Before believing was an imaginable reality, we started out in disbelieving what we now believe. But in time believing becomes a stagnant and stale journey because we forgot what we disbelieved about what we now believe. In the journey to reinvigorate belief in what we believe, we need to revisit “disbelief in what we believed,” in order to believe rightly.
He sat there in the corridor
But pacing back and forth
His heart’s stillness in residue.
“Will she be alright
After these long hours of waiting
I need to hear what I can’t see
To calm storms there in me”
He recounted the lateness of his arrival
Cause distance needed hands to toil
To pend for their survival…
He remembered her sweet stilling voice
After late nights in bustling jams
Desk filled with paper works
That trail him to his room…
“I’ll be alright, don’t worry dear,
I know that though you’re not present here,
Need beckons us to wait.”
And in the night where
Some rest soundly
Sleeping on their
Soft warm beds
Are some with the sound of stillness
Or the smiles on their face,
Pales to the sounds of an empty room,
Holding whatever thread of hope
That they will make it through, for the night
To turn to grey.
To speak about the divine
Is like holding eternity
Infused with mortality
In words made intelligible
By poking mystery
In Distilling the vastness of the sea
Reasonings and arguments
that render philosophical
Where only the cynical
Speaks a language
Exploding bodies into
Small tiny pieces
What kind of divine
Makes contact with violence
As if the gods crave
The taste of blood?
May so our souls rest
If we should accept wrath
When so called prophets speak
As though their voices
Were laced with
nectar from heavenly peaks
Of this we should shudder and make
Faith some form of alternative
If the sages teach
Hate as their central creed.
it doesn’t take faith
to live in a place
amid familiar faces
those who share similarities
a common ground to stand on
because it’s all safe…
for faith to be real
it needs to be tested
to be suppressed and stricken
to be bruised and forsaken
if after that one still holds to ones foundation
amid trials and tribulations
whatever was hidden
would not be concealed
as something worth living.
A fire burning when doused by water reeks a smell so pungent you wish you just left it to burn until it so desires to stop. It is so with love. Guard your hearts until you’re ready to take the plunge to start a fire. But then we will never know when that right time is. Human emotions are fickle. So our best guess will only be our own best guess. We will never know really when it is we are ready. What we do know is that we have to take that plunge.
I have to admit that I’m a failure when it comes to relationships. This is after all failed attempt number three. My first one lated 10 days. I guess I can still laugh at that one now. I was pretty much immersed with the thought of evangelizing the whole state of Sarawak for Jesus, writing out songs and touring with my band singing gospel songs. That was what I thought was the future. But my girlfriend thought I was nuts. So then that was it. I pretty much cried like a baby for five days and chucked the idea of being so mushy. I was ok then.
Number two came and that one lasted for six years. I guess we drifted apart after knowing that what we wanted in life were not what we saw in each other. We were by far just drifting apart. We broke up just before I made my plunge to seminary to continue my studies in theology. It took me like seven months to get over that. I wrote poetry that time which pretty much conveyed how I felt at that time. Those were for me dark moments when every day felt like 3am.
Then number three came into my life. She was this smart and very beautiful girl. We would chat for hours on Facebook, text, and I would spend all my money on phone credits. She was really something. We broke up a few months back, which I’m still feeling the effects right now. I still have feelings for her but I guess I should move on. I guess I was boring. I don’t know. I guess I didn’t spend time to call her. I guess I took things for granted. I can only guess now. I’m still hurt but I guess she’s happy now. Happy not to be stuck being amused to death by a clown that had no talent for amusements.
I used to think that for relationships to last, devotion was needed. Openness was needed. Being able to make someone laugh, connecting while having deep conversations, not cheating on the one you loved. I also thought that if you had God in your relationships that would cement it. But I guess now, it’s not clear to me on the things we have to do to hold a relationship. I’m still a bit cynical when people say that the things I explained above would be enough to hold a relationship. But, it’s funny, having this cynical view of love ever being possible, I still think it’s something possible. I don’t know much about what makes a relationship lasts. But the much I know is how much it hurts when people soon drift apart.
To me, there are no formulas to a lasting relationship. If they last hurray. If not move on. But in all this we still have to believe in some sort of lasting love. Even if we border on the cynical. I guess faith is something like that. We will still believe in something even thought we go through life holding onto broken dreams.
