze fish, and it just looks gorgeous. In the
sun it almost looks golden, and then in the dream I realize: No it
doesn’t look golden. It actually is golden. It’s like a fairy tale. It’s like in this dream, I’m holding up a
golden fish. It’s alive, and it’s made of gold. It’s
this miracle, and suddenly in the dream I’m aware of
the fact that this is God speaking to me. Because suddenly I realize in the dream
this golden fish is ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus): Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our
Savior. I realized that this golden fish is Jesus
Christ, and I’m standing there in the dream holding up this fish, aware of the fact that my hope that this
could be true, but I believed you really you couldn’t
know or whenever. Suddenly in the dream I realize it’s true. Jesus is real. I have him. In the
dream, I’m holding this Fish, knowing this is the Christ, and I’m flooded with joy in the
dream, because I realize that God has used my own symbol system to sort of one-up me, to blow my mind. Because all I wanted was to
reach through the ice to touch inert water, which I thought was
this collective unconscious God, and God is saying to me in this dream, “No, no no. I have something more for you. I have
my son Jesus Christ who’s a living Being, a Person. He’s alive!” And I woke
up, and I went to work, and I told my friend about this dream, and he said, “What do you think it
means?” You know, and I said to him what I know I never would have dreamed
of saying up until that point. I said, “It means I’ve accepted Jesus.” You know there are certain things that are true, but
it doesn’t mean you can prove them, just because somebody can’t explain something doesn’t mean that it’s not A: explainable or B: true. You know. I think that the
idea of that dream doesn’t particularly prove anything. On the other
hand it’s either true or it’s a lie. It’s not just what’s important to you. You know, this
is way beyond just what’s important to you.

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