The young mother had just entered the eighth month of a tiring pregnancy when her husband dropped a devastating piece of news. He felt a need, he said, to go to a rustic island in Canada for a few weeks to find communion with God. She would be left alone to manage her pregnancy, care for the couple's toddler son and supervise the family's move to a new house.

Adelia (Dede) Robertson struggled mightily to change her husband's mind. She ridiculed him as a schizoid religious fanatic. She argued. She wept. She begged. But Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, then a budding seminarian, turned aside his wife's pleas with the unbending self-assurance that would later help him achieve remarkable success as a broadcaster and national religious leader. "This is God who's commanding me," he said.

And so Robertson set off for his Canadian retreat, where he soon received an urgent letter from his wife: "Please come back. I need you desperately." The confused young husband called on God for advice and received clear guidance. He sat down and wrote his wife that she would have to get by without him.

That story happened early in the couple's marriage, but it is one that Pat Robertson would retell with relish years later because it so clearly identifies the fundamental and formative priority of his adult life: his intimate, daily relationship with God.

Those who know Pat Robertson, either as friend or foe, tend to agree that the close bond he feels with the Almighty is the dominant force shaping his work, his psyche and his point of view on everything from minute personal matters to the great public policy questions of the age. As Robertson puts it, "I am a man of God. That's me."

After decades as a television preacher, Robertson could no more deny the religious focus of his life than Ronald Reagan could deny having played The Gipper on the silver screen. But as Robertson prepares to announce his candidacy for the 1988 Republican nomination for president this month, he is deemphasizing his Fourteen months before the presidential election, a number of candidates have begun campaigning for the Oval Office, stressing their accomplishments in current and previous jobs. The Washington Post is examining the re'sume's, records and reputations of a number of the candidates.

ecclesiastical roots. Fearful that mainstream voters will dismiss him as a religious kook, Robertson is striving to put a solidly secular spin on his career and on his policies.

Indeed, the central tension of the Robertson-for-president campaign is the candidate's constant struggle to balance his self-described status as "God's prophet" with his new role as a practitioner of secular politics. That tension, between divine calling and down-to-earth politics, has been the central conflict of Robertson's life.

The son of the late A. Willis Robertson, a Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia, Pat Robertson spent his childhood entwined in the labyrinthine net of the Byrd political machine. He inherited formidable political skills, skills that enable this 57-year-old campaign rookie to stand toe-to-toe with any of the other 1988 presidential contenders. On the campaign trail, Robertson -- bright, charming, likable, a fine storyteller and an inspiring speaker -- comes across as a winner.

This background has prompted a line of analysis in Washington political circles that Robertson is a politician in preacher's clothing. In fact, those who know him say Robertson is a preacher first -- a man who moved into politics in the belief that the United States is a morally sick country in need of a strong dose of Christian leadership. "He sincerely believes this {campaign} is God's will," said Neil Eskelin, his friend and biographer.

It seems clear from family correspondence that Sen. Robertson groomed Pat to follow him into the political arena. But those paternal plans went awry one day in 1956 when the son was "born again" as an evangelical Christian -- and explicitly turned his back on his earthly father. "No longer did I remember I was the son of a senator," Robertson recalls of the day he found Christ. "Now I was the son of the King."

Robertson, a connoisseur of power, found in his divine Father a spiritual power -- a power, he felt, that could cure the blind and the lame and fend off flood or hurricane -- that made a mere senator's clout pale to insignificance. Robertson dedicated his life to the "Great Commission" that Jesus gave his followers at the end of the book of Matthew: "Go and make disciples of all nations . . . in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

In 1959, Robertson said, he heard a message from God telling him to carry out that mission in a way that was almost unheard of at the time: through a television ministry. Over the next 2 1/2 decades, he turned a dusty, abandoned broadcasting studio in Tidewater Virginia into a multimillion-dollar international complex of broadcast, educational and charitable concerns known as the Christian Broadcasting Network, or CBN.

