26 01 2008

Experiences linked with belief are interesting. It has been said, “As a man thinks, so he is” which makes what we think, the prequel to what we do and experience, you might think. Not always.  I wrote briefly yesterday about Richard Dawkins, a very bright man who has a very fixed set of beliefs – and they will lead him to live a very specific sort of life. Believing is not always easy.

I once sat with a student and talked about the merits of the Christian case for over five hours. At the end of it they said, “OK, you have utterly convinced me, I believe all you have said, the evidence is overwhelming, but I have to tell you that I like my life of sin (their words!) and I’m not going to change it. Thanks.” And with that they got up and left and I never saw them again.  Belief was overcome by experience.

I was talking with a different student and they eventually said after a couple of hours, “Well I can hear what you are saying and understand all you are saying, but I still can’t believe there actually is this God you are speaking about, who is real and personal.” I was stumped. After a moment I said, “Would you like to try an experiment?”  “What sort of experiment,” they replied.  “I want you to humour me. I want you to pretend to pray. All you do is close your eyes, I’ll pray and then you can utter words into the air. See what happens.”

They reluctantly agreed to do it.  I prayed some simple words to the Lord I knew, closed with an “Amen” and sat silent. After a moment or two, this person started, falteringly, to speak some words into the air, to a being that wasn’t there, just to please me. After about ten seconds they stopped and broke into tears and eventually sobbed, “He’s here!” Experience overcame belief.

It really is funny, this belief bit, because most of us have a set of beliefs but if we were challenged as to why we have them we wouldn’t be sure. Others of us have firm beliefs that were born out of negative experiences. As I read the follow-ups on-line to newspaper articles by atheists, there is often, it seems, bitterness in the supporters who seem to have had a bad deal with life or, more probably, with religion. For that I feel said.

It’s when you look at religious experience you realise how varied it can be – and often not good! I have travelled a fair bit of the world, and there are some freaky people around who go by the name of Christian, and that is disturbing (but God still loves them – which sets off a completely new train of thought!). The truth of that though, is that there is no great Magisterium that monitors every person and checks their beliefs – and their subsequent behaviour.  The result? Some freaky people doing some freaky things, but that doesn’t say anything about the Christian Faith at such; it just says there are some funny people who buy into it, and their outworkings of it are a bit strange, but then we’re all a bit strange, aren’t we, us human beings! It’s a good job God doesn’t write us off until we get it completely right!

I don’t know what it was initially that led me towards Christian experience because initially I was quite happy with my beliefs that I was a good person living a good experience. Yet eventually, one day something happened, but that’s another story.




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