WHY I AM A CHRISTIAN.
At the Brockley Cricket Club dinner I sat next to an attractive lady from Iran. She told me that she had looked at my website and that it was too big and complicated. She did not know where to start. I thought it might help someone like her to have a relatively brief statement of why I am a Christian.
(B) I believe that God exists.
Last Easter Monday I was walking down from Kirtling in East Cambridgeshire towards the Stour valley. It was a gorgeous day. The sky was a pale spring blue with a scattering of fair weather cumulus. The trees were just in leaf and flushed different shades of green. The grass was spangled with daisies and dandelions. In the distance I could see a barn owl lazily quartering a piece of rough pasture. I was ecstatic with pleasure. It was like being in love.
The world in which we live is full of many very lovely things. Only last week I was watching birds on the mudflats of the Stour Estuary. The wild ducks alone were objects of the greatest beauty. A pintail drake is a marvel of creation. It is a picture of elegance with its dark head, white breast and neck stripe.
The best explanation for the existence of our universe, the earth and all living things is that God created them. Scientists are quite good at describing the processes by which the universe became what it is, the earth was formed and life evolved. They leave unanswered the question of who or what is behind the processes.
Sometimes when I come home I find a cake tin on my doorstep and inside the tin a sponge. If I asked a cookery expert how that sponge was made she would tell me that 3oz. of plain flour, three eggs, a pinch of salt and 3oz. of caster sugar were mixed together. The mixture was heated in an oven for 15 minutes at a temperature of 375F. That is the process. If I asked Dorothy where the sponge came from she would reply, "I made it." That is a more deeply satisfying answer. Behind every strawberry jam sponge there is a process and behind the process there is the maker. So it is with the universe. It is impossible to explain the origin of the universe just by describing the processes that shape it.
(C) Not all is well with God's creation.
On that lovely bank holiday Monday in April when I was so alive to the glory of God's creation I felt alone. I felt sad because I was alone on a public holiday. Now you might say, "Well, with an agreeable companion you would have felt differently." Perhaps so! But, why did I feel alone anyway. Where was God the creator? Why couldn't I share my joy with him as I might with a friend? Why was there no response when I breathed my thanks?
Then there was that owl. It was a magnificent sight. It looked such a lackadaisical hunter until it swooped. Each time it swooped some small creature - a vole or a mouse - lost its life. Death is common to all forms of life on earth. It seems almost to be the ruling principle. Species reproduce, compete and adapt to survive death. Yet individuals die. It does not seem right.
My walk took me towards Stetchworth along a narrow footpath hemmed in by hawthorn and blackthorn bushes. Suddenly my peace of mind and sense of well-being were shattered by a large, black Alsatian jumping out at me, barking loudly and showing its teeth.
Life is like that too. Everything is going along smoothly until, without warning, disaster strikes. Sometimes bad events can be attributed to human folly but not always. The death of a child to meningitis or leukaemia is no one's fault.
So why is our creation like it is? Why is God remote? Why does death reign supreme? Why do terrible disasters strike? Is God incompetent? It is impossible to believe that God is incompetent so striking, varied, intricate, complex and beautiful are the things that he has made. So is God detached, capricious and cruel by nature? It is easier to believe this than that he is incompetent. However, if God really was cold and callous life could be so much worse!
The other explanation is that the creature made in God's likeness, the ultimate expression of his creative genius, went wrong. We went wrong. After a brief age of innocence man turned against the creator and went his own way. The world is as it is by God's design. It has to be like it is because of the way we are. We are flawed goods. In part we still display something of God's likeness but in other respects we are an utter disgrace. We fell from grace by our own choice.
I know that God exists. It is sensible to believe that he intended those he made in his own likeness to be a credit to him. It is obvious that we are not. It is not reasonable to believe that God would spoil his own creation. The only other explanation is that we are responsible for our sad condition.
It is possible that God left mankind in the world as it is because he had a redemptive purpose - a redemptive purpose that could only be achieved if He withdrew, death reigned and life was unpredictable.
(D) The perfect life.
