During my time in college studying theology, I concluded that many of the people whose opinions I had to study knew the Bible Scriptures much better than me. However, I also concluded that they did not know the God who inspired it all.
I am concerned and have been for a long time about Religious Education in schools. It does seem to me that there is the possibility that what RE does is inoculate young people against the real thing, much like a flu jab is supposed to do. And I say that as one who has set up many “Christian” schools. I still believe in them, because I am sure that they are good educationally, and also put principle into the student’s character and good values that usually ensure that they do well in the journey of life. However, I still hold that knowing about “Christianity” and having good values and character, is still not as good as knowing the “God who is there”. Knowing God personally tops everything.
And of course, one can know God, and not be able to read and write!
What do I mean by “knowing God?” Well, just that. You see, the whole of scripture is really about the restoration of relationships both with people and with God. We all know that making relationships with other people can be difficult, and sometimes they are not always smooth, and if they get broken, very many are never repaired. Good relationships. Are they not the stuff of life? Are they not more valuable than money, success, fame or fortune?
Of course, scripture uses many forms to describe that bridge between a non-relations ship, and the knowing of the God who is there. Jesus talked to the Pharisee/lawyer and told him that he “must be born again”, he was duly puzzled. Sometimes scripture talks about repentance, or a turning around and going in another direction, i.e. from walking away from the God who is there to walking towards him. Sometimes scripture talks about salvation. Again, many of us get a bit puzzled with that one, as we think to ourselves, “I am not drowning. Why do I need saving?” What we fail to grasp is that the whole purpose of life is relationship and the highest form of that is the relationship between humans and the God who is there.
When I was a young man living in Birmingham, and occasionally saw a person going down the street talking, and gesticulating, as a youngster I assumed, probably correctly, that they were slightly deranged. Nowadays, walking down Tottenham High Road I see nearly everyone doing the same things, some angry, some joking, some in deep conversation, and all by themselves. They do seem to have little things in their ears.
Many years ago, I was in one of those meeting type things where people were being invited to know God. There was one of those very intellectual young people from a local university studying I know not what. He seemed to me to be the kind of genuine person who wanted to know God but had some serious sensible questions he wanted answered. He moved around the crowd that I was with and one could see his questions were of the kind that most of us would find hard to give a good answer to.
Finally, some bright spark sent him, along with his intellectual questions to me. It only took about two questions for me to know I was not going to be able to satisfy this clever young man with my feeble answers. That was a shame as I could see he really wanted to know things like: “Is there a God?” “Is He there?” “Can I know?” “Is He interested in me?” “Can I know Him?” Questions like the ones some of you lot are asking.
I confessed to him and said, “Your questions are too hard for me. I don’t know good enough answers to satisfy you. However, I do know that God is there, and is willing to know, communicate, meet with and talk to you and to enter into a long-term stable relationship with you. Maybe He will even answer some of your complicated questions. I don’t know if He will, but He might.”
Jesus said, and its reported in the Gospel of Mathew and Luke, “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So, don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?” Or put more simply in Authorised version of the Bible, “Seek and you will find”.
So, I said to my new-found friend, “Although I cannot answer your questions, I do Know that ‘God is there’ and if you are serious about seeking Him, I am sure, I know, you will find Him.” He was very polite and asked, “So how do I seek Him?” I said, “I would find somewhere, and talk to God and ask Him, “Are you there?” But if you are going to do that, your seeking should also include the element of - if He is there, what does He want of me?” This young man surprised me. He said, “Thank you,” and, “I will test your hypothesis.” He turned on his heel and walked to the other side of the room we were in and sank to his knees by a chair, I must admit I was taken aback, I had not expected that.
From the other side of the room I watched him as he seemed to be in deep conversation. After about twenty minutes he stood up and came towards me. He put out his hand to shake mine and said, “Thank you”. I asked, “What for? I still don’t have the answers to your many questions”. He laughed and said, “Oh! Those? I don’t need the answers any more, I now know God is there, and I am going to get to know Him better, but He is there alright. Thank you again and good night”.
Do I have something in my ear? Or am I hearing from someone who is not there? Are all his answers to me just the coincidence of time, neurons and chance? Or maybe I am Mad. Or perhaps really seeking does equal finding!
So; is God there? Can He be talked to? Can He talk to me? Is it possible to seek and find Him?