During my first year at Oxford, I thought I was doing pretty well. I was cruising into a distinction in prelims, I was set up to run a top uni society, had a summer job as a banker, I was in all the college drinking societies, was off to Asia on holiday and hadn’t done too badly with ‘the yat’. On balance, by many people’s standards it wasn’t a bad year. Obviously being in Oxford it wasn’t quite American Pie, but I wasn’t that far off. A Cotswolds Crumble perhaps. I didn’t really feel in need of anything, not achievement, not mates, not a god. I thought I was pretty sorted, laughing my way into a comfortable, affluent and fun future with some good stories to tell about the way there.
The problem, for me at least, is that there were no real grounds to think I was sorted at all. I had no proper reasons for my objectives and hopes. Being comfortable, affluent, and having fun, even when you have some amazing mates, just doesn’t really have enough to offer when someone really asks you ‘why?’.
So whilst I was cracking on with all these things, this niggly doubt crept into my mind and as a thinking person I thought I should do something about that. Studying philosophy was one way of looking at things and I also thought religion might have some ideas. A lot of my family and friends were Christians and you don’t have to look far to see its influence on our society. So I thought this Jesus business was at least worth looking into.
But, how does one really look into Christianity then?
I thought reading the bible might be a place to start. And given ‘Christ’ makes up most of ‘Christianity’, I started reading his biography in the gospels. I also then looked into some of the other parts of the bible and some supporting books to see if we could even trust the bible and I honestly and rationally believe we should. Jesus dying and coming back to life really holds up. And if you disagree, please get in touch and tell me why you think so. Because for me, the hard evidence points one way.
Secondly, I got to know some Christians. I went to OICCU talks, started going to church and even went away on a weekend trip with the guys from church. I was amazed by how much they cared about me and my thoughts and how strongly they believed Jesus was king of all. Of course, some of them seemed like odd balls and I was creeped out a bit at first by all this talk of ‘love’ and ‘caring’. But the church is – literally – a family and in a family you can be yourself and be open. Seeing the genuine love these guys had for God and one another and even for me told me something was different with these guys.
Thirdly, I prayed. If God wasn’t there I would only be talking or thinking to myself, which wouldn’t be so bad. At least I could check if he was there. If God is there, then he would hear my prayers and in the bible God promises to answer when you ‘knock on the door’.
I knew deep down I was no saint. I was selfish, frivolous and uncaring. And if God was offering to open the door to forgiveness and let me know his unconditional love, then why not take him up on the best offer anyone could ask for? So, I prayed saying I couldn’t help but believe from my enquiries that God did send his son Jesus to die on the cross and come back to life and I asked to be forgiven for all the bad stuff I had done in light of this.
This was me knocking on the door. And then, as he promised, God opened the door wide. He accepted me into his family as his son who he loves and has forgiven.
It did not happen in one go with a bolt of lightning and chorus of angels. But in some quiet moments over that year I came to accept he was really there and he had saved my life. So I stepped through the open door into the house of God.
This lyric from one of the songs in the bible pretty much captures where I am at now: “I ask God for one thing: to live in God’s house all my life, to marvel there at his goodness, and to ask for his guidance.” (Psalm. 27.4)
It’s meant I had to make some changes in my life. But the thing is these things haven’t got me down at all. God has completely changed my heart, my preferences are simply not the preferences I had before. Obviously, I’m not perfect, but God keeps giving and I guess when you are in a relationship you do stuff out of love. You enjoy pleasing the person you care more about than anyone. And as you love them more and as you get to know them better, you mess up less and get closer to them.
So, now Jesus is the answer I give when someone asks me ‘Why?’. I wasn’t actually sorted beforehand. But amazingly I have got it sorted now, I guess. God has welcomed me into his house and a relationship with him. What more could I ask for?