Erik Erikson, the human-development expert at Harvard, has studied men who have reported receiving a direct call from God. In his famous study, "Young Man Luther," Erikson concluded that such people have great self-assurance and unusually high self-esteem. That seems to fit Pat Robertson, a man confident enough to seek the presidency in his first venture into politics.

Robertson is the type of person who looks himself up in a computer data base to see how many times his name has been in the newspapers ("I had 2,300 articles written about me in one year.") He gives visitors to the CBN complex a three-page, single-spaced list of his achievements, ranging from high school athletic victories to his kinship with the family of Winston Churchill. On the campaign trail, he recites portions of his resume in a voice that rings with pride.

Describing his qualifications to be in the White House, Robertson tends to invoke his resume for all it is worth -- and sometimes more than that. For example:"I am a member of the board of directors of a multibillion-dollar bank," Robertson has told several audiences this year. He identifies the institution as United Virginia Bank. United Virginia spokesman Neil Cotiaux said Robertson has never sat on the bank's board of directors. He is one of 400 people asked to serve on a local advisory board, a community group that has no authority over bank management. "I've been in school, in graduate school at the University of London," Robertson said in a CBS-TV interview. A CBN spokesman said this is a reference to an introductory summer course on British art for visiting American students. Robertson received no graduate school credit for the course. After questions were raised about the class, Robertson changed the wording in his campaign resume from "Graduate study, University of London" to "studied briefly at the University of London." "Pat Robertson . . . is a Yale-educated tax lawyer," says the biography in Robertson's 1986 book, "America's Dates With Destiny." Robertson did graduate from Yale Law School, but he has never practiced tax law and could not legally do so, having failed the bar exam. As is common among politicians, Robertson regularly tells audiences about his "deep commitment to traditional family values." According to his wife, Robertson has rarely found time to be a family man. Asked this June about being married to a religious leader, Dede Robertson replied, "You have a lonely life . . . . One of us had to put the family first, and you can't expect your husband when he's in the Lord's work to do it." She recommended that a woman in her position get close to God so "He can be your husband."

In his autobiography, "Shout It From the Housetops," Pat Robertson recalls the time his wife was bedridden after a miscarriage and he had to help at home. "I want to be out winning souls," he complained to God, "but I am forced to stay home and take care of my wife and children." "Our financial affairs {at CBN} have been completely open and on the record," Robertson said this summer. CBN has been more secretive about its finances than other large ministries, generally reporting only summary information required by the Internal Revenue Service. Robertson has not joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which sets voluntary rules for financial disclosure.

On Dec. 15, 1985, Robertson said on NBC's "Meet The Press" that CBN had released a public financial statement. CBN employes said this caused a major flap at the network because there was no such document. Robertson quickly ordered the preparation of a financial statement. According to an internal CBN memo, the document Robertson cited in December 1985 was published in July 1986. Robertson put a 1985 copyright on it.

This April the candidate distributed a signed "Statement of Stewardship" that said, "In 1986 Pat Robertson's salary was $60,000 from CBN." After Robertson was asked about his income during sworn testimony in a legal deposition, it came out that he was paid far more. In addition to the reported $60,000, he received $104,000 from CBN in January 1987, at least part of it for 1986. Questioned repeatedly, Robertson and his staff declined to disclose his full CBN income.

Political aides said Robertson gets livid when asked about such misstatements. As a television evangelist, Robertson is accustomed to an adoring and unquestioning reception from followers. On the campaign trail, he has been stunned to find how "rough" the political world can be.

For most of his religious career, Robertson stayed clear of his earthly father's political world. In 1966, when Sen. Robertson asked for help in a tough reelection campaign, the son refused. "The Lord steadfastly refused to let me," Pat Robertson explained. He said God told him: "You cannot tie my eternal purposes to the success of any political candidate."

Sen. Robertson lost that election by a razor-thin margin. He was "a broken, defeated man," his son recalled. Pat Robertson reacted differently: "I praised God . . . {saying} 'Thank you, Lord, for closing this door also.' "

Today, as Robertson races around the country in pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination, he hears a different message about a clergyman's role in politics. "I have a direct call and leading from God" to run for president, he said a few weeks ago.

