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Vantage point

A tale of the Christ

Civil War General Lew Wallace commanded Union troops during the Battle of Monocacy. Though technically a loss for federal troops, the battle slowed the Confederate advance on the capital, coming to be known as “the battle that saved Washington.”

Wallace continued to distinguish himself in the military and in politics, but his greatest achievement is related to another type of battle — a distinctly spiritual one.

Wallace’s attitude toward religion was, in his words, “absolute indifference.” Then on a two-hour train ride he found himself discussing the topic with noted agnostic Robert Ingersoll. They discussed the existence of God, the devil, heaven and hell. Wallace, who made it clear he had formulated no opinion on the subjects, reported that Ingersoll poured out a “pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ and heaven.”

Strangely enough, it was these “most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven, and the Hereafter” which stimulated Wallace’s pursuit of truth. “Was the Colonel [Ingersoll] right?” Wallace wrote. “What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then … as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion.”

Wallace, already a successful author, resolved to investigate — by writing a book on the life of Christ. “That would compel me,” he said, “to study everything of pertinency; after which, possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value.”

His search ended with two results: “first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the divinity of Christ.”

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ became the best-selling novel of the 19th century. It has never been out of print since first published in 1880, and has been translated into nearly every major language of the world.

Ingersoll’s invective caused the opposite effect of the one intended. Wallace went on a search. He found the Truth. And Wallace the agnostic became Wallace the believer.

This same Jesus, who revealed himself to Lew Wallace, awaits the sincere seeker today.

— Ken Horn

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