There I was on my walk with the agitated black Alsatian leaping frantically in front of me. Following close behind was a very pretty, lively, young woman with her handsome boyfriend. She turned and ran back along the footpath shouting, "Jet! Jet! Jet!" The Alsatian turned and chased after her. Then she threw her arms around the dog and held it tight. The young woman displayed qualities that were very attractive. She was lovely, lissom, quick-witted, energetic, competent, decisive, warm-hearted, graceful and affectionate. She was a celebration of womanhood.
Checkhov in his short story, 'Beauties', deals with the same thing but much better than ever I could. He describes an encounter with a Russian girl in a railway station. She stood on the platform talking at a carriage window:
First she would place hands on hips, then raise them to her head to smooth her hair. She talked and laughed, displaying surprise and horror in turn, and I can't recall a single moment when her body and her face were still. The whole mystery and magic of her beauty lay in these tiny infinitely refined movements, in her smile, in the play of her expressions, in her swift glances at us; and also in the combination of these delicate, graceful movements both with the youthfulness and freshness and purity of heart that rang out in her speech and laughter, and with that defencelessness so lovely to see in children, birds, fawns and young trees.
The Russian girl who captivated Checkhov embodied femininity at its most appealing. It was the ultimate expression of femininity, as eternal in its way as the everlasting hills, and beyond admiration.
When I read about Jesus in the gospels I encounter someone full of grace and truth. I am captivated by the ultimate goodness. I admire and am drawn to a man who embodied every virtue. His was a life of sterling worth. Jesus received the Divine seal of approval when God said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Matthew3v17.
I cannot fully elaborate on this here so I will use just one example. One day a group of very religious men dragged into the presence of Jesus a woman that they had caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to know whether they should stone her according to the Law of Moses. Jesus knew that the religious leaders were using the woman to catch him out. They were putting him between a rock and a hard place. If he encouraged them to stone the woman Jesus would be breaking Roman Law. If he dissuaded them from such action he would be ignoring Mosaic Law.
Jesus was very indignant that the chief priests and Pharisees should shame and humiliate a woman in order to discomfit him. He was also agitated that such was the religious leaders' hostility and antagonism to him that they would stop at nothing to damage his reputation and standing.
Now if I had been in Jesus place, both indignant and agitated, I would have exploded with anger. Jesus revealed the turmoil of his thoughts as he doodled in the dust. However, he maintained his self-control and said calmly and simply, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." John8v7. This was a masterly answer under pressure.
Jesus could not bear to look up - he was so deeply ashamed of his fellow men. He said nothing further but continued to doodle in the dust. Slowly and silently the woman's accusers and Jesus' opponents slunk away.
The woman awaited his judgment. She did not slip off - as she so easily could. This was an act of faith on the woman's part - she acknowledged Jesus' right to judge her. Jesus asked ironically, "Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?" v10.
In this story we see the strength, wisdom and compassion of Jesus. His main concern was the woman. His priority was the redemption of the prostitute. The conduct of Jesus in this story is extra-ordinarily appealing. In 2000 years it has never lost its impact.
(E) A saving work.
One of the things I regretted when I had completed my Easter Monday walk and returned home, was that I didn't say as I walked past the lovely girl holding onto her big, black dog, "It is almost worth being an Alsatian to get a hug like that." I was quite sad because that attractive girl was inaccessible to me.
Checkhov conveys the same feeling in his story:
A guard was standing on the little platform at the end of our carriage, his elbows propped on the railings. He was looking towards the girl and his flabby, unpleasantly puffy face, exhausted by sleepless nights and the jolting of the train, expressed intense joy and the deepest sorrow, as if he were seeing his own youth, his happiness, sobriety, purity, his wife and children in that girl. He was regretting his sins, it seemed, and he apparently felt with his whole being that the girl was not his and that for him, with his premature ageing, his clumsiness and flabby face, the happiness enjoyed by ordinary people, by train passengers, was as far a way as the heavens.
The guard felt with his whole being that the girl was not his. She was inaccessible and unobtainable. He felt intense regret.