One of the few times that any shadow of doubt darkens Robertson's sunny, confident face is when he is asked about his refusal to help in his father's 1966 campaign. After the question was posed on a trip this summer, Robertson came back to it on his own three times, groping in apparent anguish for a satisfactory explanation. He finally cited the third chapter of Ecclesiastes ("For everything there is a season . . . . ") and said that God's position on political involvement had changed.

It is crucial for this candidacy that God's guidance changed, because Pat Robertson has made it clear over the past 30 years that he would do nothing without "direct guidance" through divine revelation. He said he has learned "to expect God to guide in every detail."

In his books and speeches, Robertson recalls instances where God has provided extremely detailed directions: which street to live on, which call letters to use for a radio station, which brand of transmitter to buy for his television studio. God tells him which job applicants to hire, which securities to sell.

During a business negotiation in 1969, a salesman asked Robertson how much CBN would pay for some electronic gear. "I waited," Robertson recalled later. "Then the Lord spoke: 'Don't go over $2 1/2 million.' " Robertson hears God speak a various language. Sometimes Robertson receives the divine guidance in the silence of his inner thoughts; sometimes he feels a nudge to read a particular passage of scripture; sometimes he hears an actual voice, "level and conversational."

Sometimes Robertson cannot believe what he hears; he said he rejected God's 1960 prediction that Congress would pass a certain piece of broadcast legislation because "I thought such a bill was unconstitutional."

More ominously, there is a certain "percentage of error" in the direct guidance field, he said; that is, advice that appears to come from heaven is sometimes the voice of Satan. In his autobiography, Robertson recounts a 1970 incident in which Satan, in the guise of God, fooled him into an extended wild goose chase in pursuit of a rich contributor who turned out to be an impostor. Such instances are dangerous, Robertson has written, because "once you admit a mistake in the area of guidance, it indicates you are prone to make others."

Millions of others share Robertson's concept of "direct guidance." His belief that he has a "clear channel" to God is important to his religious following. As a political matter, though, talking to God may seem "spooky," to use Robertson's term, to mainstream voters.

Accordingly, Robertson tends to play down this aspect of his life in his appearances as a presidential candidate. He is repeatedly asked whether he would go to God for detailed advice on running the country, and he repeatedly ducks the question. "How He would lead me through wisdom would be up to Him," Robertson says.

There are some areas where Robertson probably cannot keep his religious views out of the campaign. He can pretty much kiss goodbye his prospects in the heavily Mormon states of the mountain West because of his position that Mormon beliefs "are, to put it simply, wrong." Others may be suspicious of his 1985 assertion, since recanted, that only Jews and born-again Christians are entitled to government jobs.

Robertson emerged as a policy pundit in 1977 when he launched a newsletter, "Pat Robertson's Perspective," dealing with foreign affairs, economics and politics. He said then that he did so in obedience to divine guidance. "God's anointing was upon me for this job," he told the newsletter's readers in 1982.

But when he was asked on the campaign trail this summer about this entry into the policy arena, Robertson said he was attracted to the idea when he saw another born-again Christian from the South, Jimmy Carter, ascend to the White House. Asked specifically whether God had anointed him to write the newsletter, Robertson laughed. "It's just something that happened in my own life," he replied.

To understand Pat Robertson, it is important to understand that these two explanations are not contradictory, given his concept of God's role in human life.

Robertson, like many other evangelicals, holds that God is a living person who has the power to achieve anything in the universe, so God's power is a fundamental reality in every human life. If life is viewed as a river, the evangelicals say, God's power is like a strong current. Humans are free to swim anywhere they want in the river. But those who travel against the current are doomed to frustration in life. For those who go with the flow of divine favor, Robertson says, "All things are possible."

Robertson has written a book on how to master the art of channeling God's power. He says that he is neither a "miracle worker" nor a "faith healer." Rather, he is one of many humans who have learned how to bring God's power to bear through prayer.

