The early years
I was born in the year 1947 and was raised in a secular household; even though my mother called herself an Anglican; and, likewise my father a Catholic. As was the case in the 1950s and 60s, my father made the major decisions, and I attended catholic schools for my education.
All the religious teaching (and, in reality, there was very little theology) that I received at school had no influence on what I believed or on the way I lived my life. In my late teens, I left my home on the South Coast to attend university in Sydney within a few years I was living an entirely hedonistic and selfish lifestyle.
After boarding with relatives for a short time, I then often moved from one student house to another in Glebe; and from there to various places in the Kings Cross/Darlinghurst area; where, I spent about three years chasing after the wind.
In those three years, I lived a very dangerous lifestyle. I became addicted to the excitement that is found in living close to a red-light area. My addiction to the adrenalin rush that these activities produced was not fully eradicated until March 1991.
Relationships with other people were usually shallow and destructive; but there were a couple of people who supported (a thankless) me and perhaps wondered at that time if I would ever turn my life around.
My main interest was philosophy, and my favourite authors were Kafka and Sartre. Using philosophical language, I would describe myself at that time, as someone on a tightrope, stretched somewhere between Nietzsche’s nihilism and Sartre’s existentialism while using a Kafkaesque mind-set to guide me. Life was all about me, and I had reduced my value to almost nothing.
In early 1970, by a series of ‘chance’ events (I now know that chance had nothing to do with it), I joined the public service, met my future wife, moved out of Darlinghurst and lost contact with the night life and people of Kings Cross.
Life took a different turn after I was married, with the arrival of my two sons some eighteen months apart. Their births seemed to switch on a different set of priorities. My single ambition was then to have a successful career; and, to give my wife and sons all the material help that they needed.
Yet, whenever I travelled away from home, the call of the night-life to search for the next adrenalin rush – was often overwhelming.
Life moved on to middle-age as I passed my fortieth year; by this time my wife had started attending a local Anglican church (having had a solid Anglican upbringing), and was regularly attending a weekly bible study group.
I often criticised her for spending so much time on church stuff and I didn’t make it very easy for her. In my blind arrogance, I also thought I knew something about religion and would argue with her about some of the things she would say, that challenged my selfish lifestyle.
The year of change
In early March 1991, my wife invited me to attend her bible study group as their ‘resident’ catholic member had left the group. I thought, why not, I would bamboozle them with a well analysed, existentialistic view of life; that there were no absolute truths, there was no meaning to be found in life – there was only relative and changing knowledge based on some poorly understood scientific laws.
However, as all plans of men and mice go astray, in a discussion during the bible study on those close brushes with death that we sometimes have, I mentioned to a jovial character sitting next to me about how I had appeared to have avoided, by chance, such a near death experience when I was living in Darlinghurst.
I expected him to try and explain what it meant and I would then launch into a well rehearsed diatribe on the meaninglessness of such events. Instead, he simply turned and said: “It probably just means that Jesus loves you”. His words stunned me and left me in a silent, bewildered and confused state, for the rest of the night.
Every day of the following week, the words “Jesus loves you”, went around and around my head. In the lifts at work, while standing at the photocopier, during work meetings or while walking along the corridors; the same words kept repeating, over and over, again “Jesus loves you.”
The following week I had to travel to Brisbane for work purposes to attend a meeting to negotiate for the supply of data for an important computer system which my area was developing. Normally, when travelling interstate, I would take the opportunity to re-visit my past, and see what sort of adrenalin rush was waiting for me in that city.
Yet, on that Wednesday, exactly one week after the bible study (which my wife was attending that night), I was still unsettled by the constant looping of those words, “Jesus loves you“; and decided, after an early dinner with a work colleague, not to go out that night.
At around 9 p.m., I was lying on the bed in my motel room, staring at the ceiling trying to make sense of what was happening to me, why was it, that these words were so hard to shake out of my head!
After about thirty minutes of trying to divert my thoughts to other issues, in a form of desperation, I finally said out loud: “Jesus do you really love me?” (In desperation because of the way I had been living my life: and, that I really thought that my life was – without meaning, I just existed and that was that.)
I was suddenly struck by how luminescent the walls of the room, and everything in it, had become. I raised myself up on my right elbow to have a closer look at what was happening to the wall on my right. The room was full of light. A feeling of incredible peace came over me as if all the pain, imperfections and anxiety that I held within me were temporarily driven out, the feeling was of exceptional joy.
The very next moment, from a position about half a meter behind me, on the left side of the bed; I heard an amazing audible voice, loud enough that anyone in the room would have heard it, say: “I am, your God who loves you.”
My whole being responded in a way that is still very hard to explain. In a moment, my life was given meaning and value; in that moment I knew, that I was created to be, at home, with this incredible loving God. From that moment, I knew that life was serving this amazing God – there was now, no other option.
Everything, then returned to normal, the whole event was probably no longer than a few minutes. The room, was again a normal motel room; except I was left, a different person, on my way to becoming a new creation.
[Thank God for the Gideons, as it was one of their bibles in the motel room that I poured over for the next few hours; words of scripture jumped off the pages into a hungry soul. I was experiencing a happiness that I’d never felt before.
Around midnight, I decided to get some sleep in preparation for the work negotiations that were scheduled for the next day. An hour later, I was suddenly awoken by a cold gust of wind and a different series of events occurred, which kept me awake to about 5 a.m.]
