"If you want a religion that makes you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." (C S Lewis)
So true, so true. Ours is a religion of blinding paradoxes and numbing discomfiture. We have a God who is all powerful; and yet was portrayed all-powerless at the Cross. A God who created us; and yet like orphans we rebel and disown him. A God who loves without reserve; and yet is seemingly reserved when gratuitous sufferings abound. A God who promises us greater things we shall do; and yet most times, the greatest thing the greatest amongst us have ever done was to suffer most greatly.
Indeed, Christianity is not to be recommended for the faint hearted. It is one religion that, if truly lived, will break you first, most sorely, even irreversibly, before it gives you hope. But this hope is not served on a silver platter, but on a broken chalice. More to the point, it is served at the Cross of Calvary, where the Creator was offered to his creation to do its worst. Aristotle once said, "To perceive is to suffer." Christianity does more than perceiving. It is transforming. And it transforms you with repeated blows on the anvil of sorrows and pain.
Let me present this paradox in the most visceral way possible for me. This is a tale of two havens. The first haven is the Orphanage of the Missionaries of Charity and the second is a non-descript church. Both places hailed from Rwanda. And the year was 1994. It was the year of the horrifying Rwandan massacre. This is the plain statistics: three months and 800,000 lives. It was to be history's most swift and efficient genocide. My source is from the book, "Against a tide of evil", by Dr Mukesh Kapila.
The first haven (Orphanage of the Missionaries of Charity) was a shelter for many young children whose Tutsi parents had begged the diminutive sisters for refuge from the merciless hands of the Hutu rebels. This was how their deliverance was recounted in the book by the head sister, "When the Hutu soldiers and militias heard what was happening, they came here...We (the sisters) stood in the entrance and blocked their way. We told them, "You cannot come in - this is a sacred place of God." And you know, those militias and the soldiers - they turned and went away."
To the sisters’ steadfast show of courage, Dr Kapila wrote in reply, "Yours is a story of the most extraordinary courage...You have made me believe again that there has to be a God, even in the midst of this sorrow and this bloodshed."
Now embrace yourself for the second haven. This time, Dr Kapila was drawn to a church in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. There was a burnt stench coming out from the church.
When he stepped into it, this was what he saw, "The first thing I noticed was the pulpit and the hymn numbers on the board on the wall. Beneath that was a tangled heap of bodies - men, women, old people, kids, babies even. I saw women with naked tops and their breasts hacked off. I saw a baby clutched to his dead mother's breast, but with its legs hacked away. The place looked as if it would normally hold a congregation of around 200, but the corpses of at least 1,000 people were piled in there...There were even severed hands still clutching the bibles with which those in the church had been praying."
Alas, there is no better way to say this but if Peter Parker's uncle Ben was right ("With great power comes great responsibility"), then shouldn't God answered their prayers? Maybe the simplest reply to that is this, "God is no comics hero?"
Here, I pause for a deep sigh and continue with what Robert Frost wrote, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less travelled by, and that made all the difference." I also recall Jesus once admonished us to do all we can to take the narrow road. This I guess is why Christianity is so darn "un-recommendable" or is such a hard sell.
I can picture its brochure. It is a narrow road, cramped I suppose. It may even be one overlooking a certain fall, a certain death. I postulate it to be dark, dank and dreary. It is also a lonely road. And it is definitely a road without the usual creature comforts. Cold. Chilly. Creepy. Maybe. You take this road at your own peril, at your own risk. Should you choose this road, all bets are off. You may even enter a world of reverse expectations. Blessings become curses. Wealth becomes poverty. Health becomes illnesses. And life becomes death.
Let me end with how I view Christianity and I can say it no better than in Dr Kapila's own description. He wrote about the horror of wanton amputations in Sierra Leone. Here is an extract of what he had observed: "...the RUF rebels had specialized in amputations - chopping off arms and legs with machetes - as a means to spread total fear. The mother was cradling her child with her one surviving hand. I was mesmerized: such incredible grace juxtaposed with such mindless brutality."
I see the same juxtaposition in Christianity. Most unfortunately, it is not one primarily of wealth and health (although blessings do abound in many lives I know). It is not one of a long life and a good one. It is not one of success and more successes.
But it is one of grace unsparingly and suffering unremittingly. It is one between love personified and suffering magnified. It is one where with one hand, God is carrying us, and with the other, He is bearing the Cross. Quite frustratingly, it is one of too many paradoxes and I guess it would take much longer than my lifetime to understand. Maybe in all that, it is also one between life and a certain eternity. And it is an eternity worth enduring for. Maybe. Cheerz.