On his chatty CBN news-and-talk program "The 700 Club," Robertson has routinely prayed for specific miracles, ranging from cures for scoliosis to the recovery of a viewer's lost diamond ring. He said he has countless letters from people who testify to miracle cures or other good fortune that occurred after they asked Robertson to pray for them.

In the political world, however, miracles, too, evoke the "spooky" factor.

At nearly every campaign news conference, Robertson faces questions about his most famous miracle, when he asked God on live television in 1985 to prevent Hurricane Gloria from striking Virginia. The hurricane veered away. As Robertson tells it, Gloria was just one of many hurricanes that God has turned away in response to prayers from CBN. But candidate Robertson has been ridiculed for suggesting that he stopped the storm.

The "miracle" that Pat Robertson most likes to relate is the story of how he built CBN from the ground up.

That story begins on March 22, 1930, when Marion Gordon Robertson was born in Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington, Va., the second and last child of Willis and Gladys Robertson. Nicknamed "Pat" by his brother, the boy spent part of his childhood in Washington, D.C., (attending Hardy Elementary School) but most of it in Lexington, a charming southern town encircled by the looming dark peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A boyhood friend, who asked not to be named, said Pat's father had the boy "programmed for success."

"If you had told me Pat would become a minister, I would have laughed," the friend said. "But if you told me Pat would be the biggest, flashiest, most successful minister in the U.S., I would say, sure, that's Pat."

Robertson attended Washington & Lee University, graduating in 1950 with a distinguished record. After his summer in London, he was called to active duty in the Marine Corps. He served in Korea and then enrolled in Yale Law School, graduating in 1955.

A. Willis Robertson was elected to Congress when Pat was 2 years old, and stayed for 34 years. Pat says his father had little time for the family, but it seems clear that his father was his chief parental influence and a source of great pride. "If you met Pat, probably in the next sentence you would know that he {was} the son of a senator," Robertson's longtime friend, Ed Gaines, recalled. (When this comment was read to him, Robertson denied it, saying, "That would show extreme ill-breeding.")

Sen. Robertson's letters advised, cajoled and hectored Pat on every aspect of his life. "I was a bit surprised . . . that you had bought an expensive overcoat," the senator wrote two years after Pat finished college. "I was still more surprised when I got the bill for it." The father laid out precise plans for Pat's future, choosing a law firm for him to enter and suggesting Southern Baptist girls to date who might prove to be political assets in Virginia.

Pat Robertson began to rebel during law school, when he met and fell quickly in love with a nursing student, Adelia (Dede) Elmer, a Roman Catholic from Ohio. On March 22, 1954, the couple ran off to a justice of the peace and were married without their parents' knowledge. The Robertsons immediately started a family; they have four children and four grandchildren.

Robertson broke more sharply with his father's plan the next summer: He failed the New York bar exam, precluding an immediate legal career. A few months later, it came to him that he should be a minister.

With financial help from his parents, in-laws and local contributors, Robertson opened one of the world's first all-religious television stations in Portsmouth, Va., in 1961. At first, Robertson was so desperate for programming material that he hired a young couple to put on a religious puppet show. The couple, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, was adequate as puppeteers and proved to be great financial assets because of their tearful appeals for contributions from viewers.

Robertson, too, was a powerful fund-raiser, and his small station gradually expanded into today's international network. Reflecting this experience, Robertson's brand of Christianity emphasizes hard work and celebrates financial success, with the condition that the successful must share their wealth with religious and charitable organizations.

But Robertson does not restrict his appeals to the wealthy or successful. One of the fundamental rules Robertson preaches to his flock is that, "If you are in financial trouble, the smartest thing you can do is to start giving money away."

The principle proved hard for Robertson to follow this spring, when contributions to CBN dropped dramatically in the aftermath of the Bakker scandal. Robertson quickly laid off 470 employes and cut CBN charity and service operations. He said the cuts did not violate his "financial trouble" rule. "You can't give money you don't have," he said.