I was once comfortable taking in the Classical Theism view where God is seen as sovereign, transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient. I was at home with this view and never sort of questioned them. I was, in what it seemed that time, in a comfort zone. God was boxed in those terms, even if they implied a reality much larger than a box.
Not until a tragic accident that involved the passing of a dear youth member and friend that, the Classic theistic view somewhat crumbled. Some people were telling or at least implying that God is the author of life and if that is true, my friend’s death was somewhat authored by God. As I thought about it, far be it that I accepted that frame work for God. If I believed in a God who cared why then would he author a tragic story for my friend like one a novelist would do to his characters.
Enter Open Theism. This is a view which responds to Classic Theism. This view believes that God does not know the future exhaustively, leaving the future open for us to partner with him. Hence this view is a strong argument for the proposal of why prayer is important. Since the future is open and God does not know exhaustively, we partner with God in ways that we somehow can change his mind.
For a period of time, I guess in a subtle manner, my views gravitated towards open theism because it somehow showed a God who can show love to his creation rather than one who has already written about your whole life and somehow you are stuck in that story he wrote whether you like it or not. Somehow classic theism did not really resonate well with a God who is loving. I mean sure you can say that God knows what’s best but there is no room for free will here.
So with all these issues plunging in my mind, it seemed to me that open theism held more sense than a mechanical, detached sovereign God.
But with that, if God is too open how then is he sovereign? If God is unchanging how then why would he thus change his mind? Some things still does not resonate. Somehow open theism seemed a reaction against some form of radical or misguided understanding of God being uncaring and leaving no room for free will. So again, it seems we hit a brick wall at which view can be trustworthy in explaining God.
During the theology class I took last week, listening to the lecture and thinking through classic theism and open theism, both have their grounds of arguments. So where should we strike a balance between them. There are no clear cut answers but I seem to resonate with the notion of combining the two views together looking at it from Jesus’ suffering perspective.
In Jesus’ life, coming to the end of his ministry, in the garden of, he prayed if it was possible to avoid the way of the cross even at the point of telling his disciples beforehand that he was to undergo suffering, death and then resurrection. In that depiction, Jesus could have disbanded the pursuit of going to the cross and be crucified but he knew also the will of God. But the will of God for Jesus, although prophesying that he will suffer and die did not paint graphic pictures of the nature of his death. God is seen as the author but not in the way a novelist does things. God is in control not in the way of a master puppet but in the way that his servant obeys his command and way.
Jesus’ obedience was not something that was forced but something that he willingly undertook in response to the compelling love that the Father has bestowed upon him.
Here in the suffering and death of Jesus depicts both the sovereign act of God as well as the ‘open’ story to be completed. They are not divorced, but meshed. The sovereign God at work in humanity is always the meshing of sovereign and human dimension of viewing God. Somehow to gravitate to an extreme form of classic theism denies the mystery of Jesus’ humanity and to gravitate to the extreme in the open theism camp leaves out the overall plan of God in knowing the future. Again the mystery of the incarnation somehow forms a marrying of the two views in a mysterious way.
Belief in a true religion is seen as absurd because the coming of age, the age of globalization, and the validity of how similar religions are (seems to be by the way), as well as science being a well mannered position of thinking about the way the world is and that God’ at best is just an idea made in the tool shed of the pre-modern man.
To hold to a position that is dogmatic about faith is being insensitive and may lead (or others might argue, will lead) to unnecessary arguments and the possibility of wars.
So on the onset, if one wants to believe in a religion, one must say that it’s something that one believes personally to be true and might not be the same case for others. If one seeks to talk to others about the religious it must always cover general kind of issues and not sensitive ones. Talk about how good one religion is and agree on that. This sound like a statement harboring to a utopia that will lead to peace. Those who hold to pluralism, see this way as being the way forward.
One the other spectrum, science on the other hand easily debunks the reasonable argument for faiths. Spirituality cannot be put under the microscope, be tested in laboratory and all that. Science on the other hand is what people learn in school and what people see to be the consensus of what people take in as fact. Enough said. Science in making their rational view thus shames the believing people.
By all this coming to the fray, the Christian thus has difficulty in maintaining confidence in their faith as well as pose a rational argument for what they believe. Is there a possible approach to deal with these issues?
