26 April 2016
Poirot, prayer and the faith of David Suchet
Before David Suchet took up the role of Agatha Christie's Poirot in 1989, no one could have guessed the classically-trained actor would complete the entire catalogue of stories about our favourite European detective – the last of which aired in 2013. One of his latest projects was recording the entire NIV Bible, after a lady who had lost her sight thanked him for recording the gospel of John. She had been given a cassette by her friend of the 1990s audio, and cried with joy as she was able to receive God's word for the first time in years. An app has now been released to make the Bible even more accessible, and the actor met Amaris Cole to explain how it all began.
"For a long time I did try, but couldn't get it off the ground," David Suchet told me, as we sat down for lunch the week before the six- CD audio Bible was released. "Then all of a sudden, working on the St Paul programme (In the Footsteps of St Paul, which aired on the BBC in 2012), I met a producer who made it possible. Suddenly all the doors began to open."
The actor prepared for this like he would any other role. "You can't just read a chapter. You've got to do a Bible study of the whole thing – who wrote it, why, to who, what they were saying, when. The names don't really matter – because nobody's ever quite sure, but who they're speaking to is important – and why."
This research took more than 400 hours. "You've got to look at it theologically, interpretatively. You've got to look at it through the eyes of the Middle East – not the West. It's an eastern book." David believes this allowed him to go in to the recording studio and go through the whole Bible in 250 hours rather than 600 hours.
How this would sound to listeners was key through the process. "When I started doing this, I realised I was hearing it as my listener was hearing it. I was reading it, but I was hearing it, and if I heard it wrong, rather than read it wrong, I would redo it.
"That was an interesting experience."
So after working through each book in the Bible like this, did he find a favourite? "No, I don't have a favourite book, but my favourite passage is in John's gospel, when Jesus is speaking to his disciples in a very quiet, very intimate way about the Holy Spirit. That's my favourite passage. "I also enjoyed doing the Psalms. They're emotional. They're railing against God – and I really do that in the recording. As they were written, so I speak it."
And the actor isn't afraid to rail or be open to doubts. "Because that's how it was originally done. The Jewish faith was chewed over and chewed over and chewed over. The yeshiva bochers spent their whole lives debating, analysing, questioning, and tearing apart. "We should allow for more debate in the Church."
I asked David about how he hears from God. Is it through the Bible? "Yes. If you read the Bible with a very open mind, a non-judging mind, God's word speaks to you." "We have to read the Bible quietly, to listen to His word, to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the word to us, to let the Holy Spirit teach you. The Holy Spirit is there to help, to comfort, to teach, and yes to convict. "Let it speak to you."
It wasn't until the age of 40 that David came to faith, when he picked up a Bible in a hotel room while away filming. After being convicted while reading Romans 8, he was later baptised into the Church of England. "I think it was difficult because at the age of 40 you quickly think you should know it all, but you realise you are just a baby. I found God in 1986 and it's now 2016 – so that's 30 years. I'm 30 years old as a Christian. A new birth is a new birth – I was a baby. You go through all the teething problems and the growth pains when you're born again.
"Now, at 30, I have a more mature, independent stand, a voice that can be listened to and heard. I wonder how many more years God will give me to mature." Research shows only half of UK young people read their Bible more than once a month. David is worried by this. "They're not hearing God speak to them," he explains. "The Bible is God revealing himself. It's the revelation of how God is revealing Himself through this holy book."
And the lack of reverence for that book has been lost. "Society has become too familiar with [the Bible]. People died for this book – to get it into our language. We forget that the English Bible, which we can pull off a bookshelf, throw in our bags and walk away – this is a big book for which people gave their lives. It survives everything and God reveals himself through it. It's unique. "It's the only book in the world where Christ appears."
Our Talking Jesus research shows that 40 per cent of people in the UK think Jesus was a fictional character. "It does matter," David believes. "The fact we have Bible illiteracy is the fault of lack of teaching – lack of what I call expositional preaching."
David believes we need better teaching and better preaching in the UK. "The churches that are full and brimming over are those with expositional teaching. The evangelical Church is the only one that's full and brimming – I wonder why – because people are hungry to learn."
The NIV Audio Bible is produced by Hodder Faith. You can download the Bible at hodderbibles.co.uk, or buy the 6-CD set from online retailers, including eden.co.uk. RRP £39.99. This year, Hodder launched the first Bible app with full audio and Bible text. The app includes verse-by-verse synchronisation which unlocks a new level of interaction, and is designed for the 'normal' user to read and listen to the Bible easily, so that even the less technical user will feel immediately at home. To purchase the app, go to the app store and search: NIV Audio Bible: read by David Suchet.