Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Damascus or Psalm 139

Today, in the Anglican cycle of things at least, we commemorated the conversion of one Saul of Tarsus. Flash bang wallop, one very neat letter writer, jail-bird and Mediterranean rambler.

This day, and the readings to which we were treated in Exciting Holiness this morning (fine book, get a copy), brought to mind a small anxiety I have harboured for a good number of years. 

In the main, there are two types of Christian (in this schema): those termed 'cradle-Christians' and those who did all that getting-to-know the Lord stuff at a later age. Put another way, you get your Psalm 139 disciples or you get your Damascus Road disciples. 

This is, of course, a statement of the blindingly obvious. I accept, too, that people drift in and out of faith as their lives peak and trough and that such elasticity is a good and healthy thing. Christianity, in the main, is not a faith of those 'inside' and those 'outside', and that it one of its most gracious qualities. Toe-dipping, running-away-screaming, coming back when the kids grow up, confessing an old faith on the death bed - all these and so many more are ways that as Christ's disciples, we make sense of that journey.

If only it were that simple. Sadly, it feels (I lean on 'feel' as it might just be me) that there is a spiritual stratification in place, surrounding this specific matter. 

I have lost count of the times when I have seated myself in an Anglican Circle in a large room to dissect my 'story'. Largely throughout theological training, but quite a lot since, I found myself doing the 'going-round-the-circle' thing. How we come to faith is up there with our name and some interesting nonsense about how we lived life before we sat in that room, and spill our guts we do. Then it happens.

Person 1: God spoke to me up when I was a terrible teenager

Person 2: I gave my life to Jesus at 6.42pm on April 11th 1976 and it was raining outside

Me: I have always been a Christian since I was born
Person 4: My dad is a priest and I always went to church
Person 5: I answered God's personal call to me after three decades in the wilderness
Person 6: I was a crack addict until I let God into my heart and here I am

All good, no issues. Unless you are sat there in the room. Confessing a Psalm 139 faith is about the same as "I am only here because I can't be arsed to leave", or "Accidental Christian". Confessing a Damascus Road faith is received triumphantly like a hero returning from the field of battle, scarred and bloodied, but alive (and yes, affirming grunts from the throng are audible). I have never given my life to God simply because I didn't ever need to. There were no days before my faith, I was made like this (fearfully and wonderfully?). Sadly, it seems to be the case that you ain't no-one unless you can name the time and place. 

I am no-one. 

Except who God made me to be, and I am happy at that.


  1. Regrettably, I have heard tell of people from the 'Damascus Road' persuasion describing one from the 'Psalm 139' tendency as "not a proper Christian". Can you imagine that happening the other way round?

  2. I often feel sad that I didn't have one moment, but then I remind myself that God isn't about the one moment, he's about the constant call and endless desire.

    I preached on this yesterday and likened Paul's conversion to a cold call from God. I don't know about you but I tend to put the phone down in cold callers, and never buy what they're offering. But given an idea, time and space to think I'll often decide to purchase.

    I'm more of a deliberative than a reactor. God knows this and loves this and knew that I was always with him and thinking and building my faith.

    God doesn't care how we came to him, he's just glad we did.



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