It’s the 400th Anniversary of the printing of the King James Version of the Bible. It was the first Bible I bought – a cheap one. I was really embarrassed buying it. I don’t know why now. Says, the BBC, “It is used by the whole globe. The last Harry Potter book sold 44 million – the Bible has sold 2.5 billion some say, or six billion, others say.” If I had read The God Delusion before reading the Bible I might well have been persuaded by Richard Dawkins’ arguments against the Bible and Christianity. He says on page 5 of his book that by the time I had put his book down I would become a hard-nosed atheist like himself! In my younger days I might have. I wasn’t well read on things Christian as I am now. However, I should say in Dawkins favour that he does spend a few pages (340-344) in TGD telling his readers why he is so “taken aback at the biblical ignorance displayed by people educated in more recent decades” than he was (p.340).
But for myself, what Christian friends I had in earlier years I had left behind in my early twenties. I was raised in a Christian family but had not become a Christian. I hadn’t taken any rational position against Christianity. I hadn’t become an atheist or an agnostic by thinking out arguments. I just drifted from the church and Christianity; it became inconvenient. If I was to describe myself I suppose I would say I had become a hedonist. Life was to be enjoyed without any control over my freedoms.
So what brought about the change? And why was I so embarrassed buying a Bible? What made me want to buy one? I hadn’t been into any serious reading since I left school! This is my story of how I became a Christian.
It all began by an accident – a serious accident involving my 650 cc Golden Flash and a vintage Austin 14! The side-on collision resulted in a broken front axle on the Austin 14. It also tested the crumple-zone on my motorcycle! It tested my crumple zone too!
When I had recovered consciousness and was placed in the ambulance someone handed me my safety helmet. It had been previously removed when I was unconscious. My fingers felt the concave on the surface of what I used to call my ‘crash hat’. I realised how fortunate I was. If I had hit the cabin section of the car the outcome could have been much more serious. As it was I was flung over the car bonnet and landed on my head on the road. The safety helmet had saved me but in the ambulance, and later, I found myself nagged by that question, ‘what if’? Safety helmets were not legally required in those days.
A couple of years later another potentially critical incident involved a serious roof-fall at the #16 coal face at Nantgarw colliery. Approaching the area the fireman and myself were just seconds away when the roof caved in almost above us. The blast machine driving the conveyor chain was still chugging away and pulling the return part of the chain which in turn was pulling on the anchor (Sylvester) that secured the conveyor at the other end of the coal face and pulling away the gate road roof support ring so the roof was falling in below us – before the chain snapped with the strain.
You can get used to working in hazardous conditions – until you are confronted by that ‘near thing’! We did safely retreat to safety but following that incident there was that nagging ‘what if’ question again.
There is nothing like life-threatening or challenging situations to make one think more soberly about life. It’s like being at a funeral service, a time for sober reflections and questioning – death comes to us all at some stage – but it is not me and sober thought soon fade as life has to carry on.
Following that was a health concern where a second opinion at my local GP clinic suggested glaucoma was the cause of the severe head pain I had been having. This was all happening within a couple of years – I was still in my early twenties. I was single and dependent on relatives for temporary abode. I was beginning to feel more vulnerable than when I had left home to make my way in the world at aged 16.
I had asked myself after the two serious incidents the ‘what if’ question – and what then? I recovered from the one incident and came unscathed from the other. The hospital result on the glaucoma scare was negative – and by then the pain had ceased. Everything was back to normal and life was still to be lived.
But I did find myself thinking in my rare moments of questioning, if there really is ‘someone up there’ or ‘out there’ who is responsible for the creation of the universe. If so, what should my response be to that? Then I also thought of my Christian friends I used to associate with. If I was honest I enjoyed their company back then.
It was about three years after the first critical incident that on a Saturday morning I found myself pausing for a moment at this Bible-Book stall in Cardiff indoor-market. Previous thoughts about the ‘out there’ or ‘up there’ came to mind. I had a conviction about buying a Bible.
This was where I was embarrassed. Was anyone looking? I took another full walk around the upstairs of the market making sure there were no friends or work colleagues who might see me. Seen buying a Bible wouldn’t have been good for my image – not at that time in my life. Feeling sure there was no one about who knew me I stopped briefly and purchased a small cheap Bible. I stuffed it into my baggy Motor Cycle jacket and moved from the stall with some haste.
I hadn’t realized how much the message of the Book had infiltrated my mind over the weeks and months of reading it until one day at work. There was this obnoxious work colleague who had got up my nose, as he often did with other colleagues. It was while I was letting loose some vulgar expletives that I felt my face glow with what must have been a very crimson blush. It didn’t represent in any way my anger. I blushed because I was embarrassed! It was a different embarrassment from when I was buying the Bible. For the first time in my life I felt I was in the presence of Someone unseen. And I can’t explain that.