There are a number of possible explanations of this event, which some people may speculate about – the four main ones are:
- I’ve made the whole incident up – that is, I’ve lied; to either impress family and friends or to legitimise my status as a Christian, so that I can speak as one who has special authority and knowledge – to give myself additional credibility; or
- I’m delusional (insane) – either because of some form of mental illness or a form of drug/alcohol induced psychosis; or
- It was like a dream, a creation of my imagination which I believe to be real. A type of wish fulfilment could be one description. (This sort of reasoning should be treated as a subtype of explanation 2; but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll treat it as a separate explanation); or
- It was a real event, that happened just as I described it.
Explanation 1 (It was a lie.): By nature, I don’t tend to lie about much, and those occasions in the past it has been more a slip of the tongue, which I didn’t correct – I don’t remember any event during my adult life where I intentionally lied and actively maintained the lie over time.
At the time of my conversion most of my friends were not Christians and so the event was of no interest to them. Since March 1991, most of my new Christian friendships developed because of my change in life-style, not because of the nature of my conversion – to be honest, hardly anyone has asked me about the nature of my conversion. So, if I was seeking fame and credibility from this event – it did not happen!
Explanation 2 (I was delusional): Always a difficult issue, how does anyone prove they are sane? Well, first off, there is no history of mental illness in my family (grandparents, mother, father or siblings).
I’ve held down a responsible job which can be summarised as a very successful career. I’ve tried soft drugs (at University, forty years ago) and I drink alcohol on a social level – I’ve never habitually used alcohol to the point of becoming ‘blind’ drunk – I fall asleep long before I get to that point!
In addition, I’ve had experience with people who are schizophrenics and also those with the terrible bi-polar mental illness – none of the types of hallucinations or delusions associated with these forms of mental illnesses – bear any meaningful resemblance to my experience.
Explanation 3 (It was a dream, or type of wish fulfilment): I included this category to deal with one important point – was it a form of a dream/vision created by my imagination? This is the most telling aspect – my imagination had nothing; from my past experiences; either lived, read or seen, to form a basis to what happened.
My experience had no parallel to other peoples’ accounts of their encounters with God (that I had known about, at that time) – it was not an extension of Greek/Roman mythology regarding illustrations of what God may have been like. What I experienced – and I’ve never disclosed the full details – was totally new, in terms of past experiences and expectations of what God might be like – therefore, from my perspective – what happened could not have been a product of my imagination. That is, there was no raw material based on prior knowledge that my imagination could have used to ‘imagine’ the event – if that makes sense?
Explanation 4 (The truth): I was fully awake, rational and the event occurred as summarised.
The greatest difficulty in talking about the details of this night is that there is no comparison to any human experience I’ve had or have ever read about. If I tried to make comparisons; “It was like ‘this’ or ‘that’”, there is no ‘this or ‘that’, which can be taken from my experiences, to be used for this purpose.
The apostle John in Revelation uses different descriptions for Jesus voice: ‘I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet (Revelation 1:10); yet he changes the description in 1:15; ‘… and His voice was like the sound of rushing water.’ . I can understand John’s problem – His voice perhaps did not sound like either, but it was as close as John could get, to compare God’s voice to sounds which would be familiar to the readers of Revelation.
In summary, I can say that the most important aspect I can recall was God’s absolute majesty and holiness. When I heard His voice, and I did not dare turn around to look at Him, I can say – I remained motionless as though dead (Revelation 1:17) – the awe and wonder was overwhelming – I had absolutely no intention of moving until I was given permission to do so, in some way or another.
Another point of interest is that those who read my encounter with Jesus; and who are not seeking a relationship with God, cannot accept that it’s the truth. It’s a spiritual reaction – they perhaps feel anger along with disbelief; and, probably go for the second possible explanation.
Recall the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31): The rich man asks Abraham if Lazarus can be sent to warn his five brothers, who were still alive, about the torment of hell. The rich man says to Abraham ” … if someone from the dead goes to them they will repent.’ Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets (what’s written in the Bible), they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (and tells them).’
In a similar way – many will not believe what I’ve written, even if they put me through a battery of lie-detector tests; and the tests showed that I was telling the truth – they still would not believe.
The first days of my new life
After saying my first prayer, the day proceeded as normal; the meeting I had for work purposes went smoothly and was more successful than I’d expected.
On returning home, I went through the house throwing out all my unhealthy magazines (the Playboys I had kept for the ‘Graham Green’ articles); books, including all of Sartre’s works (I had a large collection) and any object, which I identified as being in conflict with my relationship with Jesus. I avoided all the places and people that may have placed my young faith at risk. The people I had wronged in some way, I sought out, and apologised for my sinful behaviour.
I became a regular member of the bible study group with my wife, and immersed myself in Scripture and attended any course that would help me gain a better understanding of how I may best serve my loving God.
Not long after, I prayed for a sound spiritual mentor and within a few days met one of the most enthusiastic of Jesus’ followers, who has a recognised gift of teaching. I became interested in the history of the church during the first few centuries, and the split with the Jewish religion. This interest, resulted in a couple of trips to Israel, which proved to be very instructive in improving my ability in discerning the will of my Father.
My life since, has had its share of problems, bad things do happen to God’s people, but in the worst of times I know that I have a loving God who will always carry me through the impossibly rough bits.
I long to be reunited with Him but up to that time I’m content to do His will, to the best of my ability, empowered by His Holy Spirit.
[It’s now over 24 years, since I started this amazing journey; and it’s still hard for me to read what I’ve written about that night, without tears – it was the happiest experience of my life!]