Well let me thus propose some suggestions:
1. The fact of pluralism in itself, that the person believing this position is the best (if not the only one) that would lead to global peace. But in making that statement, that pluralism is the way and thus arguing one this belief makes one dogmatic in a sense. They downplay the belief of others that hold to a position that their faith is true and tell these people they are dumb. But it seems the pluralist is the one who is rigid. Who believes that their way is the only way. For a true pluralist, would not argue a position or anything for that matter. They would be happy with one who want to believe what they want and simply claps and be happy with their position. With this we can state that at best the pluralist is as dogmatic as the radical Christian who says that Jesus is Lord.
2. On matters pertaining to science, one knows that facts though being there needs someone using their minds to the best of their capability to make interpretations of those ‘facts’ and come up with a concluding point in what these facts actually state to people about things pertaining to life. Well, one can argue that what makes the person’s interpretation of facts as valid because it is still prone to fall under the wrong interpretation. And also do all hold to a fact by being able to make their own judgments by them? I reckon only a professional mind would be able to decipher these things and make them available to the normal people. Science, although being reasonable has it’s faltering points too.
3. So, with that we as Christians can and should hold to our faith with all its confining dogma. If there are matters that can be resolved by reason, then by all means use them. But, the fact is that, Christianity is not something that one can reason on any grounds with. There are stuff that runs contrary to reason. So, for me, a 100% reasonable faith is not possible. There will always be contradicting issues but we hold to the fact that in Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with man. In Jesus is the fact in which we hold to. We simply proclaim what we believe. And we must expect receptivity or opposition. Everyone is given the right to push our beliefs away. But we still must incorporate proclamation or conversation. With that, instead of arguing Christianity with reasonable facts why not hold on to the fact of Christ- his life, work, death and resurrection. By definition, the way one holds to that fact lies in how they live that fact out through their life and the communities that they participate in.
I must say that these views that I’ve written are a development from reading Newbigin’s book “The Gospel in a Plurist Society.”
God’s love is not the culmination of pompous feelings that we have for God or that he has for us. Love is the reality that has been projected from his redemptive work so that we can live anew, prepared not by a response to a mistake but a predetermined plan before time for our sake, so that through that we can anchor our faith and hope in that one who has been faithful in vindicating the Lord we follow. That’s what makes loving God possible.
(This just might be a series but lets see how it goes…)
If there was a common theme that spreads through my life, it would be on the theme of struggling with God. Why a theme compounded on struggle?
I guess struggle best depict my life’s journey in a way. One form of struggle that I faced, one that started the strand of struggle, was the point in which my family struggled through with my dad’s bankruptcy and how that experience pervaded through our life. At that point I was seventeen and in the Malaysian educational context, I was in Form 5 and was facing a major exam. The news of my dad’s bankruptcy literally struck me. As my mum explained the bad new to me, I was numb after trying to make sense of the whole thing. There were a myriad of questions beckoning answers but I did not have the capacity to seek what lies ahead of a life shattered. The future seemed bleak.
Did it affect my studies? Not really because I wasn’t a good student for that matter. I was not dumb but I was lazy. I did not do revisions or study. So the outcome of my major exam was due to a lazy syndrome. I hated school. School was not the place I wanted to be in. Studying was the last thing on my mind. Books were a major bore to me. Well looking back at this, I wouldn’t have imagined I would be back in school and reading books again. Such a turn of events.
Life after the bankruptcy was hard. We had to move from the comforts of our 10 years living in a well to do house and familiar surrounding to a puny shop house, with two rooms, a small living room and kitchen. Life during those days were torrid.
During that time I dropped out of a private college because it was not something that I wanted to do. Business studies had no lasting impression on my mind. I was more attracted to the possibility of making it big as a rock band. We actually won a band competition playing two songs which my band practiced relentlessly. Every practice session was revolved around getting those songs to perfection. We played Korn’s A.D.I.D.A.S. and Blind. The angst of my teenage experience made me at one with the anger driven sound that Korn produced in their songs. Their songs were my staple diet during those days. I would come back from work and literally play the songs from their albums as my lullaby sending me to sleep. When I woke up, their record became my energy to start the day.
God was in the background of my life but he did not have any room to exist in my personal life. God was a detached figure, though respected, he was someone who was a distant player in the way life was lived. I had god conversations from time to time with my close friends. This was maybe because we were church attendants and part of the youth fellowship group. We were even baptized together. The whole gang that is. So some god talk was evident.
