Monday, 30 June 2014

The evil that God creates

I form the light, and create darkness,” God says. “I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7). Understanding this scripture is tirelessly daunting. The light and the peace part are cool but the darkness and evil are less so. To a certain extent, it may even be self-incriminating. The idea that a peace-loving God is also an evil-creating one is jarring to the spirit and vexing to the soul.
But theologians have argued that the evil here refers to one other than the moral evil of humanity. It is therefore not an evil of sin or
 gratuitous cruelty but of adversity, trouble, misfortune, calamity and suffering. It is therefore of the natural kind with a supernatural endorsement, so to speak.
If so, does it make it any less self-incriminating? I know God’s sovereignty is boundless. It is unqualified and unconditional. Who is to tell God what he can do and cannot? Who dares add or subtract to His infinite wisdom and power? That much is of course incontrovertible. But as the sole author of all misfortunes and natural calamities (so says the scripture), what can
 we say about God then?
Picture a natural calamity, the killing of thousands, children left orphaned, parents left childless, and the land soaked in blood and sorrow. Is this an act of God? Is this what it means by the scripture, "I...create evil?" Who should we blame then? 
Now let’s turn to man-made disasters. Picture again the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the three mile island accident, and the Enola Gay's fateful mission to drop the atomic bomb on Japan during WWII. We readily
 put the blame on man for such man-made tragedy. That is our natural response and that much is again incontrovertible.
But, when we return to natural calamities like the Christmas Eve Tsunamis in 2004 and the numerous earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclonic storms, where does the blame lie knowing that the divine fingerprint is all over them? Shouldn't our response be equally natural then? And if so, why should the creation of or permission for such natural disasters be deemed as an act
 that is less morally culpable than the evil that men create?
Or is blaming even the correct approach in the first place considering that God does as he pleases (or omits as He wishes)?  Standing in the shoes of a Biblical apologist, surely there should be a nuanced distinction between a divine agent who creates evil of the moral kind, leading to death of thousands and sufferings of even more, and a divine agent who creates calamity and adversity, leading to the same amount of death and prolonged sufferings thereafter right? And
 the difference is in the underlying purpose of that authorship? That is, one evil is irredeemable and purely gratuitous, and the other is redemptive in nature. One is random and is evil for evil's sake and the other is by a premeditative divine act to bring about the best in us...right?
But is such distinction even practical or is it just too convenient? I dread to be the one singled out here to answer that question.
Here, I recall Romans 8:28 where all things work together for good in the 
ultimate end. And I am tempted to apply that scripture to all the biblical evil that God had created and will be creating in the tradition of Isaiah. Maybe our forbearance is worthwhile because a greater reward awaits. Maybe the eternity to be gain far exceeds all the pain and sufferings inflicted by the natural calamities that is divinely authored. Maybe we shouldn’t point the finger at Him when such a hasty blame game is not only premature but will soon turn out to be exceedingly embarrassing for us
 when we discover how all the good in all the bad that humanity have suffered would finally triumph to justify it all. Or just maybe God’s sovereignty is an OB marker for His believers. Maybe.
I guess this is how the paradoxical nature of the sovereignty of God works on this side of heaven. Although we will never appreciate the supremo-like intelligence and creative twists that go into the redemptive evil that God had diligently designed for our long term benefit, I imagine God assuring us personally and collectively to take it all in with hope and faith
 and to endure to the very last breath what he had morbidly prepared for us.
So, indeed He forms the light, and creates darkness, and makes peace, and creates evil. Everything is done by Him, for Him and through Him. He alone knows where our limit of endurance will stretch; even if it means stretching to the collateral death of countless. He alone sees the fruitfulness of what he had wrought for us, even if it is hidden from us for a reason beyond what we can possibly comprehend now.
And should we 
ever be chosen to brave through the scriptural evil that God has affectionately packaged for us, let it be with quiet resolve, persevering hope and a spirit of thanksgiving that we receive this most peculiar gift of a certain assured tragedy. Cheerz.

Friday, 27 June 2014

How do you describe your love for your wife to a stranger?

She's not all sugar and spice and everything nice that's for sure. That's my opening salvo and here comes the dynamite inside. I married Anna 14 years ago. It was a coming together to share two lives from Venus and Mars (or me Pluto?). It was like trying to smelt two iron bars together into a melded marital pot; and it sure took some time. And here comes my glacially evolving point to all this
(so please bear with me).

