Recently, I was in the Piece Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire. There are some very interesting shops in this wonderful old complex, and of particular interest to me, a grand second-hand bookshop which I visit whenever I’m in the area.
I was disappointed to find that the ‘Theology’ (i.e., vaguely religous) section had been reduced to about half of its former size. I’d looked through the books on display in a matter of minutes – picking up a title by Malcolm Muggeridge which I hadn’t read – and moved to the area where philosophy books were supposed to be. As in most bookshops of this kind, these are few and far between and often (as in this shop, for some obscure reason) mixed up with books on psychology.
Whilst I attempted to find even one title on philosophy (a mission, incidentally, that failed), I heard a voice muttering in exasperation from where I had been standing a few moments before. A young man was saying something along the lines; “Won’t find it here.” I asked what he was looking for and he replied “Truth, but I won’t find it here. I was looking for books on secular philosophy.”
This seemed to me like one of those God-given opportunities (which spring up so rarely) to say something really meaningful and profound. But, as is often the case when such opportunities arise, the thing I felt I should really say (i.e., that the Truth he looked for could only be found in Jesus Christ) seemed curiously inappropriate, coming as it would, cold and out of the blue, so to speak. (This is probably because someone tried this with me when I was a young man and frightened me away from Christianity for another 16 years of my life!)
And so, I told him that I thought that if he did want to find Truth, he’d be better staying with the theology books in front of him. I said he was more likely to find Truth there than in secular philosophy which would only confuse him and would ultimately lead to a dead-end. He looked slightly worried at where this conversation might be going and promptly informed me (before I could get more explicit?) that he left ‘religious’ stuff to his friend who was just completing a doctorate in theology at Oxford. I inwardly thanked God that he had such a friend with whom he could discuss these kinds of issues. Maybe he’d face this question of ‘true’ Truth again at a later date. And I felt too, in that instant, that maybe I had acted correctly. Maybe my part in the incident was merely to offer a piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, which, by the grace of God, would be ready one day to drop into its appointed place for this young man.
I write this entry as a kind of therapy for myself. I’ve relived this incident many times in the past few weeks and wondered whether I let the Lord down that day. Was I being cowardly in not coming out with my instinctive inward reaction to that young man’s comment? Was I disobeying the Holy Spirit? Or was it He that ‘applied the brakes’ and made me feel that the situation wasn’t right for me to voice my own, strongly held views too overtly?
If you’d been in my shoes, I wonder what you would have said?