A Change of Priorities: Witness by A K Whitehead
Brought up an active Catholic, a number of things went wrong in life shortly after being married. Nothing to do with relationship between my wife, Iris, and myself. But I blamed God, either directly or indirectly for what happened. Of course, blaming God for things soon turns into doubt about God, and doubt is then second step into unbelief.
So for next twenty-plus years I found myself without any real belief in God. I was not an atheist. I could not say that God did not exist. But I could not say that he did exist either. For all that time I was really an agnostic. But I continued going to church - just as insurance! In case he did exist. I though I would then be okay. Both a foolish and illogical position, but...
Without any belief in God my values became determined by self interest. I began studying again and then went to university for three years, to read economics. That was followed by a years Postgraduate Certificate in Education to qualify for teaching. I moved into university level teaching and worked for a Master of Philosophy, a research degree. So I became almost totally focussed on my career as an academic.
All that mattered was making a reputation, promotion, publishing learned papers, earning more money and so forth.
After a piece of prolonged research, I felt that I needed a temporary change and knocked-off for a short while. Suddenly, after years and years of having my mind preoccupied in sorting out academic problems of one sort or another, my mind was free. But all these mental problems had been rather like a hand holding a ball down below surface of water - as soon as downward pressure was taken off ball shot to surface. The "ball" was problem of God's existence.
The problem had always been there but I had never allowed it to get in way of all other things to which I had given priority. In Mass one Sunday, one of Scripture readings included Luke 11:9 where Jesus tells his disciples to: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and door will be opened to you".
It was as if I had never heard this before. Perhaps I never really had. But then, of course, reading went on, because Jesus added that "everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, door will be opened".
It seemed to me that, if God did exist, then these promises should be worth all that they claimed. So I said to God, quite literally: "Okay, I'll take you at your word. I will seek, and ask, and knock. But if I don't find you, it will not be my fault. It will be yours, because you will not have kept your promises. So you will not be able to take me to task for not doing what you wanted".
My first problem was: how do you find God, find whether he exists or not? As a Catholic, first thing that occurred to me was to begin going to Mass each day. I did that surreptitiously, without telling Iris. She had always had a very close relationship with God and I felt a bit self conscious about what I was trying to do.
What else? It occurred to me that I had never actually read Bible through from one end to other. So I decided to do just that. We were coming towards Christmas and when my two sons asked me what I wanted as a present, I told them, "A Bible". They thought it was hilarious that I should want a Bible! I suppose they did not consider me to be quite bible-reading type. But I began reading it at night when everyone else was in bed.
I sometimes had a strange experience in New Testament part. I would read and, although not understanding much of Paul's letters, for example, nonetheless it was as if my mind took over and began to explain to me what I was reading. How that happened, I did not know.
Two and a half years after I had begun this search Iris developed a serious illness: emphysema. Her lungs were filling with fluid and, because of other conditions, doctors could do nothing. They gave her six weeks to live.
On Friday of Pentecost a nun from our parish persuaded us to go to a healing service at a Catholic church about twenty miles away. We went and my wife was insantaneously healed from emphysema when she was prayed over by parish priest, Fr Lenard May. She "fell in Spirit" and was down for about half-an-hour. It was as if all excess fluid in her body was evaporated away for, when she got up, one could see a damp outline of her body on floor around where she had lain. Our doctor was staggered by event: it subsequently led to his own conversion.