Anna was 5 years younger when I met her in school uniform. Yes, you heard it right the first time. We were young then not by choice. And romantic love is no respecter of age or for that matter brains; though I can't say I was more mature than her then. I fell for her the moment I set my eyes on her (it was a hard fall and I am still floored when I think about it now).

But the connection was nothing spiritual or magical or spiritually magical. We did not look into a cistern for some 
confirming divine signs or tested God like Gideon did with the wool and dew. Neither did the cosmic stars collide in an explosive spectacle. I think the stars were too busy studiously observing their own orbit to even bother. So coming back, it was definitely love at first sight for me with a tincture of adolescent sexual wonder on the side (that's a euphemism for that unchristian word "hormonal").

Our first date was therefore not exactly made in heaven like most couples would tell you about theirs. But I am sure Adam and
 Eve would have been proud since I had stayed true to their legacy, that is, when I first set my eyes on Anna, there was no one else. I was completely swooned by her like a school boy would find indescribable relief after releasing a bursting bladder held for the longest time. Pardon the bad analogy but it was an enraptured feeling of being one with her that I cannot fully describe. Not with words of course but we guys can viscerally relate to that ecstatic joy of full bladder relief.

Now let's get serious, bladderly 
serious. After the first date, the first go-steady, the first hand-holding, the first hug, the first kiss and the first will-you-marry-me, we consummated our love. And no consummation is a private affair. You can't do it privately for long because as of today, our consummation has resulted in three boisterous spawn of our loins with the youngest being the chattiest and also our most beloved consummation intervener. Pardon again for the unsolicited details.

At this point, I guess the stranger 
would be hoping that I switch seats to somewhere else. But here is how I end our brief encounter. Here is where I make up for lost time. It is the part about why I love Anna. I love her and still do and will always do. She is not perfect because a perfect life partner would only make me overweeningly unbearable to her. It would turn living together into a burden of accommodation like bearing with a perpetual spoilt brat.

So we are imperfect. The smelting iron is still sharpening each other, 
sometimes with more heat and sparks than is desired. But everyday since that day at the altar has been a transforming reality for me. I am dying to say here that Anna completes me but that would sound like a corny rip-off from Taylor Swift's endless guitar-riffed love ballad. However, blush or no blush, Anna completes me. She fits me snugly. When the officiating pastor declared that the two shall be one, he was not just tossing the scripture around like a used tissue. He was not joking. It's
 true. The two are becoming one; it's an everyday conjoining reality, a synergy of sorts.

In fact, I was in the train the other day and this thought suddenly rushed up to me with bladderly emergency: "Anna still looks as beautiful to me as the first time I said I do to her." And I would repeat that under oath even now. I swear. It was not even a thought I was thinking or pondering about at that time. It just came, unbidden. It was in my face. I would think a 14-year marriage would not be too preoccupied with such
 prepubescent romantic notion but it popped out nevertheless and out of the mystic blue.

Maybe my heart is trying to tell me that the two-in-one synergy is working out just swimmingly and there is more than enough of this synergy between us to continue in this life's journey together. Maybe my heart is trying to tell me that I have found my soulmate and her name is Anna. Maybe she's a keeper and my lover for life. Maybe, just maybe, "maybe" is a front for that resonating passion I
 am feeling for Anna as I share this with a stranger.

Well, I guess that's how much I love Anna, my wife, my partner-in-arms, my love riot, my better half, and my journey companion. I trust I got the stranger's attention and have done my bit to describe my love for my wife in the best way I know how. In the brevity of time of this encounter, I hope the stranger will go away inspired to pass on this little love story to another stranger he meets along the road to finding enduring love. Cheerz.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Plan of God or man?

