As a child, I listened to many stories and was told many things. Much of this information consisted of fairy tales, fiction, old wives tales and lies. Some of it was true. As a growing child, I had to use my own experience of the world to sort fact from fiction. As a grown man, I needed to visit the archaeological sites described in Bible stories to see the evidence for myself.
I was only 13 when I came to the conclusion that the God I had been taught about was making a pretty awful mess of running the world. The only logical conclusion seemed to be that God did not exist, for surely if He did exist, he would do something about famine, disease and natural disasters. I remained of that opinion for fifteen years and nothing short of an encounter with the Living God would be able to shake me from that position.
Thirty four years have passed since my first encounter with God and although they have been rich in the experience of God's love and power, I still maintain that on the evidence of religion, agnosticism and atheism are the only rational responses. Belief in God is only rational when it is based on personal experience of His love.
Looking back, it seems to me that my teenage rejection of God was in fact inspired by Him. The first step along the road from religion to faith. Four years latter, I listened to a Buddhist talking about John's gospel and experienced a strange kind of conversion to belief in a philosophy and a way of life based on avoiding doing harm to any living creature. Marriage and the reality of not being fed unless I accepted and enjoyed all that was on offer put an end to my vegetarian diet and the remaining vestiges of Buddhist philosophy.
When the time came for my encounter with the Living God, it took me by complete surprise. I had always been interested in religion and thought I knew a fair bit about Christianity. We had become friends with a Baptist minister and his family through our children and this led to an invitation to attend an open air event in the centre of Birmingham UK. During this evangelistic act of worship, I made a small silent prayer to an imaginary figure. "Jesus, I would like to believe in you: if you are there, please help me."
I had been exposed to so much religious nonsense as a child that I half expected to see a great vision in the sky, but no. Within half an hour, I knew that my opinion had changed. Within an hour, I could feel God's love welling up inside me. It was an experience that lasted for three days and was so intense at times that I could hardly breath.
In the third week of my new found faith, I realised that some of the thoughts which came into my mind had the grammatical structure of someone speaking to me. Not only that, but they had a common theme of turning me into a better person. I described this experience to my Baptist Minister friend and asked if it might be God speaking to me. At the time, such a possibility seemed absurd, but he laughed, reassured me that it was God and told me not to be so silly.
With this realization came a purely human reaction. If this really was God, there were so many questions I wanted to ask. So I started with a physics question. The thought which came into mind was "Work it out for yourself".
Christianity comes with many different doctrines and flavours of spirituality. In my early years as a Christian, I went to church services, prayer groups, rallies and conferences involving many denominations, but mostly with a Charismatic flavour of spiritually. Our experience of worship was the same as that described in the Bible. For much of the time, we waited on the Holy Spirit who would inspire people to read a passage from the Bible, give a prophesy or speak in a strange language. On other occasions, the Holy Spirit would be stifled by too much preparation and involvement of clergy. This was what I saw. This was what I personally experienced and in my childishness started counting the number of gifts I had experienced being given through me.
The charismatic experience of God is sheer nonsense to anyone who has not directly experienced it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Christians have been taught that God does not work in this way. They identify human talents and skills acquired through training as the gifts of the Spirit thus robbing God of His reality. Consequently, the Charismatic Movement of the 70s in the UK only affected a small number of churches.
In the mean time, we settled down as a family to being members of our local church. The charismatic movement called an end to its meetings believing we were called to go back into our own churches and pray for revival. Over the years, the church we attended blossomed and the Holy Spirit could be seen quietly working in background. The minister developed a habit of asking members of the congregation to participate in leading prayers relying on the Holy Spirit to inspire them. But ministers come and go and numbers in a congregation ebb and flow in phase with the depth of the current minister's spirituality. Our much loved minister retired after over 25 years at our church and now, three ministers later, instead of bringing in 10 or 20 extra chairs, we could all lie full length and have room to spare.
I have been planning to add these pages to my main Physics web-site for some years: too many years. Only my latest experience of God has actually pushed me into doing it. I was thinking about one of the passages in St Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he writes "how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ". I remembered being pinned down, overpowered and filled to bursting with that love when Jesus burst into my life. These were the words of someone fumbling to describe the indescribable. Then it happened, and I experienced the fullness and power of that love again. And I wondered whether or not this should be the normal experience of God.
So now I am writing of and because I can feel God's love.
God is to be experienced, not just believed in.