Profile: Ben Irving

First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I grew up in Canberra. On the south side. My parents are both followers of Jesus. I have two brothers and a sister and they follow Jesus as well.

 

So from childhood you’ve had a very religious upbringing?

I wouldn’t say religious in the sense of ritual or following a certain moral way of living, but religious in a sense of having a certain kind of worldview. My Dad in particular knows the bible really well and upholds Jesus Christ. I grew up with Jesus being genuinely understood as the king of the world. I grew up with an understanding that Jesus was actually what life was about, and he was what really gave life meaning. But it’s funny that growing up I was still just really a fake.

 

So when you say ‘religious’, are you referring to the particular type of religion that you identify with? Like Anglican or Protestant…?

Just a follower of Jesus. I believe that what we have in the Bible is sixty-six ancient manuscripts. It’s quite miraculous the way it is so consistent even though it’s written by all these different people from all these different times and languages. It just impresses upon me the Bible’s absolute divinity. As a child I was taught from the Bible, what it said about Jesus and about history and about God and humanity.

 

And was there a particular moment when you decided to follow Jesus, or was it a gradual realisation from the days of your childhood?

 It wasn’t until I was about fourteen that I realised that Jesus is actually a real person. And he actually died. I think, in my memory, there was a point where I was just really struck by the love of God. Someone had just explained to me about Jesus in a way that I’d heard many times before but just hadn’t understood in that way. I broke down and was very overwhelmed.

 

So until this point in your life Jesus had just been an abstract idea?

Suddenly I no longer understood Jesus as a utility. He was no longer just what God used in order to get me to Heaven. I realised how much of a sacrifice he’d made, and how loved I was. And all of a sudden it hit me that everything I look at was actually made by a person. And I am loved by him! I realised that I have everything I need. The person that controls everything loves me. I am cared for.

 

And do you go to church at all?

It’s tricky language talking about church, because the way it’s used in modern western culture is different to the way it was used in the first century. Church was understood as a community of people who were united with this common following of Jesus, whereas today a lot of the time church is just this activity that you do once a week. So I have this incredible relationship with all these other people following Jesus as well. It’s a relationship that’s always there.

 

And tell us about what you do at the university. Almost every Thursday I see you at Union Court.

I’ll just go up to people and ask them if they’re interested in Jesus. If they’re interested in having a conversation. Often there’s someone who’s interested in discussing what he’s about, or just understanding a bit more about the bible.

Another thing I do is just stand up and read out from the gospels, and who knows? There’s one promise in the book of Isaiah that talks about the word of God being like dew from Heaven. In the same way that the dew will fall down and cause plants to grow out of the ground, the words he sends out don’t return empty. There’s this sense that whenever the word of God is heard, God is achieving something. Ultimately I believe that this world is owned by God and he deserves to be recognised. My words can’t do anything but I believe that God is powerful to save people.

 

So would you call what you do ‘preaching’? Would that be an appropriate word to describe it?

Well, preaching is something I would use to describe any time where you’re speaking about Jesus or speaking about his message or the word of God. So in one sense, yes. But when I’m reading the bible I just call it reading.

 

And do people ever react negatively to what you’re doing? It’s quite a contentious topic so there are always going to be people who disagree with you. Do they ever voice their disapproval?

People say just go back to a church, take it off campus. A lot of people are just angry at God. A lot of the time people will approach me with some intellectual stumbling block that they can’t accept. Then what they’ll do is just start talking about a loved one of theirs who died, and they’re just upset about it. They’re just angry. Behind it is a sense of can I trust him? Can I trust God? It’s relieving. It’s refreshing when people are real like that.

 

So how do you cope with that? When people criticise something that you’re passionate about, something that you’ve built your life around? Is it difficult?

I find it really sad. I don’t feel any bitterness or anger towards them because I was exactly the same. Most people don’t understand what Jesus is actually like. I just feel so sad that there’s an enmity in people towards someone who is so lovely. But I expect people to oppose it. It’s like what Jesus said; they’ll hate you because they hated me first.

 

And tell us about your degree at the ANU. Do you feel that your studies complement your beliefs or more often contradict them?

It’s interesting, actually. Studying philosophy, what I found so far is that it has really vindicated everything I believe. One example of that is the idea of faith. What I realise is that everyone believes something. Everyone has a worldview. Everyone has some sort of answer to the questions of, ‘Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is life all about?’ What I’m finding is that every worldview has a leap of faith behind it. But not everyone thinks about it.