This Straits Times headline stoked my interest: "Activist claims priest tried to molest him." (25 June 2014) So says civil society activist Vincent Wijeysingha when he alleged that on the pretense of a wrestling match, he was touched in the crotch area. The article continued with this, "He made the allegation on Monday night in a Facebook post that attacked the Catholic Church for its stand...that lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relations are "not in accordance
 with the plan of God."" 
Don't worry, I am not diving into all that errant-priest-sexual-deviant-gay-rights-god-loves-everybody-be-open-minded morass of never-ending screed. That would be too convenient but hardly fruitful.
What is more pertinent to me is to lament in a rather self-indulging way about the plans of God that the believers are so dead sure about. There is an old proverb that goes something like this, "God laughs when a man makes a plan." And that brings me to my point. I wonder whether
 God laughs too when we boast about his plan in our life. Of course there are the obvious plans of God like his redemptive works at Calvary, which believers know is beyond dispute (unless of course you are an orthodox Jew and are still looking for a messiah). But then, I am talking more about the presumptuous kind like "I know it's God's will that I marry her" or "I am dead sure God is telling me to invest in this company?"
My bewilderment is this, "How do we even know for sure?" There is also the one the social activist 
Vincent seemed so affirmative about as implied here: "Who says LGBT relations are not in accordance with the plan of God?" I am not saying that he is right or wrong, or for that matter, whether anyone who makes such statement about God's plan is right or wrong. Let's leave that aside for now. I am more amazed at the exuberant confidence some believers show in knowing the intimate plans of God.
It is as if they had an exclusive audience with the Master-Planner and the latter had approved their plan
 before they so immodestly announced it. Some of the believers even gave the impression (or insist that we take it as more than just an impression) that God had spoken to them via an inner prompting or through their own interpretation of Scriptures. It is like they had the divine seal of approval the same way Moses had when he came down from Mount Sinai with the Decalogue.
Now, these man-declared god's plans are rather strange, to put it mildly. They often, if not almost all of the time,
 conflict with one another. There seems to be no consensus at all. Putting aside which camp is right or wrong, I am sure the gay movement's insistence that their sexual orientation is within God's plan will in my view never see the light of day (at least not in the near future).
How about finding one's god-ordained soul-mate? Here the examples are even more strange. I have heard of a unilateral declaration of God's will to another very much to the chagrin of the latter whom God had not even spoken a word to.
 Go figure. Then, there are those who mutually resonated with divine approval that nearly broke the heavenly love bank. They were so sure that God had personally and lovingly match-made them that any voice of protest was immediately denounced as the voice of the devil. But when their courtship or even marriage ended up in irreconcilable bitterness, I guess they'd have wished that they had paid more attention to the voice of the devil instead. I think love is not only blind in their case but is also
How about the health and wealth gospel? Now that is one heavenly endorsement that some believers can never get enough of. "God's plan is for you to be rich" is a gospel jingle that rings most loudly in the coffers of those who bring it on most forcefully. This golden ticket to immeasurable wealth on earth has never failed to be taken out of context by both the deluded preachers and the gullible believers. If honey attracts bees, then some believers will make a bee-line for
 a finger-licking taste of this honey-pot promise of prosperity. And the self-assured conviction that it is in God's plan (together with the other deliberately understated plans of personal sacrifices, and persevering through trials) only makes the lack of craving for this bling-bling gospel a kind of spiritual stagnation to be discriminated against.
How about wars? It is not uncommon for leaders of warring states to declare with divine endorsement that God is fighting the war for 
them and their victory is therefore assured. Often, both sides are dead sure that they are in His sovereign plan. But then, didn't anyone tell them that there can only be one victor in the end? I can imagine the one who lost the war to have petitioned to a rather distracted deity? If not, I can imagine God either squinting in discomfort or laughing quietly as these desperate self-serving confirmation of his so-called plans ricochet in his holy chambers.
I wonder what was God's reaction when Jim Jones or David Koresh used his name to commit
 mass killing of the most despicable kind and claimed that the same was part of God's plan? He must be enraged of course; with this haunting refrain, "vengeance is mine...just you wait."
I think no other names have been used (or abused) more often than God's name as a disingenuous justification for allegedly divine acts with an unmistakable evil or personal agenda. If anyone had used the name of an earthly superstar or politician as an endorsement to commit the same dastardly acts, the
 namesake would have pursued the felon or group with the full brunt of the criminal and civil laws available to him or her.
I guess God's acquiescence or forbearance when some believers claim that their action is part of his divine plan is the main reason why they often get away with impunity for what seems like an eternity. But having said all that, I think when God's name is used to endorse a man-made plan, an ideology, an institution, a national creed, a political belief, a theology, a social culture, a tribal practice, a personal conviction, a self-centered desire, a conceited hope, a scriptural promise taken out of context, an argument, a religious authority, an academic theory, a secular composition, a musical performance, a movie about superheroes, a polemical position, an economic policy, a judicial pronouncement, a corporate agenda, a church rule, a religious sanction, an apparent fortuitous event (like a blessing in the form of striking the lottery), a papal encyclical, a fashion trend, a commercial success, an electoral victory, a scoring at the exams, a seemingly prophetic declaration, a pulpit message and a healing testimony (phew...), it is always wiser for one to hold his tongue first, meditate a little deeper and then double check with God later...much later. Because my concern is that we may have put our own words into God's mouth more often than we have allowed His authentic word to speak to us directly. Cheerz.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Facing Reality

Facing reality can be hard for some people. Although it doesn't help to say that I understand, I understand nevertheless. I know that your grim reality drains you. It sucks you dry. It leaves nothing but visceral dread behind. It is difficult to face them because you don't see much hope of ever overcoming it. You just don't have the strength. You just don't see the point. Here are some raw realities I have encountered (or read about) in my life.

