CHRISTIAN LIVING | David Bennett
My journey to faith in Christ was a road studded with valleys and troughs. As a young teenager attending a Christian boys school in a leafy Sydney suburb, I awoke to the fact that I was attracted exclusively to men.
When I came out at the age of 14, I decided to keep my distance from my “fundamentalist” relatives. The late Henri Nouwen says: “I have come to realise that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’”
I resisted this voice and instead internalised anger towards the Christian world in which I was brought up.
I abandoned any positive view of Christianity and, as a spiritually hungry teenager, dabbled and experimented with all sorts of new-age spirituality. One day, ridden with curiosity, I visited a psychic in Newtown. As she read my cards and looked at me, she said I was a child of the light and was destined to be with Jesus. I was furious. When we moved to our house closer to the harbour, I would often look out over our new view wishing I could escape to Oxford Street and the eastern suburbs where culture had the libertine sophistication I craved. Little did I know I was chasing a ghost that would never fulfil me, a darkness that masqueraded as an angel of light. If it were Rome, I would have worshipped at the altar of Aphrodite or Eros. The predominant message around me was that eros love was the highest of the loves and how dare those pious Christians deprive me of the highest form of transcendence possible. Agape love was a saccharine dream, not the love on the cross.
The war of the loves truly began when I found out that my mother became a Christian at a charismatic church on the Northern Beaches. “You must choose between me or the God that hates me,” I said.
At university, I threw myself into political and creative clubs and joined the Queer Collective and Labor Left. I would rip down the Christian club’s posters and would stick Queer Collective posters over the top.
It wasn’t until I was 19 that I ended up in a love triangle with a plotline much like a Woody Allen film. My view of things was like Juan Antonio in Vicky Christina Barcelona: “Why not? Life is short. Life is dull. Life is full of pain. And this is a chance for something special.” I came to the end of the romantic ideal of the secular society around me; it isn’t ever worth taking Woody Allen’s romantic advice.
I decided that after dating so many people, I would stay single for a year, and after my best friend’s boyfriend fell in love with me and I reciprocated, I felt dead inside. I felt like David in his situation with Bathsheba – the fatal repercussion being the death of a close friendship. I had become the cliched secular hypocrite. My broken morality and evil heart trumped my “rational” ethics every time.
At Christmas time I had a debate with my Christian uncle. “There is no absolute truth!” I proclaimed over the family Christmas table. “To say there is no absolute truth is an absolute truth,” my uncle retorted softly. “The truth is a person I know, not a static concept in my head.” My postmodern worldview was disarmed. I stormed out.
Three months later, I found myself in the Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills, and had spotted a young filmmaker from my uni who was a finalist in Tropfest Short Film Festival. I wanted her for an interview in the student magazine – definitely the best local story we would have all year.
As she revealed her faith to me, I pushed back against her talk about God until she asked me one piercing question. “Have you experienced the love of God?” I didn’t know you could experience God. I didn’t know about the Holy Spirit. She offered me prayer and suddenly I just said yes. As she prayed fervently, I felt an incredible sensation on the top of my head, a soft tingling that intensified. It felt as if someone was pouring a vial of oil over my head. The powerful sensation ran all over my body and then surged in power. In retrospect, I believe God was anointing me like Jesus in Isaiah 61 and baptising me in his Holy Spirit. At this stage I started to weep and felt a voice say to me “Do you want me?” three times.
This came as exactly the question I needed to hear at this time – a mutual desire. The third time I said yes. I still didn’t know which god this was. Then, like a breath entering me, I could feel this new life in my soul. I was born again. I heard the Father’s voice ask me: “Will you accept my son Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?” I said yes. God poured out his love in my heart and I was overcome with arbitrary tears. This time I felt his power like a heat in my body. I had become a Christian.
Three weeks after the pub moment, I was at Tropfest, and my friend’s film came up on the screen. As I watched, I looked up to a particular star and prayed to God, “If you’re real, I need you to show me that you exist … If I’m to give it all up, I need you to show me you exist.” The filmmaker’s short had won the whole competition and I ran down to the red carpet to get an interview with her for the university magazine. She was surrounded by the Australian acting establishment and I called out to her. She turned around and came running over to me with her pineapple trophy in her hand. “David, this event is for God’s glory … I am just his servant. There are angels all around this place … God has been reminding me to tell you that he exists … you really need to know that he exists!”
I walked out from Tropfest floating. Jesus was real. He had answered my prayer directly after I’d prayed it.
That Sunday I interviewed her and I attended her Sunday church. As I entered the church I felt this overwhelming sense of God’s presence and I spent the next six months weeping in church services and as the music played, lifting my hands in true worship to God. My whole story was littered with undeniable coincidences and God’s confirmation. I had met the love I had been searching for all through my life.
I remember at the age of 15 sitting in Christchurch Meadow in Oxford with my mother’s colleague who had let me come stay to see England. He was a passionate New Atheist and bought me The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins from Blackwells. As I looked up at the edifice of Christchurch College, I whispered to myself, “I will never study here.” It wasn’t until 10 years later, sitting in exactly the same spot, having been accepted to study theology at the University of Oxford that God reminded me that he had removed my old self and that I was a new creation. His plan had always been good for me, but I didn’t know his heart.
Often when we as Christians focus on morality, we miss the communication of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We forget that, above and beyond morality, it is really only God’s love through the grace of Jesus Christ that can save us. When we say to the gay community “you can’t have God, and you can’t have marriage,” do we realise that in their minds they see us as trying to deprive them of the highest or ultimate forms of transcendence in life?
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The only problem is that if you’re a naturalist, there is no other world and the ultimate source of transcendence is romantic love.
If I had not found agape love of God I could not have given up the lesser good and god of this age, romantic love. As per Augustine of Hippo, the real problem is that the heart is restless until it rests in God. The marriage debate aside, we all need to know the agape love of God.
When people ask me whether homosexuality is a sin I point them to a greater sin – refusing to share or receive the love of God. Like that girl in the pub, I am praying for more Christians to step out in this love and refrain from hanging the morality of law over people’s heads. Gay rights activist or not, when agape love wins the war, we find the permission to repent from death and live – the very good news of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more transcendent or ultimate than the God who is agape love and for whom it is worth giving everything up.
David Bennett is a passionate apologist for the Christian faith. He studied last year at Wycliffe Hall, the University of Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. David wants to bring a fresh new voice to the issue of homosexuality and cutting through the current culture war we are seeing. He is committed to living out biblical sexuality and discipleship and wants to present a positive moral vision for what it means to worship God with your whole being, sexuality included. His other interests include apologetics, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, cooking, community, and he loves living in Oxford.