The Mystery of Faith
Alec Douglas-Home, prime minister from 1963 to 1964, and a devout member of the CoE reticent, was once cornered in a lift by a woman who roared at him, “Have you been saved?”
A nervous Douglas-Home said thanks for asking and that he thought he had.
“Then why aren’t you leaping up and down and waving your hands above your head with pure joy?”
The PM anxiously replied, “I thought it was such a close-run thing, I had much better keep quiet about it!”
Many attempts to evangelise can seem insensitive and impertinent. Alastair Campbell famously said, “We don’t do God!” and I sympathise with his sentiments because the harsh and cynical world of politics, particularly political media management, and “God” are not an easy mix. Christian sentiments can all too easily be mistaken for virtue signalling and are a short ride to mockery.
I think it’s patronising and profitless to badger people we hardly know about God. I was recently asked by a friend how she could persuade her son to take an interest in Jesus? I was astounded by the question, for to my mind, it’s wholly fruitless to even try. Attempts at religious coercion are not something Jane or I would ever have tried on our children. In our (long) experience, children pretty much bring themselves up and the best thing that parents can do is pray (if they are so inclined), try and live decent lives, teach children the basics and otherwise keep out of their way. Persuading the young to slouch out of bed before 11am is hard enough, but hectoring them to go to church, read the Bible, or take even a vague interest in “religion” is highly likely to be counterproductive.
More young people have been put off “God” for life by insensitive parents frog-marching them unwillingly to church and banging on about the Bible than any other factor. Calvin had a point: either we have the religious “gene”, or we don’t; either we are “ripe”, or we aren’t. If parents draw a blank, they should just accept that their child’s time has not yet come – and indeed, may not come in their lifetime.
Whether people come to faith or not is a mystery, and it’s vanity to think family agency has much to do with it. We have known “churchy” children from ostensibly orderly and devout families, only to watch them slide off the rails into promiscuity or drugs – one even ended up in the slammer. And we have seen parents whose lifestyles were far from ideal (as far as we could tell, for how can one ever judge the integrity of other people’s lives?) produce “model” children, who ended up as hand-waving believers.
There is a story about a woman who longed for her son to become a Christian. She prayed that whatever was blocking him from accepting Jesus into his life would be removed. Her prayers were answered and she vanished!
I told my friend this anecdote and she looked rather thoughtful. Perhaps I was a bit unkind?