It’s a question I’ve been asked often by Christian friends. Their tone varies; sometimes they are anxious for me, sometimes they’re just cross, but the basis of their challenge is always the same: “How do you know that Jesus isn’t alive?”
“That’s easy,” I reply. “I know Jesus is no longer alive because I’ve met him!”
It takes a while for the paradox to sink in.
I was first introduced to the Saviour of the World as a thoughtful sixteen year old, keen to find purpose and meaning in my young life. I repented of my sins, asked Jesus to forgive me, invited him into my heart and gave my life to him. It was wonderful: those first few months of my Christian life were lived on an emotional high; I got a huge buzz from believing I was communicating with the Creator of the Universe – who wouldn’t? – and from the friendships I made in the evangelical church that I started to attend.
My Christian life went from strength to strength: at university I became President of the Christian Union and, after graduating, married a wonderful Christian woman from a large, city-centre church where we settled down, ran the youth group, and had a family.
I was surrounded by people who, like me, knew and loved Jesus. Except that there was a problem. In spite of all my praying, reading the Bible, listening to sermons, worshiping and dedicating my life to Jesus, the Son of God remained resolutely silent. More than silent. He was absent. Always.
I tried hard to blame myself and sometimes I succeeded: I was not sufficiently spiritual, I was too in love with the world, I was trying to do it all myself rather than let God have control. These are among the many excuses Christians make for God not delivering on his promise: it’s always the fault of the followers, not the leader.
Gradually, though, I began to realise I was not the only one who was struggling to get to grips with God. I remember one day in church thinking that I could write a book on evangelical Christianity exposing the fact that everybody claimed to know Jesus but in reality they were all involved in an elaborate game of Let’s Pretend. I didn’t write that book, but I have written another one…
Eventually my faith became terminally ill, starving to death as a result of the lack of evidence that would have been necessary to sustain it until, after one final attempt at resurrection, it passed into the night. I had been a Christian for a quarter of a century and yet in all that time I can honestly say that I had had no experience that could be unequivocally, or even remotely, attributed to God. Neither had my wife, nor any members of my family, nor my Christian friends, nor had any Christians that I ever met.
I found that living life as a Christian was often a baffling experience, not least because so little attention is given to the really big question of where everyone is heading: Heaven… or Hell. Of course, Christians do talk and preach salvation from Hell and the promise of Heaven, but that’s pretty much it. No-one seems quite sure if Heaven will be a physical place where people will eat and drink and, therefore, presumably, take a shit from time to time, or if it’s ethereal and spiritual and much less – what’s the word? – real! And, if Heaven was a place of no suffering, how would you handle your thoughts about those loved ones of yours who were in Hell? Surely, that would make you suffer, wouldn’t it?
As for life in Hell, what would that really be like? You’d expect that all those believers from other religions would realise their mistake straight away when the evidence of their surroundings overwhelmed them, wouldn’t you? But perhaps not. Since when did religious belief have anything much to do with facts?
I worried about this stuff. I worried about what Mohammed would say to the fundamentalist suicide bomber who, having gathered himself, found himself with the Prophet in Hell. “Sorry” might not quite cut it!
A Brief Eternity is a book born from such musings, and others more serious. It is intended to provoke thought and to entertain – two worthy and noble aims! It was not written to be gratuitously offensive, although I suspect some may find it so. But what is more offensive: a good-humoured parody, or the God whose portrait the Bible draws with more violence, hatred and malice than my humble pen could ever manage?
I sometimes get asked if I regret losing my faith. I don’t, although I do miss those deeply moving hymns. I’m sorry, too, that I won’t ever be able to stand in front of the Judgement Throne of God Almighty. To be able to argue my case against God himself would have been a lot of fun so, instead of doing it in reality, I’ve played with it in my story. It’s up to the reader to decide who wins…
It is possible, naturally, that I am wrong about all this and that after my death Jesus will be there to condemn me to an eternity of torment. I doubt it though: the last time we met, I noticed that our Lord was dead. Completely dead. And there’s no coming back from that, is there?