I was brought up in Italy where the standard belief is Roman Catholicism, but I never really believed it had the authority of God behind it. Somehow I resented my conscience’s demands for a better standard of behaviour, but that was the extent of my beliefs. I believed in the existence of a creator as a stern, moralistic figure, somehow remote and irrelevant, but not present in the church.
After school I embarked on a very long gap year which was to last some 36 months. One year in the UK to learn the language, a year in Paris, and a year in Germany would round off my education, since I found languages quite easy and liked to travel.
I determined to read a lot whilst in Paris, to satisfy some vague yearnings for a better knowledge of myself and the world around me, so once I got there I enrolled in part-time language school and got myself a cheap flat share. One of my flatmates was a Christian and he helped me to understand some basic facts: the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind, personal sin is an ugly problem that cannot be ignored, and we need meaning in our lives - something which the existentialist philosophers of the day had explored.
He gave me a key to understand some of these philosophical writings which represented the pinnacle of man’s search for knowledge, like the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and I saw that their search was not rewarded with much. At the same time he tried to persuade me to read the Bible, being God’s word to his
creation. I expected it to rail at my behaviours and attitudes, so I took my time before starting.
I eventually decided to start half way through it, to get to the end more quickly, and so I started reading Solomon’s Proverbs.
Within a few days I was amazed to discover that a book written ‘who knows how many centuries ago’ spoke clearly and with knowledge of me, a 20-year old in the 20th century. This convinced me that the mind behind it had a good grasp of human nature and was my Creator, so I read on.
I slowly came to see that God was on my side, opening my eyes to see my condition as a sinner, and all he had done about it; so I continued to read. Big questions came to my mind, like, ‘How can an all-knowing, all-loving God give me commandments he knows I cannot and do not want to keep?’ Either he is not all-knowing, or he is unloving in the light of the consequences of such disobedience. How could I resolve this conundrum?
I was relieved when I understood that ‘try harder-do better’ was not the way that would get me closer to him. Trying to find answers to these and similar questions led me to continue reading the Bible and to seek understanding from God’s word. I was later to understand that the uncompromising commandments were there to show that obedience does not work (it just cannot be done!).
Only Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, can dispense forgiveness on the basis of his own merits; there is nothing we can do to secure forgiveness by our own efforts. I remember very clearly deciding to start my third gap
year by going to Germany, where the challenge of learning German from scratch would be absorbing enough to make me put aside anything superfluous in my life.
But as I got ready to leave Paris and head towards Germany, I felt a very clear choice had to be made: either
I must leave my sins behind and cast myself upon God, or else I must ignore the information I had so far acquired and walk away from him.
An easy trade-off When I put it to myself in this way it was an easy trade-off to make; I repented of my sins and cast myself on God’s mercy for real. After this, the Bible started to make even more sense to me as I was now a Christian, and I discovered more and more fully the extent of God’s love, wisdom, challenge and perspective.
That was the first Sunday in 1978. Looking back over 34 years, I can see how God has guided, shaped and cherished me all along, and I can certainly say, ‘Taste and see the Lord is good.’
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.