Life continued to get on the frustrating tract after failed attempts for my band to record a demo which plummeted me to depression. Financial constrains were mounting. My life was going no where and it looked to be a dark cloud looming in the background. Nothing seemed to be going in a purposeful direction. Life was a bleak experience to live in. It was like being trapped in a tunnel or a pit with no hope for help along the way.
That’s when the God and stuff about Jesus came in.
My conversion took place after a still small voice assured me of breaking the barriers that have kept me captive. A smoking addiction, a morbid taste for metal and a strong inclination on sexual fantasy made me unreceptive to God’s advances. But this voice said that these barriers can be overcome. There was a way of changing the situation. I believed the voice, which was comical to say the least. How could a person like me, who had no interest in the spiritual be open to the possibility of gaining some access to being a tad spiritual? This must have been something miraculous. The voice was able to convince a moderate skeptic. So that was the beginning of my spiritual journey. The journey to knowing Jesus and the life after that.
Believe me, it is not the story that has a triumphant display of suddenly being spiritual. Life after the conversion has opened some more questions. But the fact remains. Even after a life of struggle without God, life is still a struggle with God in the picture. I’m dismayed with testimonies that have a life struggling without God and then after conversion, life seems to change dramatically. In a way that is true but life is more complicated I would reckon. Life with God is still a struggle. Why? Isn’t it supposed to change with God in the picture? It should all the more. Not because God evaporates the struggling situations or hardships.
One reason is because since life without God was the previous life we knew, Life with God creates a new starting point of discovering. That discovery is what I would call as a constant deconstruction of how life is supposed to be lived now in the new experience. Because of that, struggle is more acute because living is a life lived against the tide. Our old life wars with the new. The task of renewing the mind is not something we are embedded with upon conversion. It is supposed to be sustained in the whole of life. So life now is a pull, a warring of the old and the new, of living like one in response with a revelation of living with God over against one that were were endowed with.
Unity is a claim we all adhere to. But the out working and modes of how it is therefore achieved is often disputed. It’s something we love to talk about and idealize but the task of laboring to attain it is not deemed important. Unity then is just a much loved catch phrase that we wear proudly like badges but in practice suck at it big time. We applaud the message but not the practice. We embrace the idea but push away what the idea implies. We love the prayer Jesus gave yet hate it at the same time. And so unity is just a claim still awaiting to be attained.
Love is an important element that is embedded in our faith. Without love there would not be such a thing called sacrifice. Nor should it last when polled together with faith and hope. It says love is the one that lasts. But like unity, love is also one of those words and creeds we ascribe to in theory (if there is something like a theory of love) but never more in practice. Our mouths are flowing with the message of love but we say “To hell with the fags,” for example or “your theology warrants you to hell.” There are more examples but love is not something we are good at. We love more in words than in deeds. James the brother of Jesus might as well swat our loveless actions because of that.
The forgiveness of sin is often preached that God loves us and our sins are forgiven. But as far as that truth is known, we don’t forgive people easily. It’s definitely a ‘God thing’ not a human thing for that matter since it is impossible. When someone does wrong we like the idea of the divine forgiving and pardoning but cringe when it is us who have to do it. Forgiveness is messy not to mention the reality of imperfection interlaced with it. We more or less are holding a banner that reads, “God forgives but his followers cringes at his decision.” We in truth are slow to forgive but fast to shoot down.
Church is something we claim to understand. After all we are called the church when we are Christians. Sunday is a day when we say we go to Church. But an understanding like that is a reminder that we have not grasped the meaning of church altogether because we treat church as a place or more likely, an event. Gone is the understanding of church entailing community and togetherness. Scripture, especially the NT letters are read with an individual stance, which to me should be corrected. Paul for that matter never intended that one person benefited from reading the letter. It was meant for a community hearing if that should be made known.
Looking through the aftershocks of seeking meaning in a claim, a full-blown profession only comes alive is there is lively expression. Well, lively not in the sense that we have to make things hype, making life lived loud. Like how they commercialize events or things like that.
It’s sad sometimes, having a faith we are convinced as “the one” but clearly live it out in the way that it becomes just a claim. A claim only for the mouth to savor. Am I pointing this fault at anyone? Am I a righteous freak and telling others that they are living their faith in the veins of just a claim? Sometimes I do that, I have to admit though. But sometimes I wonder myself, I’m more like everybody else. I do, from time to time live my faith in the realms of just a claim. It’s sad. Having a faith so true but living it invisible.