I grew up in an agnostic, liberal minded, family. Although I greatly believed in these values, and was proud of them, I was profoundly unhappy and dissatisfied with life. The reasons are many. First, there was definitely tension in family life. But also, I was scared of death. I simply could not comprehend that it was the end of everything, and yet I could find no empirical reason why it shouldn't be. Also, I had a strong sense of not fitting in. Socially I found it difficult to connect with people around me, and I think that today I would be diagnosed as part of the autism spectrum. Some things did give me joy, in particular, I loved to live within my own mind and imagination, and from the age of twelve I developed a strong interest in mathematics and science. But this only increased my sense of disconnection.
When I was accepted into Cambridge University to study Mathematics, it was the fulfillment of my childhood dreams. I found other dorky individuals to relate to, and I began to sense that I might start to fit in. I enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere. Some friends approached me about Christianity. I always entertained their advances in a polite manner, and I felt that I could successfully argue against them, and so when they invited me to an evangelism meeting, I felt honor bound to attend. But at this meeting, I was profoundly effected. Looking back, I know it must have been the Holy Spirit, but at the time I was convinced that the preacher had brainwashed me with his convincing words, and I became very angry. Nevertheless, the next day I considered it further. Many years earlier, my sister had become a Christian. But my family managed to dissuade her, and it lasted only a few months. (Today she totally rejects Christianity.) I considered that if I would ever become a Christian, it wouldn't last long anyway, as I really had no intellectual ability to defend it, and my parents would quickly convince me I was wrong.
2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 says, “...They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” I think this is what happened to me. I had rejected the truth. So God in his mercy sent me a powerful delusion.
I began to explore other spiritual paths. A person who was to become a very close friend of mine shared with me his interest in Buddhism. With hindsight, all the friends I acquired at that time had many commonalities with my Father – they were almost all lapsed Christians, and they all had some kind of intellectual interest in the arts, most notably, classical music. Through Buddhism, and the arts, I began to experience a depth of emotional involvement with the world that previously had been closed to me. Up until this time, my world had been science and mathematics. The depth of this awakening was very, very powerful, and I confused this kind of “late stage puberty” with the Buddhist/Hindu notion of enlightenment or nirvana. I also dabbled in activities such as the “I Ching,” which despite its intellectual sophistication, was in essence a Chinese version of the occult.
I cannot overstate the extent to which I felt I had conquered the world. I had rejected the apparently outmoded spirituality called Christianity, and as a result I felt that I had found something far superior – a spirituality that filled my heart with a sense that I was part of the universe. This came with a great boldness and arrogance.
But for men who are arrogant, there is an experience that will quickly bring them down – women! The extent of my naivety and lack of understanding, combined with a latent but unrecognized hatred towards women generated by years of not having a girlfriend, was a potent combination. To this day I am not fully cognizant of what precisely happened, but the inner sense of invincibility brought me to a very devastating experience. My behavior not only completely destroyed any hope of relationship with the object of my great desire, but totally destroyed my inner sense of integrity, and weakened many of my other friendships.
All of this happened over a period of a year. This was followed by many years of feeling like I was living in a desert. I felt that I had tasted something great and wonderful, but through my foolishness, I had quickly lost it. One time, I had this dream that I was trying to climb a great tower, but towards the top had taken a misstep and fallen to the ground. The fall caused permanent brain damage, and I could never again hope to regain the intellectual and emotional heights I had achieved. I was damaged goods, beyond repair. I concluded that I would grow into a bitter old man who had failed in his life dreams.
I strove to regain what I had lost. I studied the Eastern scriptures looking for answers. One friend tried to teach me body building as a means to find inner joy (that experiment didn't last very long). I became addicted to cigarettes, and drank heavily. I tried teaching myself self-hypnosis, in part to give up smoking, but in part to regain this sense of oneness with the universe, but all I gained was an extremely strange dream where I had an out of body experience.
Over the years, the deep pain of loss turned slowly into a gnawing depression. I gained a whole new group of friends over time, with whom I shared the life journey. But as much as I enjoyed their company, I never felt they could really understand my sense of loss and desperation. I also made casual friendships with many Christians, and would join them every Easter on a retreat to the Lake District in North West England.
