My faith is dwindling by the day. Like a far off radio station muffled by static, it’s being drowned out by the snap, pop and crackles of everyday life on earth. Now again a bit of music is heard before it is swallowed up again by an extra loud hiss.
What’s causing the distortion? When I turned to Christianity in 2013, there was little to distract me. I wasn’t in London then, and was studying to become a barrister on a course of whose soul-destroying and all-consuming qualities I do not wish to remind myself here. I’d been involved in the Christian Union while studying in Oxford the previous year, but I remained sceptical at the times when I wasn’t at a church service or Bible study session. It was like being caught by a strong current and then released back in to calmer waters, albeit that the wave was accompanied by lashings of free food. Looking back, I think that my doubts persisted outside those times because I was having such a good time in Oxford and didn’t need to seek refuge from the world.
When things were difficult on my post-graduate course in Bristol, as they always were, Christianity felt like a good way to escape. And one frigid evening in October 2013, having been put up for the night in London at the last minute by a Christian friend after attending an event for student lawyers, things finally came to a head. Warmed by my friend’s generosity and sincerity, I felt like things had finally clicked in to place and it was time to make a commitment. There may have been some issues that I wasn’t quite sure about – homosexuality, marriage, abortion and so on, but I was assured that so long as I was clear on the fundamentals, which I was, then I was all set.
I remember Christmas that year being extra-special, and to some extent the Christmas after that. My Christian friends were overjoyed - one of them said he jumped in the air when I told him. My conversion changed the shape of our conversations – it was no longer them trying to evangelise me and being faced with obstacles. Now we could see eye-to-eye on a subject of supreme importance to them. I believed all good things came from God, and that Jesus, His son, would return at some point in the not too distant future and take care of his people.
Fast forward to July 2014, and I was moving to London. It was, and still is, the greatest adventure of my life and you would’ve thought that all those new experiences would have prompted my faith to grow still stronger. Well, not so, I’m afraid. For amid the crowds of people, the hubbub of conversation and the kaleidoscope of cultures, from day 1 nothing seemed more important to me than settling in at work and not being alone.
I had a bit of time before I started work in September, so I set about joining things that would give me a foundation to build on. I became a member of a church in the Old Street area of central London and joined a public-speaking club and a walking group. While I went to church for spiritual reasons, in hindsight I realise that it was equally just another social avenue for me. While in time I made some very good friends through church, it soon became clear that something was missing.
At church I was encouraged to read the Bible and to spend some time with God each day in prayer, as it was important to build a relationship with God in the same way you would develop a friendship with another human-being. I learnt very quickly that I just wasn’t up to the job. I couldn’t focus on someone I couldn’t reach out and touch, even though I was convinced about his existence. Spending time with friends and finding a relationship took priority over spending time with God, because only in that way could I sink my roots in to such a fast-moving and dynamic city.
What comes in to your head when you think of Jesus? I think of a tallish man with short hair and a bearded, kindly face. He has smooth hands, (probably a little bit unrealistic considering the time he lived in), and a soft yet decisive voice. He is vastly experienced in listening to people and talking directly to the person before him. He can advise you about anything will give his time for anyone and, I believe, make miracles happen. He was sacrificed so that we could be forgiven for our sins.
In other words, Jesus deserves the greatest admiration and respect. Both of these I can give him, as I’m sure can many people. But can I give him love? Can one love someone you’ve ever met and of whom you only have an image in your head? I can’t. It’s especially difficult because I can only love someone for who they are, and not just for what they’ve done. Reading the bible helps for some people, but I’ve never found that the words on the page can bring Jesus closer to me – it is entertaining in places, but ultimately feels like reading a historical record. Studying it is a bit of a dry, academic exercise.
So where can I go from here? One way forward would be to just forget about church and Jesus altogether and move on. Certainly my attempts to combine faith and the establishment of new relationships have not been fruitful. I joined a dating site recently full of profiles saying pretty much the same thing – that they loved Jesus that they were looking for a good Christian partner, etc. They stood out even less than the profiles on mainstream dating sites. After one particularly inane conversation involving a lot of one-word answers I decided to give that particular site a miss.
But there is, I think, another option, and it’s one that I am going to try to pursue. As I said above, it says in the Bible that “all good things come from God”. There are so many things to be thankful for in London – good public transport, parks, kebabs shops on every north London street-corner, and generally friendly people.
Given that I do believe in Jesus, even if I can’t love him or communicate with him, if I can admire him and appreciate the good things He’s given me and try to live according to his principles then maybe that’s a way that I can keep my faith alive, and maintain some kind of standing with God. I’ve met so many Christians, and feel so much a part of the social life of the church that I can’t let my faith get extinguished entirely by the white noise of London. There’s a middle ground to everything, even Christianity.
Author: Tom Donnelly