Sunday, 14 December 2008

The meaning of life by the Reverend Nicky Gumbel

From The Independent

[...] The course he has developed is clever, in that it helps you to accept, at the very least, that those who choose to believe in God can do so rationally, even if you choose yourself not to trust the evidence that they trust. If I've learned one really important thing from doing Alpha, it's that you don't have to be mad to be a Christian, and that in fact, madness doesn't even help.

From my experience, the course leaders – we have four – are adept at fielding questions and bringing matters back to the values that are viewed by Christians as essentials. Like Gumbel himself, they steer discussion away from controversy and back to the healing power of love. Again and again, despite my intellectual objections, I find myself feeling like a stubborn stick-in-the-mud, unwilling to go with the spiritual flow because I'm too mean-spirited to open my heart to Jesus. I've been surprised by how much power the course exerts.

Sometimes a leader will say something – that, say, human strife is always, at root, caused when people choose to love themselves and not others – and it strikes you quite profoundly as a simple, ineffable truth. When you ask why people can't just adopt that credo, without necessarily going for the personal relationship with God bit – they'll just say that you can, of course, and that Jesus admired such people and described them as men and women of peace – but that it's a lot easier to live that way when you've tuned in to God's message. Christianity then starts to look like a radical lifestyle choice, something that you refuse to join in with because you're blandly conventional, hampered by a failure of imagination, and scared of looking like a wuss.

In truth, the course has made me feel a little envious of Christians. They live in the strangest and most alien of worlds – a world where everything makes sense. Oddly, the lure is not that they have all the answers. Instead it is that they have dispensed with the need for questions. Their moral universe is stable. For them, it all works. Unsurprisingly, since he has personally shaped the course, this interpretation chimes with Gumbel's own brief description of his conversion.

"Jesus said: 'I came so that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness.' And that was my experience. I came from a background where I didn't have a faith. I wasn't unhappy. I wasn't desperately going round saying: 'I need to find meaning and purpose in my life.' But I did find it. There was a spiritual hunger that was satisfied in this relationship with God through Jesus and through the experience of the Holy Spirit and the love of God.

"The Christian faith is very simple at its heart. God loves you and the experience of God's love is a very profound thing. It's a life-changing thing to be loved and accepted and to experience forgiveness and the result is a love for God that changes your priorities in life so that that relationship becomes the number-one priority. So I want to read the Bible. I want to hear what God is saying to me today. I want to pray. I want to develop that relationship.

"Jesus said: 'The first command is love God, and the second is love your neighbour.' So the priority of your life is to love, starting with your wife and your children, then spreading out to the world. To be a Christian is to want to make a difference to your family, to your neighbourhood, to the society around, and ultimately to the world." Read more

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