After the first year of my Ph.D. studies, I met a wondering guru in Cambridge, who taught what he called Kundalini meditation. Even at first, I had a sneaking suspicion that he was a shallow fraud, because many of his apparent pearls of wisdom were lifted verbatim from the many Eastern scriptures that I had read. Nevertheless, with a Roman Catholic friend of mine, we followed his ways. But another Christian friend of mine warned me that this meditation was highly dangerous. So I asked my Roman Catholic friend to pray to his God for wisdom as to whether this was the truth. But he prayed that God would provide me the answer. And that very same day, events conspired where I could either conclude that the universe was totally purposeless, in which case it didn't matter whether I continued this meditation or not, or that there was a God, who really cared whether I did this meditation, and who strongly, strongly disapproved. I continued for a few more months, but did so begging God for forgiveness as I did it. Finally I decided that I must really believe in God, and it was time to look seriously at Christianity. At about this time I went on a family vacation with my parents, and ended up having serious arguments with them. At one point I told my Mother that I simply had to find spiritual answers. My Mother relented, and only asked that I follow a path other than Christianity. I didn't answer her, but I knew that I couldn't accede to her request.
At this time I shared an office with three other first year Ph.D. students. I discovered after half a year, by accident, that one of them was a Christian. He never witnessed to me, but I decided quite early on that if I ever became a Christian, that his brand of Christianity was the way I would go. I did not know at the time that he had prayed that one person in this office would become a Christian, and God had showed him that it was me. To him I seemed a lost case – I had the Buddhist scriptures on my desk, and from week to week tried giving up alternatively smoking or meat, but the word from God to him was to become true.
I awkwardly approached him about joining him one time at his church. He rather awkwardly responded, because he was a bit afraid of pushing me away. But he need not have feared. I went to his church, which turned out to be a rather fervent charismatic church. I think he was scared of what my reaction might be, but for me it was everything I was looking for, because I sensed that these people really believed in God, and believed in his power. Although I did not declare myself to be a Christian, and was “just looking,” nevertheless I threw myself fully into the experience.
For me the thing that surprised me was the strength and tangibility of the experience of knowing God. Much of this experience took place outside of the Sunday morning setting. Previously, I had always wondered what the evidence for God really was, but I discovered that when my heart was ready, that God overflowed in showing himself very real to me. I must admit that the evidence was highly non-empirical. Looking back I understand that this is how God works. But it was so powerful, that despite its non-empirical nature, I simply could not reject or ignore it.
Another aspect of Christianity that at first I had difficulty with was that it taught that the deep inner spiritual experience could only be achieved through accepting the truth of a historic event, namely the death and resurrection of Christ. I prayed hard about this. I also asked God whether the Bible really was his word, or just a collection of wise but uninspired documents. The answers I received were very clear. Even today, I am amazed that acceptance of an historical event almost 2000 years old can really lead to the kind of spiritual peace that many Buddhists or people of other religions long for. I am also amazed at the depth of wisdom that the Bible imparts, which certainly exceeds that of the Eastern scriptures I had previously read.
The pain and depression of life were still very much with me. It really was a very roller-coaster time. The charismatic church did not provide a comfortable road. But it was extremely powerful and engaging. My old friends, who were mostly lapsed Christians, were absolutely shocked, frightened and enraged. Not only had I become a Christian, but I had really gone off the deep end, and in a big way. At this time, the friend who introduced me to Buddhism began to follow his path deeply. I had this thought that we might compare and contrast our different religious experiences in intellectual discussions, but he was having none of it. He desperately tried to bring me out of my new found experience. When I did bring him to church one time, the preacher happened to preach on how Saul lost his kingdom because he failed to commit genocide against the Amalekites. This church not only preached the gospel, but did so totally uncompromisingly, and in the process, offended every liberal, atheistic value of my upbringing. I found myself just loving it. And my friend hated it.
At this time another friend warned me about her brother, who also had gone off the deep end with religion. He eventually had a nervous breakdown, and destroyed the lab where he worked. This story greatly bothered me. That night I was walking the street. In my mind I prayed to God, “if I go crazy because I am becoming a Christian, I will be so mad at you.” This thought went round and round my mind, and I became more and more agitated. Then, out of nowhere, came another thought, “just trust in Jesus.” It was as if a hand were coming down to me, and I had no choice but to grab this hand and trust it would hold me. It was beyond my control to make any aspect of this happen. This thought came with a surprising sense of peace. I realized that this was the whole answer. Nothing else mattered. Even if I did became crazy, it wouldn't matter – Jesus would always be with me, and I would always trust in him.
Over the next few months, I completely gave myself to Christianity. It was extremely exciting. I found out that God is real, and in a very tangible manner. God really does answer prayers, and since that time, I seek God for wisdom in all my decisions. I became a Christian at the age of 23. It seemed to me then that I had wasted the first 23 years of my life, and that I had a lot of catching up to do. But nearly 23 years later, I see now that the journey was just starting, and God was and is in complete control of my life, both before and after I became a Christian.
Two years later I left Cambridge, and came to Columbia, Missouri, as a professor. God was giving me a new beginning. But that is another story.