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“The Devil Went Down to Georgia …”

“The devil went down to Georgia (Wisconsin, North
Carolina, wherever you are), he was looking for a
soul to steal…”  A line from one of my favorite
Charlie Daniels songs and one of my top songs
ever.  In addition, a couple of my favorite Charlie
Daniels quotes are:  “I’m not ashamed of the gospel
of Jesus Christ… if I can’t take him with me, I don’t
want to go” and “I don’t want to go anywhere where
Jesus can’t go.”
Some 14 years ago, I stood watching my university
students file into the classroom for the opening
session in my ‘Theology of Faith’ class.  That was
the first day I saw Tommy.  He was combing his
long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his
shoulders.  I know what’s in your head, not on it,
that counts; but at that time, I was unprepared for
Tommy and wrote him off as strange – very
strange.  Tommy turned out to the atheist in
residence in my course.  He constantly objected to
or smirked at the possibility of an unconditionally
loving God.  We lived in relative peace for one
semester, although at times he was a pain in the
back pew.  At the end of the course when he turned
in his final exam, he asked in a slightly cynical tone,
‘Do you ever think I’ll find God?’  I decided on a
little shock therapy.  ‘No’ I said emphatically.  ‘Oh,’
he responded.  ‘I thought that was the product you
were pushing.’  I let him get five steps from the
door, then called out, ‘Tommy!  I don’t think you’ll
ever find him, but I am certain that he will find you!’
Tommy just shrugged and left.  I felt slightly
disappointed that he had missed my clever line.
Later I heard that Tom had graduated, and I was
duly grateful.  Then came a sad report:  Tommy

had terminal cancer.  Before I could search him out,
he came to me.  When he walked into my office, his
body was badly wasted, and his long hair had fallen
out because of chemotherapy.  But his eyes were
bright, and his voice was firm for the first time in a
long time.  ‘Tommy, I’ve thought about you so
often.  I hear you are sick,’ I blurted out.  ‘Oh yes,
very sick.  I have cancer.  It’s a matter of weeks.’
‘Can you talk about it?’  ‘Sure, what would you like
to know?’  ‘What’s it like to be 24 and know you are
dying?’  ‘Well, it could be worse!’  ‘Like what?’
‘Well, like being 50 and having no values or ideals.
Like being 50 and thinking that booze, seducing
women and making money are the real biggies in
life.  But what I really came to see you about is
something you said to me on the last day of class.
I asked if you ever thought I would find God and
you said no, which surprised me.  Then you said,
‘But he will find you.’  I thought about that a lot,
even though my search was hardly intense at that
time.  But when the doctors removed a lump from
my groin and told me it was malignant, I got serious
about locating God.  And when the malignancy
spread to my vital organs, I really began banging
against the doors of heaven.  But nothing
happened.  Well, one day I woke up, and instead of
throwing a few more futile appeals to a God who
may or may not exist, I just quit.  I decided I didn’t
care about God and the afterlife – or anything else
for that matter.
‘I decided to spend what time I had left doing
something more profitable.  I thought about you and
something you had said in one of your lectures:
‘The essential sadness is to go through life without
loving.’  But it would be equally sad to leave this
world without telling those you love that you have
loved them.  So, I begin with the hardest one:  my
dad.  ‘He was reading the paper when I
approached him.  ‘Dad, I would like to talk to you.’
‘Well, talk,’ he replied.  ‘I mean, it’s really
important, Dad.’  The newspaper came down three
slow inches.  ‘What is it?’ he asked.  ‘Dad, I love
you.  I just wanted you to know that.’’  Tom smiled
at me and said with obvious satisfaction, as though
he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside him,
‘The newspaper fluttered to the floor.  Then my
father did two things I couldn’t remember him doing
before.  He cried and he hugged me.  And we
talked all night even though he had to go to work
the next day.

‘It was easier with my mom and little brother.  They
cried with me, too, and we hugged each other and
shared things we had been keeping secret for so
many years.  I was only sorry that I had waited so
long.  Here I was, in the shadow of death, and I
was just beginning to open up to all people I had
actually been close to.  ‘Then one day I turned
around and God was there.  He didn’t come to me
when I pleaded with him.  Apparently, God does
things his own way at his own hour.  The important
thing is you were right.  He found me even after I
stopped looking for him.’  ‘Tommy,’ I gasped, ‘I
think you’re saying something much more universal
than you realize.  You are saying that the surest
way of finding God is not to make him a private
possession or an instant consolation in time of
need, but rather by opening up to love.
‘Tom, could I ask you a favor?  Would you come to
my Theology of Faith class and tell my students
what you just told me?’  Though we scheduled a
date, he never made it.  Of course, his life was not
really ended by his death, it was only changed.  He
made the great step from faith into vision.  He
found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man
has ever seen or the mind of man has ever
imagined.  Before Tom died, we talked one last
time.  ‘I’m not going to make it to your class,’ he
said.  ‘I know, Tom.’  “Will you tell them for me?
Will you tell… the whole world for me?’  “I will,
Tom.  I will tell them.”  (John Powell, Chicken Soup
for the Christian Soul)
We love, because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
As Charlie Daniels would say:  You just leave this
long-haired country boy.”  Satan leave me alone
because you are not going to steal this soul
because I have opened up to God’s love and have
experienced God’s love and that is where I want to
go.  God bless and God’s got this!

About Rev. Bud Budzinski

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