The power that is in the book we call the Bible was beginning to transform my life (Hebrews 4:12). I am still making my spiritual journey but if I was to mark its beginning, that was it; my life was being turned around – by a Book! I could no longer look at people with hostility or even indifference, not even obnoxious work colleagues. I now needed to see others as God saw me, someone he loves despite who I am or have been. As it says in Romans 5:8, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The influence that Book had over me is just inexplicable.
Being honest and open to what the Bible has to say is risky. It does turn people’s lives around and upside down, but always for the better, even in adversity. It says things like ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the kingdom of God.’ And, ‘Forgive us as we forgive them that trespass against us.’ And ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, . . ‘ John 14:27.
The ‘New Birth’ experience, which is what was happening to me (John 3:3-8), has happened to millions of people down through history and is still happening.
Even today in lands hostile to Christianity, people are becoming disciples of Jesus Christ in the face of persecution and even death. How do Christians face life under extreme persecution and the threat of death?
Facing decapitation in his prison cell in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 – v6, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. V.7, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. V. 8, Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
There’s the certainty – it is a trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And there’s the enormous difference in the God I found and the God Richard Dawkins found in reading the Bible. It is surprising how two people can read the same book and come to opposing conclusions. Like millions of others when I read the Bible I found a God who is a loving, forgiving and welcoming God. What makes the difference?
The difference is in the one who reads the Book. If we are honest and open to its message we will see a different God from the one who reads the Bible to be critical and hostile! Convince a man against his will he will be of the same opinion still! It’s like putting butter and clay under the midday sun. Butter will melt but clay will harden. The sun doesn’t alter in any way – it is the substance or material that alters.
How it works I don’t know. That is what Jesus said, in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is of everyone born of the Spirit.”
I will not abuse Dawkins with the abuse he gives to Christians. I can only say I have found a different God in the Bible than he has found. I have found a God who is willing to provide us with the abundance of His grace to live a better and kinder and more meaningful life in this world. And when we fail, as we often do, He is ready to forgive us and says to us ‘let’s just start again’.
I admit that initially I imagined God as being quite severe – especially when it came to the idea of judgment. Now that really did scare me – until I got to know about the judgment. It doesn’t scare me now (Hebrews 9:27,28).
In a loose way I connect my experience with God with the character in ‘Good Night, Mr Tom’. I suppose my initial image of God eventually developed from a kind of grumpy severe looking Mr Tom Oakly, into discovering someone who really had a heart of gold. Young William had been the victim of an abusive mother with a distorted view of God and threats of going to hell for his sinfulness. By the time the story finishes the character of Mr Tom had so bonded with William the young evacuee, you were won over by this very compassionate and caring Mr Tom. That is how I now see God.
We see God the Father in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. In verse 19 we see the Prodigal’s view of the Father where he says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” In verse 32 you get God’s view of his prodigal son. Says the father to his elder son, who had objected to the banquet given for the wayward son come home, “It was right that we should make merry and be glad for your brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found.”
When it comes to rescuing us from our wayward selves God is in the banqueting business! I no longer have that image of an austere severe God. Now I see myself as part of God’s great family. I belong! I am a child of God (Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 3:1-3). That’s what’s so good about Christian belief. I no longer want to be obedient to be loved by Him, I want to be obedient because I am loved by Him. ‘It was not that we loved him but that he loved us . . .‘ 1 John 4:10.
We know God has shared in our common lot of life through Jesus when He lived on this earth. Despite what takes place Jesus gives us a hope in this life and in a future life to come. No one can take it away from us.
The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of the Christian faith. Whatever we share in the common lot of life, or whatever adversity we encounter, when it comes to the end of the road, because he is raised we will be raised too – that is what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24. For the Christian, Jesus will always have the last word, because of who He is; “He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)!
And so in his letter to his colleague, Timothy, the Apostle Paul invites all who will, to share in the certainty of the future he had. Said the apostle, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). How can I explain why I share that same confidence and assurance in Jesus Christ?
I was just a small lad going home from school. It was winter and there was a gale blowing down the valley. I found myself being blown along on my little legs. I was running and running faster and faster without being able to control my direction. It was scary – enough for me to remember. I was veering off the pavement onto the road in front of an oncoming car. There seemed nothing I could do to stop myself. All of a sudden I found myself picked up off the ground and then placed down safely on the pavement – a strong hand held me – I was alongside my dad.
The weather was so bad my father decided he should take time out from work to see I got home safely. That’s how I now see God – my experience of becoming a Christian was that real! Like in the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’, our Father took time out to watch out for me – to pick me up out of the way of danger. No one can take that experience away from me.
As a Father who loves his children He wants to see us home, safely. I can only speak for myself, but the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’ is a picture of God watching out for anyone and everyone who is willing to let Him see them home, safely (John 3:16). That’s the best of Christian belief. Wherever we have been and shouldn’t have been in life’s experience, whatever we have done and shouldn’t have done, like Luke’s recording of the story of the lost brother, our Father is always ready to forgive us and welcome us home (Luke 15:22-24)! There’s more to it, but basically, that’s my story of becoming a Christian.