There is the tormented wife and the reality of an unfaithful husband. It doesn't stop there. The husband is also unrepentant. He claims philandering as of right. He despises his wife for aging, for changing, for becoming less than what he had married her for. It is as if the long stick (of youth and beauty) he once drew at the altar suddenly grew shorter and shorter and he now blames her for his drawing and holding on to the short end of the stick in the marriage.

So he detests her deterioration. He wants a younger, prettier thing. He wants to be satisfied, not just sexually, but from the angle of his own vanity and pride. He wants a trophy partner, polished, new and gleaming. And not his wife, wrinkled, dull and aging.

That's her painful reality. That's her anguish. And time is not helping. Its hours and minutes are like the hungry mindless crowd in a Roman Coliseum, clamoring for the kill, mocking her, waiting for the final stroke to put her to sleep for good. And words of comfort only dull the pain, it doesn't take it away.

She is still lost. She is still lonely. And sometimes death seems like the only release. But something inside of her inexplicably resists that compulsion because it is just too easy. She can't understand it. She doesn't know why. But somehow that resistance is the last remaining strength she has that make sense in a world where all meaning has become too betraying for her to rely on.

Then there is the reality of a man who has lost everything in a tragic accident. His wife and children all gone. In one act, one cruel moment in time, everything changed. Every hope is lost. Every purpose stolen. Every thing that is pure and good died that day. It was so sudden a total severance that he is still reeling from it.

In fact, no amount of his present and future put together can make up for that one heart wrenching moment in the past. His life ended yesterday and he is merely existing today and the day after not by acts of self will but by default. Time again is a cruel master of fate. She grants this broken, irreparable soul not the courage to end it so that he could be delivered into the hands of blissful oblivion. On the contrary, time parcels on the torture, deliberately spreading it thin so that the tormented soul has just enough hope to delude himself that it is all a very bad dream. And this delusion is the only tenuous hope he has against the unbearable torture of his day-to-day reality.

I can go on with this. I can write about a mother praying for her young daughter who was abducted in the course of an overseas holiday. Since that day, she has not slept a wink. She is tormented by countless mental chambers of torture that her small and fragile mind doesn't have the space to contain them all. She is losing her mind. She is losing reality by confronting it. She cannot eat. She cannot work. She cannot end her life because she cannot bear the thought that ending it means ending all hope of finding her beloved child. Hers is a reality that she cannot face but it is also one that she cannot afford not to face. It is a reality of soul-tearing uncertainty that literally rots the inner most part of her soul.

I can also write about a child who is given a medical death sentence leading to an end most unspeakable or a financial ruin that will shatter a family to pieces or the compounded tragedy of a young girl of no more than 14 who was gang raped, abandoned by her family for dishonoring them, left on the street for death, and sold into prostitution - thereby never experiencing love of a kind that would give her the faith and hope for a kinder world. And her end is to die in complete anonymity with the welcoming arms of death as the only kindness she will ever come to experience in her brief and miserable life.

Alas, I think I have driven the reality stake deep enough into the heart of human pain and suffering. Nothing can ever prepare us for what these lives had gone and will go through. The reality they face makes ours a mere slap on the wrist. While I have no answers to the tragedy of living, and nothing of the sort that even comes close to providing some form of relief to their daily torment, I can only look at my own life and live it in quiet surrender and reflective humility.

Each of us has to face our own reality. And while it will not be as dreadful as some of the examples I have provided here, it will no doubt be a reality we will have to overcome before it overwhelms us. We can do ourselves a favor by facing our reality with some resilience, optimism and resolve. Because ultimately we live not for ourselves, we live for our loved ones who will one day face their own reality and will thereafter look to ours for inspiration and hope. That much we own it to them to live our life well and to make the most of everyday.

Here I recall a saying that you don't have to have the best of everything to be happy. You just have to make the best of everything. And that is contentment enough for a life not meant to live forever in this fallen world. Cheerz.