I grew up in a very small branch of the Church in Redcliffe, Queensland, Australia. I received a testimony of a living, loving God at a young age. The event was very simple, and yet it has had a power impact upon my life ever since. I was about eight or nine years of age when, for Christmas, my family bought me a little dog, which I named Tinker. We had had dogs before, but this was the first dog that was mine. I loved him dearly. Every morning, when Dad would open the back door, I would hear him running down the hall, then he would jump up onto my bed and lick me to death, telling me it was time to get up. Every day when I came home from school he was there waiting for me, so excited that I had come home.
One Tuesday when I came he wasn’t there. That seemed very strange to me. When I went to call him for his dinner, he didn’t come. That was even more strange. I called and called, and went searching the neighborhood, but to no avail. That night, as I kneeled to pray, I asked Heavenly Father to help me find my dog—it was a very simple child’s prayer. The next morning my Dad opened the back door, but there were no sounds in the hallway and no licks to wake me up. When I came home from school, again he wasn’t there. For three nights I went to bed not knowing where Tinker was, each night praying that Heavenly Father would help me find Tinker.
On the Friday, after school, I didn’t go home. Instead, I took the bus straight to the church for Primary. I always arrived before everyone else, and was around the back of the church, sitting in the shade, waiting for the others to come. I heard cars arriving and one of my friends came looking for me. She asked if it was my dog sitting on the front step of the church. I ran around the front and there was Tinker sitting on the step waiting for me. I was so excited to see him. How had Tinker known to come to the church? We lived over a mile away and we had never taken him to it, and yet there he was. Heavenly Father had answered my prayer. On that day, I knew that God was real, that he lived, and that he was interested even in a kid who had lost her dog.
In many ways, life is a lot more complicated now than it was on that day. I went to the University of Queensland and earned a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy and worked for a number of years as a therapist. In 1985, my friend and I went backpacking around the world and we went to Israel, where the scriptures came alive for me in a very real way as I visited some of the biblical sites. I went back to Israel in 1987 as a part of the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center and studied there for a semester. This was my first in-depth study of the Bible. I loved it! I loved learning the history, the language, the culture, and the politics. For the first time I was introduced to some of the difficult questions about the Bible, but I was introduced to them with a hermeneutics of faith, rather than a hermeneutics of suspicion.
I came home from Israel and served a mission to the Australia Melbourne Mission and then, because I was so fascinated by what I had learned in Israel, I decided to attend BYU in Provo. I earned a BA and MA in Near Eastern Studies and then went to the Claremont Graduate University and earned a PhD in Religion, majoring in New Testament. Frankly, I was nervous about getting a PhD. I knew that I would no longer be in a “safe” religious environment. The best piece of advice I received was to always remember that everyone brings assumptions to the table when studying religion. Those who have faith bring assumptions to the text, but so do those who espouse a purely academic approach. While in graduate school I had to learn the academic approach, but I realized that I didn’t have to accept all of their assumptions—that there is no God, there are no such things as miracles, that prophecy does not exist, and that Jesus never considered himself to be the Son of God. Nevertheless, one of the most valuable things that I learned from graduate school was the questions that scholars ask of the text. Their questions fascinated me. But because my assumptions were not the same as theirs, I often came away with different answers, and that process has been invaluable.
Today, my knowledge that God lives is very different in many ways than it was as a young child when I found my dog, Tinker, on the front step of our Church. My study of the Bible has deepened and enriched—both intellectually and, more importantly, spiritually—my knowledge that God lives.
Born and raised in Australia, Gaye Strathearn received her Ph.D. from the Claremont Graduate University in California. As a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and a specialist on the New Testament and Christian origins, she teaches courses on both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. In particular, her research focuses on the bridal chamber ritual in Gnosticism, the life and teachings of the apostle Paul, and the gospel of Matthew.
Posted June 2010