Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2009-03-12

Former British Member of Parliament and author Jonathan Aitken chose Psalm 130, which opens with "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord," as his topic for Samford University students Thursday, March 12, for several reasons.

One, he said, is because he has "involuntary expertise" about being in the depths. Aitken was referring to the period of his life when he went from "doing interesting things" as a Member of Parliament and looking to a good future, to serving time in prison.

"Almost everyone has some private experience of being in the depths," he noted.

During his seven months in prison for perjury in a civil case, Aitken had a spiritual journey that resulted in seminary study and the writing of Christian-themed books, including John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.

Aitken was at Samford to receive the 2008 John Pollock Award for Christian Biography given by Samford's Beeson Divinity School to recognize his book on Newton. The biography chronicles the life of the 18th Century Anglican clergyman and former slave-ship captain who is the author of many hymns, including "Amazing Grace."

At a convocation, Aitken told Samford students that his own spiritual journey began during his first night of incarceration, when he knelt by his bed and read Psalm 130.

"The words of scripture spoke to me," he said of the simple psalm, which begins with the message that "When you are in a hole, start praying."

The psalm also addresses forgiveness and penitence, he said. "When you start to pray, you think about your sins," Aitken said, adding that to the psalmist, fear means respect. "We need to respect God with a love and respect that we don't accord anyone else."

The psalm's verses about waiting stress that people must learn that their time table is not the same as God's time table, he said.

The 21st Century is the age of impatience, and while sometimes a broken fellowship with God may take time to mend, God is a patient God who often uses improbable people and an improbable time scale to accomplish things, Aitken said.

The psalm ends with a glorious message of hope and full redemption. "Redemption is God's business. Rehabilitation is man's business," he said. "It is possible to turn a life around after being in the depths."

A former news correspondent, Aitken was first elected to Parliament in 1974 and served briefly in the mid-1990s in a cabinet position before being sentenced to prison in 1999.

Aitkin's books, in addition to the Newton biography, include Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (2005), and his autobiography, Pride and Perjury (2003).

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.