He tried to burn the house down
I grew up in a family of multiple gods. Sex, money, power, drugs, and drink. Most of these idols demanded devotion as my dad attempted to burn the house down, desiring an insurance payout. Mum was at work and three children, all under 10 years old, were evacuated from a lightly smoldering house. The house didn’t burn to the ground, but there was enough of an insurance implication to provide dad with a couple weeks work in his trade as a builder.
Though christened into the Catholic Church, and while for some reason the attendance of midnight mass was a feature of the Christmas season, there was no church attendance as a family. There was the additional absence of the Word of God or prayer (or instructions on those things). Whatever my parents may have believed, it was evident that in practice they were atheists. I recall going to Sunday School on a handful of occasions – one season with a neighbor, and another where a local church constituted the neighbor. Interestingly, both were Presbyterian churches.
The atheistic idolatry of my parents was augmented by a history of mental illness. This history has not left me uninfected and so my teenage years were wrought with visits to counsellors and vague diagnoses by psychologists. The trauma of my parent’s divorce certainly didn’t help the sense of neglect I already felt. Beyond their divorce, there was an entrenched sense of abandonment – physically by dad; emotionally by mum. I was being told more and more that I wasn’t wanted.
Atheist, Agitator, and Addict
At the age of sixteen, a self-professed atheist and anti-religious agitator, depression gained a foothold in my life and suicidal ideations began forming. By that stage I was also abusing solvents, huffing petrol and inhaling the propellants of aerosol cans, and smoking marijuana on a regular basis. I had lost interest in school and so my attendance was irregular and characterized by time in the Student Services area. By this stage I was also addicted to pornography in whatever form I could access it.
With all these factors in play, I had few if any friends, a less than ideal relationship with my family, and as a very lonely and very angry young man, it’s no wonder I attempted suicide. My chosen method was self-strangulation. No sooner had I tightened my grip around my neck, did I realise the impossibility of my method. I would not be able to maintain my grip and so this attempt was unsuccessful.
God, if You’re real…
I was smoking dope every day and feeding my addiction to pornography when the next memorable suicidal contemplation became a daily fascination. I was essentially failing at life and felt more and more that I had nothing to live for. I half-hearted wanted help with the one slender thread that represented my hope.
I do not know whether it was the casual visits to Sunday School, the nostalgic attendance at midnight mass, the silent witness of a network marketing guru, or having read (and subsequently defaced) a Gideon’s bible in a Brisbane hotel room – but I was tempted to pray, perhaps for the first time. It was the prayer of a self-professed atheist with borderline-agnostic-disorder… “God, if you are real…”
Whatever petition my prayer contained, it was answered. Now I was in trouble. The God I had militantly and publicly denounced had caused me to doubt my unbelief. It was the 25th of November 2002 but I cannot say with confidence that this was I had become a Christian. The main reason for this lack of confidence has to do with the absence of conviction. At that stage of my life, the inward turmoil always seemed to have an explanation in a social evil – whether it be the influence of religion or capitalism – but never my fault, never something defective within my self or my works.
Sin, Sex, and the Holy Spirit
The drug use continued, the exposure to pornography increased. It was around this time that pornographic fantasy lead to real sex. For years I had thought that sexual activity, not just with a computer screen or magazine, would be the key to fulfilment. It wasn’t. I had performed terribly, and for reasons beyond that, felt terrible for it. My previous concept of sin and forgiveness was limited to the idea that you could willingly sin and ask for forgiveness after the fact. But this act of sin carried with it a real sense of guilt. I knew for the first time the sin-convicting power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
This lead me to discover Jesus as more than just the central figure in a book about the God to whom I had prayed and from whom I had received an answer. My sin and the overwhelm of its guilt brought me beyond the mere “confess and be forgiven” mantra – rather, it forced me to consider the significance of my sin, my inability to rid myself of the guilt, and the need for something bigger than me to take away that guilt. I came to realise the significance of the stated fact of Jesus death – that though my sin had a temporal and eternal consequence, what Jesus had done dealt with both – and not just in some abstract way, but for me.
The Good Shepherd
Amidst all of this, I was still struggling with the idea of being not only acceptable, but fought for and pursued. I remember an episode of particularly powerful depression wherein I was crying out to God for deliverance. No matter how much I prayed or read the Bible or even fasted, the depression would not lift. In angry resignation I told God to leave me alone, to get out of my life, to stop interfering, that I wanted nothing more to do with Him. Within moments of handing in my notice as a Christian, I found myself worshipping Him again. I had wanted Him to flee from me, to depart from me – but He did the opposite. I know James said “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” but what happens when you resign to the fact that you have nothing left with which to draw near? It was in this moment that I began to comprehend the love of God. His love would be expressed in such terms as “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and “No one will snatch them out of my hand/out of the Fathers hand”. That last phrase, spoke to me about security in both the Son and the Father – that went so far as to preventing me from snatching myself out of a divine double grip.
I would later reflect on the doctrine of perseverance, citing that occasion as an attempt to run away from God and in the process finding it to be an exercise in futility. It wasn’t in a sense of a prisoner unable to escape a dungeon of oppression, but a little lamb, secure in the protective custody of the Good Shepherd.
Whether we know it or not, humanity seems to work and strive in an attempt to be acceptable, accepted, loved, cherished, and worthy. But what happens when, as a result of having been thoroughly converted, one realizes that he is all these things and more, and this without his own work and striving?
Continued striving would come mostly as a failure to apprehend the reality of God’s unmerited love. But apart from this, what was I living for?
A couple verses have become personal mission statements over the years.
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness… (Matthew 6:33)
…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10)
My driving passion was to be characterized by an increasingly wholehearted pursuit of God in Christ, His Kingdom, His resurrection, His suffering, and ultimately, His death. While always conscious of the need to work so as to provide for my own and my families physical needs, a desire to know Him has been at the back of some of the major decisions I have made in my life. Where to live, who to marry, the kind of job to pursue. Back of these questions has been the consideration of whether these choices would allow me to continue my pursuit of the King, would they afford me opportunity to pursue the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus Christ?
The struggle to seek my own kingdom, my own sense of importance and power – this is a daily one. Though born again, there seems to remain in me something that unchecked would drive me back to self-gratifying addiction and abuse. But by the grace of God, it is in check. By the grace of God there is a more compelling vision, a more satisfying pursuit – to know Jesus Christ, and pursue the reality of His Kingdom.
The Ancient of Days
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’ “Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.