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An urgent choice

December 2012 | by Paolo Comboni

An urgent choice

I was brought up in Italy, where the standard belief is Roman Catholicism, but I never really believed Catholicism had God’s authority 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, 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.

Vague yearnings

I determined to read a lot while in Paris, to satisfy some vague yearnings for a better knowledge of myself and the world around me. So I enrolled in a part-time language school and got myself a cheap flat-share.
    One of my flatmates was a Christian and he helped me 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 those writers, representing as they did the pinnacle of man’s search for knowledge. When it comes to the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’, I saw that their search was not rewarded with much!
    At the same time, he tried to persuade me to read the Bible as God’s Word. I expected it to rail at my behaviour 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 started reading Solomon’s Proverbs.
    Within a few days, I was amazed to discover that a book written many centuries ago spoke clearly and with knowledge of me, a 20-year-old in the twentieth century. This convinced me that the mind behind it had a good grasp of human nature and was my Creator. So I read on.

Big questions

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. 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?’
    I was relieved when I understood that ‘try harder-do better’ was not the way to get closer to him. I gradually understood from the Bible 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, by our own efforts, can do to secure forgiveness.
    I clearly remember 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 everything else.
    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.
    
Easy trade-off

When I put it to myself in this way it was an offer weighted in my favour. 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’.
Paolo Comboni

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