On the campaign trail, Robertson cites the success of CBN as evidence of his management skills. Coworkers generally describe Robertson as a hands-on manager who wants control over every detail of his myriad operations. "He was involved in every little thing," said Neil Eskelin, a former program director who has written a hagiographical biography of Robertson. "He tried to cover too many waterfronts," said Borden Hallowes, CBN's former chief counsel. "He tried to get his hands on everything."

Dick Minard, a former Robertson political aide now working for a competitor, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), said Robertson maintained total control of every element of the campaign. "He would dictate the whole schedule, every event . . . down to the kind of decorations there should be on the stage," Minard recalled.

To a person, those who have worked for Robertson describe him as brilliant and fully aware of his brilliance. "He has a startling and intimidating intelligence," said Danuta Soderman, a popular CBN reporter and talk-show hostess. "He usually knows more facts and figures than anybody else does."

Some aides said he is so confident of his knowledge that he is not good at taking advice. That may help explain the repeated factual errors in his campaign speeches. His shoot-from-the-hip style is especially evident when he is taking on his perceived enemies.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Robertson charged that Vice President Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, "has used every dirty trick known to mankind" to hinder the Robertson campaign. Later, he had to concede that "We suspect {Atwater} is the author of dirty tricks . . . but we have no evidence."

This summer, Robertson said The New York Times had offered $50,000 for an interview with a member of the Walker spy family -- a fairly serious charge against a newspaper that has a policy against paying sources. The woman he referred to, Laura Walker Snyder, said she received no offer from The Times, although she was offered money for her story by a picture magazine. She eventually gave an exclusive interview to Robertson on CBN. She is now employed by Robertson.

On policy issues, Robertson shares many points of view with other conservative Republicans. More than any other candidate, though, he also takes policy advice from the pages of holy scripture. As set forth in his newsletter, which he wrote from 1977 to 1982, his opinions on major economic, military and political questions are based on his reading of the Bible.

Discussing the budget deficit, for example, Robertson refers to the 25th chapter of Leviticus, which calls for cancellation of debts every 50 years. A few years ago, Robertson endorsed that for the United States.

He now says that Leviticus provides a "basic framework" for resolving the deficit. His approach involves an across-the-board cut in federal spending, including the defense and Social Security budgets.

Robertson has repeatedly cited chapter 38 of Ezekiel as a certain guide to the future of the Mideast. From that chapter he draws the conclusion that there will definitely be "an invasion of Israel . . . by Russia, Iran, Ethiopia and Libya . . . . When the smoke clears, Soviet Russia will be reduced to a fourth-rate power and Israel will be the wonder of the world. This is what the Bible tells us will happen, and it will happen."

Robertson said his training in biblical exegesis is the foundation of his controversial position that "A Supreme Court ruling is not the law of the United States."

"One of the principles of biblical exegesis is that you count the lines . . . and you can see the important point," he explained recently. "Well, I applied the same principle when I studied the U.S. Constitution. It's common sense. You count the lines. There are, I think, 255 lines on the legislative {branch}, 130 on the presidency and 39 on the judiciary. Now, that tells you something. They are not equal."

And the Bible, of course, provides the basis for the core issue of the Robertson campaign: the impending "moral death" that Robertson fears will destroy the United States. "What we are facing is not a governmental problem, it is a moral problem."

Given his heavy emphasis on moral concerns and his belief that a president must play second fiddle to Congress in many areas of federal policy, it seems likely that a President Robertson would devote most of his energy to resolving the nation's "moral problem."

In doing so, Robertson would likely proceed with the total self-assurance that stems from his unshakeable belief that he is doing God's work. Robertson made that clear a year ago when he launched the "exploratory" phase of his campaign for the presidency, "The question for me . . . is simple," he said. "What is God's will for me in this?" After the briefest pause, he continued the thought: "Let me assure you that deep in my heart I know God's will for me."

Staff researcher Susan Kelleher contributed to this report.