A lady with whom I communicate dislikes references to Christianity in my Annual Review of the Year. She dislikes preaching of any sort! In her letters she often commends the example of Jesus. As I have indicated, I find the life of Jesus enormously attractive. It exerts a powerful pull. But it fills me with the deepest sorrow as well as intense joy - for that ultimate expression of virtue is inaccessible and unobtainable to me. I, like the guard, feel with my whole being that Christ's perfections are not mine. If Jesus had only left me his example, which my lady friend implies is all I really need, I would be very miserable.
There may be something we have missed in the behaviour of the young lady and her dog. She actually did something for me. She did a small saving work. The alluring young woman threw her arms around the dog so that I could safely pass. She kept her pet from jumping at me, pawing me, distressing me, knocking me over .....
Jesus' main purpose in coming to earth, according to the New Testament writers, was not to set us a quite unachievable example or to teach us how to live, but to reconcile us to God our Maker. He came to repair the relationship that went wrong when mankind went wrong. Jesus came to put us right with God by making a peace offering. He is first and foremost a Saviour. He is what I need most.
Jesus died on the cross at the hands of men. That awful event shows just how far we have gone wrong. To put an end to that wonderful, winning life in such a brutal fashion is a sad reflection on our flawed natures. However, Jesus did not save himself from death on the cross. He took it as an opportunity to make a peace offering to God on behalf of us all for the wrong that we have done him. It was a sacrifice - a token payment for being such a big disappointment to our Maker.
It was only a token payment - but God in his mercy accepted it. The price has been paid for man's rebellion against his Maker and we can be set free from its worst consequences - fear, death and despair - those three black dogs!
(F) How do I know that this is all true.
How do I know that the spirited young woman on my East Cambridgeshire walk was in a small way my saviour? I submitted to her judgment that all would be well if I continued on my walk past her and her Alsatian. I believed that she would restrain the dog and protect me from it. I trusted her. I believed in her and proved her true.
Submission is a vital ingredient of faith. I can remember as a teacher having a dreadful protracted struggle with a teenage boy. He would talk to any girls that sat near him and distract them from their work. So I isolated him - to his intense displeasure. He sulked, complained that he was victimised and did his best to conduct long-range conversations with his female admirers. Lesson after lesson we were in conflict. Finally I said to him, "There is one tactic you have not tried. Why don't you co-operate for a couple of weeks and see what happens? Why don't you give your teacher a chance?" The boy did! He actually submitted. He believed that I would keep my word and his situation would improve. From the moment of his decision our relationship changed for the better. Eventually he sat again where he wished. He was no more trouble. As the academic year drew to a close we were almost friends. The battle ended when the boy submitted. By faith he proved me true.
I have proved that Jesus is a Saviour by submitting to him. I believed in his saving work for the forgiveness of my sins and was given the assurance that God both loves me and accepts me as his son. There is new life in Jesus Christ.
It is wonderful to be accepted and welcomed. It is a fundamental human need. Jesus tells the story of a young man who wronged his father and left home. He took his inheritance out of the family firm and wasted it in wild living in a foreign country. When that young man's money ran out and he was reduced to penury he came to his senses. He realised he had been a fool, that he had wronged his father and that he would be better off as an employee in his father's business. So he swallowed his pride and went home. He would apologise to his father and ask for work. Jesus said, "But while he was a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." Luke15v20.
That is the experience of all those who submit to Jesus, who ask him for forgiveness and new life. Jesus gives both. He makes a gift of his Spirit to enlighten the mind and to reassure the believer that he, or she, is loved by God. God welcomes us for Jesus' sake. He accepts us - he throws his arms around us and adopts us into his family. The only way to prove that this is true is to submit and believe in Jesus.
I am strongly attracted to Jesus by his example and teaching. This is not, however, the main reason that I am a Christian. I am a Christian because I need saving. God is not disinterested in me. How can He be disinterested in his own creation? It is unlikely that He is pleased with me because I am not best pleased with myself! I am damaged goods. We all know the consequences of being damaged goods! I want to be saved from these consequences. There is only one person who can save me - Jesus. God sent him to earth to be the Saviour of the World. God assured me of salvation and gave me new life when I submitted and believed on Jesus. I am a Christian because:
"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John3v16.