I became a Christian at the age of sixteen despite growing up in a traditional church. The difference was in encountering God beyond – not even within – all the rituals. It wasn’t about induction into a community of belonging or acceptance of a particular religious tradition. It also wasn’t about running from the real world or finding identity as a cultural contrarian or wowser. Far from relinquishing reason, too, the journey to finding faith involved three steps of inquiry that changed my life and could perhaps change yours.
To merely choose religion as one of life’s various antidotes can be like selecting between options on a supermarket shelf. We might buy and try but will often then discard what’s not perceived to be working and then move on to something else. It’s a faulty premise that, for some, seeks out a system of thought and practice like a medical remedy without necessarily experiencing transformation in keeping with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Just as a seed needs fertile soil to grow, the best antidote needs an open heart, not because there is a felt need, but because we can surely concede that there could very well be a real one. The very possibility that eternal life exists cannot justifiably be countered by reason, given the limits of certainty reason offers. It paradoxically warrants the engagement of reason to contemplate faith’s implications within what can be known to then lead us beyond it to the one who can be known.
For me, this involved journey to discover the God who first found me, a spiritual awakening that needed my brain to be engaged in recognising three undeniable realities.
1. I could not deny the reasonableness of faith.
The credibility of the Bible is based in part on repeated archaeological verification of events and cultures that experts have previously dismissed. The fact, too, that early Christians were prepared to die in large numbers for a faith they knew to be true, that no first-century accounts dispute the Resurrection, that tough questions about the Bible have clear answers when I’m prepared to look objectively, and that verified miracles still happen today, all aid in attesting to the genuineness of the Bible.
To believe in its miracles requires an intellectual leap many are not prepared to make, but let’s remember they have not been disproved as much as they have been disparaged. They are also not impossible for a God whose existence is proved by the above to be beyond reasonable doubt. This existence can never, of course, be proved to a sceptic beyond all doubt.
2. I could not deny the evidence of miracles today.
Miracles today? Many bristle at the claim and write off alleged miraculous cures as the imaginations of the gullible who are caught up in the emotion of a religious event or who have perhaps enjoyed some short-term benefits of positive thinking.
Those desperate for cures, though, will often look for miracles with far greater hope and hunger. They cannot, of course, be guaranteed, but typically occur in environments of faith and prayer and, crucially, provide the freedom from pain or discomfort for very real people who have real stories to tell.
At sixteen, I saw people live longer healthy lives free from cancer after prayer. These were medically verified cures from medically verified sicknesses. These were not mistaken diagnoses. In fact, many other stories of healed joint pains, defects and other ailments have only served to reinforce the certainty of Jesus’ intent that His own healing miracles would be performed subsequently by His followers. Having myself prayed for many people cured of blindness, crippling pain and respiratory problems (but, no, not even close to every one of them) I stand even more convinced.
3. I could not deny the change in others who had found faith.
An old Catholic friend once left a church service claiming, tongue in cheek, that we could “now go back to our sinful ways for another week.” For those I knew who had truly encountered God, though, their thoughts were not about their personal agenda but about surrender to a divine one. I began to notice new Christians living outwardly-focused lives who were readily giving up destructive habits such as alcoholism, often with significant emotional impact and renewed financial priorities.
I discovered that people were recognising sin was not about the identification of certain ‘wrong’ practices as much as it was about their self-focus and independence from God. They needed to then own the need to turn personally to their creator, the God from whom they had lived apart. And why? Because of the realisation that the inevitable reality of eternal separation from Him is a consequence of living apart from Him.
The Good News of Christianity is that we only find true purpose and eternal life in accepting this. Jesus qualified to pay the substitutionary price for the stain of our sin by being human but only because He was also sinless due to being God. He therefore didn’t have to die for sin of His own. This only applies, though, as we accept His salvation gift personally and then choose to live a life surrendered to God as a result.
I did. It gave me new lenses with which to look at a life which, though not perfect, is indeed perfected. It’s a life not marked by what I’m against, but who I am for. It’s a life not secured by what I do, but by what He has done. It’s a life not measured by what I have to do but what I get to do. It’s a life not regulated by what I feel about myself but by what I believe about what He says.
Our free choice to respond to a God who knocks on the door of the human heart and awaits our response is not about holding back and seeing if He might perhaps make the first move. He already has.
The prayers and actions of others all those years ago certainly helped me to make the connections I now seek to replicate for others. I was nevertheless also beginning to responsibly investigate Christianity, to wrestle and engage in response to God but without a preconceived bias.
What might your response be to life’s ultimate challenge to pursue and find faith for your own good (no matter how badly it is sometimes modelled and practised by others)?
The English writer, G. K. Chesterton summed up the situation that best explains the choice of most when he said that Christianity has not been “tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
I know the choices I made and have never regretted. This was not a step of blind faith, but it has since become an even more informed faith.
Is it also your faith?