Sunday, 13 August 2017

A strange wish an angel granted me.

I dreamt that an angel appeared to me one day to grant me a wish. He told me that I could have whatever I wanted, riches, power and fame. He said to just name it and claim it.

But silly me, I didn't ask for all that. I didn't ask for things that were external to me. I thought neither riches nor fame would last. I thought they would demand more from me than I could afford to give in the long haul.

Yet, to the world, I look silly, right? I mean, who in this world doesn't need more money, more attention, more affection, and more power to enlarge one’s circle of influence? I guess I wasn't thinking straight. Maybe I was too dumbstruck by the moment to think logically or in practical terms.

So, I told the angel I only wanted one thing and it was a strange thing. It was strange because I don't think any ordinary person would have wasted a precious wish on it.

I told the angel that for one day, I wanted to not be a Christian as it was understood in the world today. It was a strange request, I know, but I actually asked it.

Even the angel was surprised. I recalled that he asked me thrice whether I was sure about it, and I nodded.

"Very well," the angel said. "A wish is a wish, though a strange wish."

And in that dream, I got my wish. For one day, I was not a Christian.  

I was therefore free from that label, and didn't have to pretend that I knew everything. For that one day, I started to welcome doubts back into my life without guilt. I was free to question faith, hope and even God. Nothing was off limits for me.

Like a child, I began to explore my boundaries, pushing the envelop of my belief, passionately curious about everything. I was inquisitive again, this time with a fire that I could not quench. And I felt alive, renewed, even refreshed.

When asked about the pressing issues of the faith, I was free to tell people that I don't know without feeling ashamed, inadequate or helpless. Neither was I expected to know them since I was not a Christian for that day, remember?

So, I told them that I do not know why God allow gratuitous suffering. I do not know why God did not intervene when a child was inhumanely violated. Or why evil sometimes goes unpunished in this world, even living in opulence, and seemingly being protected from the short reach of retributive justice.

Or why loved ones die young, why the righteous on earth suffer under the hands of the unrighteous, and why the clergymen we respected most lived their life no different from the people we respected least. 

The whys could go on and on and on...

No doubt I could speculate, conjecture or suggest a plausible explanation for all that. But at the end of the day, and I only have one day before the wish wears off, I really do not know the answer. And I didn't feel compelled to answer them so as to give the impression that I should or ought to have known. I don't need to be cocksure about it anymore. At least on that, I was free.

Maybe Socrates was right after all. He once said that he was wiser than everyone else because he knew that he didn't know.

Am I then becoming wiser by acknowledging the extent of my ignorance? Mind you, not any kind of ignorance, but an educated ignorance.

Mm...maybe this wish is not that strange after all.

As the hours passed in that day, I also realized that there was another freedom I felt bubbling within my spirit. It was the freedom to accept reality as they are, as they present themselves to me. I felt no compulsion to idealize the faith like a Christian would often do in order to psyche themselves up to irrational exuberance of some sorts (As an aside, I recall here that Bonhoeffer once said that when we love the vision of community we effectively destroy it. Just love the people within the community and you will grow with them).

This means that I didn’t see the need to tell others that God only wants to prosper them, bless them and enrich their estate and then feeling fake about it later on. Thankfully, I can dispense with all that. I can accept my station in life, as the day presents itself and savor it for what it is or what it brings – the  positive and the negative, all of which works out for the good.

In other words, for that one day, I don't have to put words into God's mouth and pretend that God's will for every believer - without exception - is the same, undifferentiated and unchanging - as if God is one-dimensional. If God deals with each of us differently, at different seasons of our life, then his plans cannot be like factory outlet production – standard, mass produced, uniform right?

Anyway, who am I to tell them that having faith means they will eventually become rich, problem-free and sailing through life? Or who am I to pretend that God's will in their life is to see to it that their life will be one about earthly promotions and accumulated wealth at every turn of their Christian journey? 

I recall here that Reinhold Niebuhr once said that "man is his own most vexing problem", and I guess the issue with us as believers is our deluded hope that serving Him, attending church, and giving to the ministry means that we have done our part, and God will then do His part to build a hedge of protection over our life and shower blessings like raining rose petals in our Christian walk.

In any event, is our faith to be reduced into this simplistic equation - a life of religious devotion in return for a life of assured prosperity and successes?

If that were so, we can then expect most believers, and there are about 2 billion of them altogether, to naturally and progressively rise to join the top 10 percent of society, living in large exclusive estates and till a ripe old age.

Surely, a Christian life is more than that right?

Unfortunately, and most obviously, this is not the reality we are living in, and I am not expected to tell that to every believer I meet the way prosperity preachers dish it out to their congregation with such guiltless pleasure.

And for as long as my wish subsists for that day, I am also not obliged to squeeze one scriptural elephant after another into the reality-of-life fridge by telling every believers quite unwittingly that "God's plan is to prosper them", that "He was made poor so they may become rich", that "they don't have because they don't ask" or that "if they ask, they shall receive."

Alas, every one of those scriptures is to be read in its own proper context. They are not magical scriptural wand used to wish away all our problems. And "rich" and "prosperity" in the Kingdom of God have such different (deeper) meaning from that which is generally understood in this world. For you can be poor and still be rich in God.

I am therefore free on that day to look at my life through the lens of everyday reality, and not delude myself into believing that misfortune is kept at bay just because I once said the sinner's prayer, or that prosperity is my assured destiny in the way some preachers are living it up on earth.

More importantly, I can live an authentic life without pretending that all is well with my soul. The reality is that sometimes, it is not well, and denying it will not make it magically go away. Sometimes, I have doubts. Sometimes, I am not as confident in the faith as a father, husband, son and believer are expected to be.

Sometimes, I question myself. I censure myself. Sometimes, I question God. I question His promises. I question his love in a cruel and self-gratuitous world. In other words, I can be honest with God without losing touch with my flawed humanity. I can tell God, “You are beyond me" or "Why, God?" And I can tell others, “I really don’t know.

And if the deep reality of things out there like quantum mechanics, dark matter and dark energy, and the wave particle duality still eludes scientists, then maybe in the world of faith where God is the Creator of all that, the gap of knowledge will never be bridged. 

Not being a Christian for that day, this gap is readily acceptable, even embraced with an unhurried heart because His love, mind and ways indeed surpass all human understanding.

As it is said, the more we know, the more we know we don't know. And this is where the spirituality of the atheist scientist and the spirituality of the earnest believer intersect. This is also where their searching minds and wondering hearts meet. More relevantly, this is our common ground - our mutual ignorance. Alas, we are back to the wisdom of Socrates?

So, the one day where I am not a Christian is the day I can stand by the atheists and start an open and honest dialogue with them. I can listen to their grievances about religion without them suspecting my sincerity. I can also suspend all judgment and seek to understand without the extra religious baggage.

It would be a special day of learning from each other where our common ground will inevitably draw us together. Seen in this light, maybe it is not a strange wish after all. By shedding the pretenses, cocksureness and complacency of being a Christian, I might just end up being a more compassionate, understanding and effective believer in return. Cheerz.

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