The God who Speaks

An excerpt from chapter three of God’s Upgrades … My Adventures, published by Authentic and available from all taxationally ethical bookshops.

 

‘You really do need to buck your ideas up!’ my university Tutor told me. ‘If you fail your Part 1s, you’re out.’ I decided to face reality. ‘Statistically speaking, how many people who fail their prelims do get themselves together and carry on successfully?’ I asked. ‘Hardly any at all,’ he replied encouragingly. I asked if I could go away and think about it. For the next six weeks I did no work at all, went to no lectures or practicals, until eventually the admin office chased me up to see what I had decided to do. By then the decision had been made for me: I was irretrievably behind, and would have no option but to drop out. I still occasionally wake up with nightmares about this period, and am so relieved when I come to and realise that was all 43 years ago and I’m OK now.

So faced with the twin sorrows of leaving my friends (and my new girlfriend) behind and facing the wrath of my parents, I plunged into depression. What on earth was I going to do with my life now? I had decided years ago that teaching was for me, and chemistry had been my favourite subject at school, but now all that was gone. What was I for now? It was into this mood that for the first time I heard God speak to me.

On the campus at York was a Henry Moore sculpture, one of those family groups with holes through their middles. One afternoon I was standing looking at it (I’m not sure why) when I heard God. Not an audible voice, but inside my head the words were as clear as day. I heard him say ‘I know you’ve given up on me, but I haven’t given up on you. I still have a plan for your life.’ That’s it, and it took about as long to happen as it just took you to read those words. Then it was all over, but that brief moment of download gave me just about the greatest upgrade I’d ever had.

First of all, it was a brand new experience to hear God speak at all. Of course there had been lots of sermons about how prayer is meant to be a two-way conversation, and we had to listen as well as present our shopping lists, but no-one had ever modelled it to me or taught me in real terms what that meant. The only prayer I’d ever experienced was strictly a one-way street. So a God who actually communicated was a stunning novelty. Yet I could no more deny what I’d heard than fly to the moon. It was that real.

Then there was what he said. It was so unlike the God I’d been brought up to fear. If he had anything to say to me it would be to tell me to get my act together, stop doing all those naughty student sins and go back to church, or else I’d find myself in the eternal frying pan. But instead I heard the voice of one who still wanted me, who was sad that I’d neglected him but who still wanted, in the words of Mr Robinson, to show me his will so that I could get on with it. And, although I didn’t understand it at the time, was secretly sharpening and polishing me for a purpose even greater than I could have imagined. Nothing could have prepared me for a God of such grace and love. I was completely blown away in the few seconds that encounter took, and my life was literally turned around. I began to seek God afresh, not because I was frightened of his vengeance, but because I was genuinely excited about the possibilities he was holding out before me. I had no idea what they might be, but I still wanted to go with it. This really was the start of an adventure.

Early Years

What did I learnFront only about God in my early years? This is going to be difficult for me to write about, because I can easily give you the wrong impression, about my church in particular and the denomination of which it was a part. So I do need to say that these were basically happy years, and the church was full of good, well-meaning, committed Christian disciples, and led by godly and wise men (and it was men!). But I can only report what I, as a child and then a teenager, picked up and understood. Sadly the God whom I believed in and sought to follow was basically not very nice.

First of all he didn’t like us doing anything, and especially not on Sundays. Fun was banned, as were things like ice-cream. We weren’t allowed to do anything which remotely involved shopping, not that there was much opportunity a) because shops didn’t open in those days, and b) because there would have been no time anyway, as we spent most of the day at church. As children we had to be quiet, because Sunday was a day of rest, and I’ve already told you about the shellfish, although I don’t think to be honest that that had much to do with God. But it all added to the general unpleasantness of the day.

Then there were the other sins. People who smoked, drank, swore or gambled were beyond the pale, and were severely looked down upon by us good Christians. The job of parents was to protect their children from any encounter with such activities. I can remember during my Beatles phase leaving the sheet music for Sexy Sadie on the piano. When it was discovered there was a major row, and the offending music had to be removed from the house lest it polluted us all with the S-word. We also had to be protected from the harsher realities of church life. I can remember our organist resigning and leaving the church, accompanied by many sage looks and shaking of heads. Only many years later did I discover that this was over some crisis of faith, but it clearly wasn’t something to the shared with the youngsters. It could have done us real harm.

 

Don’t get the wrong idea: my family were basically loving and committed to God, and genuinely wanted the best for us. Most of the time we got along fine. But with hindsight the God whom we sought to follow was fundamentally a God who didn’t want us to do things. I developed the belief (and please understand me that I now realise that this is not official Baptist doctrine) that your eternal destiny, heaven or hell, depended entirely on what you happened to be doing at the moment of Jesus’ return. As you can imagine this led to a somewhat insecure faith, although the upside was that I did learn to sin very quickly and get it over with. But the clear message was that you pleased God by not doing stuff.

 

This is another excerpt from God’s Upgrades … My Adventures Published by Authentic at £7.99.

 

More next week!