The web of life oft seems tangled, the warp and woof of fate fickle and arbitrary. But sometimes the backstory, forgotten in the bright light of the present, provides an unmistakable glimpse of providence at work. And thus one good story begets another.

The son of an Indiana State governor, Lew Wallace began professional life as a lawyer and state senator. He'd even joined the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to the rank of major general.

And while churchgoing religion was not then part of his life, Wallace was captivated by the biblical story of the three wise men. In fact, he had begun drafting a book about them, when a dramatic conversation changed the course of his topic. As he later described it, agnostic Colonel Robert Ingersoll presented to him “a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”

And so, Lew Wallace thought anew about that manuscript in his desk, with its closing scenes of the Christ child in Bethlehem. Why not continue that theme, he thought, taking the story of Christ all the way to the crucifixion. “That would make a book, and compel me to study everything of pertinency,” he reasoned, “after which, possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value.”

By now he was a very busy man, serving as governor of the New Mexico territory. Yet in the waning hours of each evening he pressed on with his research and the story itself. In time, his efforts reaped a finished book, and, as he put it, “a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the divinity of Christ.”

You may not know that Wallace's statue today graces the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., representing the State of Indiana. But I'm guessing you have heard of his book and almost certainly the film that later flowed from his efforts to understand Christ. You may have seen it yourself: Ben Hur — the story of a Jewish business man, with his own journey from disbelief to faith.

Disbelief can sometimes, like a schoolmaster, lead an open mind to faith. “Doubts,” noted author and philosopher Frederick Buechner once wrote, “are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

So it was with Lew Wallace and his fictional Judah Ben Hur. Jesus comes to us, even in the midst of our doubts and fears. He comes to us in these uncertain, helter-skelter days with a message that is neither fantasy nor fiction, a message that doesn’t grow old. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden,” He says, “and find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29).

Excerpts sourced from