“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5)
When I came to Oxford, I had never really considered that Jesus might be who he said he was. If you had asked me, I probably would have said that there had been a man called Jesus who lived around 2000 years ago, but that there was no way he had done all the crazy things that the Bible described. I grew up as an atheist and had never really given religion that much thought. But during my degree I began to realise that I needed help. By the start of my second year, I was trying to deal with poor mental health and significant self loathing. I started questioning who I was and realised I was broken, selfish, and increasingly becoming a person that I didn't want to be. I had the best support that anyone could ask for, surrounded by family and friends that loved me and would do anything to make sure that I was ok! Yet I was still slipping into a dark place. What on earth more did I need?
Several of my friends in Oxford were Christians, and we had been meeting up occasionally to talk about the Bible since part way through first year. Eventually, I started going to The Search most weeks and to church every so often. I had many unanswered questions about God and suffering, so attended a sermon at St Ebbe's church called "Where was God in the Trenches?" There is undeniably suffering in the world. Without God, there are two ways of dealing with this, either "optimistic humanism" or "pessimistic fatalism". The former is faith in humanity to overcome evil and suffering as we continue along the path of progress. I am convinced from history, the news, and my own life that this view does not hold up; people repeatedly hurt each other. On the other hand, "pessimistic fatalism" says that there is no good, no evil, so nothing really matters - we should just try to make the best of life. This view seems even less plausible, when my family, my friends, music, and so many other things matter so much to me, and when atrocities such as the first world war were so clearly evil. So where was God in the trenches? The Bible describes a God who loves us and wants to save us from suffering, so much so that He "gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). I knew that I was broken and needed help, and realised that God was the only solution. So I believed.
Then followed the six most joy-filled days of my life, a joy that came from knowing that an unshakable, eternal power had my back, and that my identity was firm in Him. Though this joy is not always so intense because such strong emotions do not last, the feeling of uttermost security remain. This is not to say that the Christian life is a breeze; there is still very much suffering in the world. But I know now that the light does indeed shine in the darkness, that Jesus came into this broken world to save anyone who believes in Him, and that if I could be saved, there is no one that he can't bring near.