It seems that when one picks up the newspaper or goes on the Internet to be updated with the happenings of the world in recent times, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed with the number of world-changing incidents. While sitting in a cafe in Wellington, I picked up the Dominion Post and read through the coverage on the Memorial Service for the recent Christchurch earthquake and the updates on the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises in Japan. Recently, my colleague sent through a link to the New York Times which showed ‘before-and-after’ satellite photos of Japan’s major cities Too much destruction. It was difficult to go through the pictures. Not to mention the thousands of lives lost and millions more affected by grief and death: the women who have lost the husbands of their youth, the men who have lost the love of their lives, the children who are now left without the comfort and love of their parents, of friends now gone and familiar faces no longer seen. Not forgetting the continuous crises that are happening in the Middle East, with the latest being the UN-sanctioned bombing of Libya by the United States,United Kingdom and France, with Italy offering its military bases, and Canada sending in more weaponry. These events are occurring alongside other issues that humanity as a whole are still struggling with it; specific issues such as the rule of the military junta in Myanmar, dictatorship and absence of human rights in North Korea, extreme poverty and AIDS in Africa, the American-Iraq war (which seems to be going on with no absolute end in sight), Israeli-Palestinian conflict etc, just to name a few. Other general issues that we are still struggling with for far too long include human rights, eco and social justice, poverty, domestic abuse, gangs, sex-trafficking and drug rings, and high crime rates in general. Everyday, someone is dying and in pain through no fault of their own.
It got me thinking seriously about the meaning of humanity, of existence, of life and of death. Cities that took hundreds and thousands of years to build are gone within minutes. Wealth that we spent years accumulating are destroyed with one stroke of nature’s hand. All things on earth are temporal – this phrase echoes true. There is nothing that we amass here which will last forever, and there is nothing here that we can take once we leave. And death is definitely certain for all. These issues once again reminded me of the reality of this world – while in many facets, the world carries so much beauty, elegance, logic and culture, it is also a place filled with suffering, decay, tears and lost. The above events mentioned depict grief that are very obvious, but there are also sufferings that are hidden – hidden within people who seemed to have it all and who are able to achieve anything; people who go about their day-to-day lives with masks on their faces but behind the facades, pain is always there. In thinking about these things, I used to wonder about the meaning of it all – if all things are temporal and the world is in so much pain, then what is the meaning of life? What is the reason for my existence? However, I realised that the most important question is not about me, but this: What can I do to bring change? And it is in asking this question, that I can shed some light, at least for myself, on the meaning of life and of existence. It is not about me. It never was.
I cannot deny the faith tradition from which I would continue to write on from here. For various and genuine reasons, one may agree or disagree – we live in a pluralistic world and freedom of thought and belief must be upheld in the highest manner. In explaining my worldview, I often like to quote C.S.Lewis, who famously wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” In light of the events that are unfolding in the world, I am reminded of one simple statement:”Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world”, which, at many times, have given me the confidence to know that my existence matters, my life matters, and with God’s over-arching control, nothing is impossible and too difficult to achieve. Privately and individually, one can only do so much, thus, the importance of the movement of the global Church. The Scriptures prophecy about the new creation that is to come, the renewal of all things, of joy without sadness, of life without death, of the reign of God and the banishment of sin, and the union of new heaven and new earth. But again, the main question is not about the end – I know the end (or at least, I try to believe it. Sometimes I am Doubting Thomas!). The main question is about my participation in contributing towards this end. How do I participate in bringing about this new order? Again, this is not about me. It never was.
In reading about the life of Jesus throughout the Scripture, I am continuously amazed on how ‘action-focused’ he was. Alongside teaching and His proclamation of God, both His hands are continuously working within communities who are broken-hearted, poor and suffering. He spent most his time with men who are considered to be drunkards and unclean by puritanical Pharisees – tax collectors, Gentiles, people with infirmities etc. Most of His closest followers were women, who did not have any rights or legal standing in a heavily patriarchal society. He translated the spirit of the Old Testament Law so perfectly in His teachings, actions and words, with total disregard for and nonchalance towards legalism. Above all, He was working continuously within the reality of this world, with full awareness and participation of its brokenness – never aloof, never above-it-all, and other than times for prayer, never separated from people. And after this, I read of his followers who with their own brokenness, insecurities and imperfection tried their best to follow their God – a God who considered the world important enough to warrant the biggest sacrifice for its redemption. The God that I seek to follow and obey is the God who participates in the world and who has borne the struggles, pains and temptations of humanity.
In light of this, what, then, should be a Christian’s response? If one publicly declares him or herself as someone who abides by this tradition of faith, as someone who follows this man call Jesus, then what are our responses and actions towards the situation of the day? Do we stand by the side-lines and watch the world wither away while we wait for Armageddon, or do we participate in the renewing of the world that is sure to come? It is common within Christian communities to think of God as some sort of Santa Claus, that with the right formulas, with the right actions and the right amount of prayer, life will be all good and sweet – that there will be wealth, joy and prosperity for ourselves and our families. How does this image of God reconcile with the apostles and followers who, till this day in certain countries, are persecuted, hunted, punished and killed for believing in and serving Jesus? How does the image of the Santa Claus God reconcile with the many who have contributed and sacrifice time, money, resources and talent, forsaking the glamour of big cities and prestigious careers to work towards giving hope and opportunities to those who are abandoned, forsaken, poor and dehumanised? And yet in poverty, these people found wealth; in danger, they found security; and in death, they found the true meaning for living. In fact, how can any church even preach of such a God when suffering exists as far as the eye can see? It is a blatant mixture of the unholy Trinity – the I, Me and Myself – with God. Something is wrong. Terribly wrong. Furthermore, how can we preach of a God who loves and provides, and yet withhold and hoard what we have to satisfy luxuries and excessive pleasures? How can we separate ourselves from the world in the name of purity and holiness when Jesus himself mingled with lepers, the most unclean within the then-Jewish society?
I do not pretend that I am free of such guilty actions – of course I am guilty. I live a comfortable life, I have a good job and I have money. And all who know me knows how much I love things that are beautiful and excessive. But every time I read of Jesus and think of His life, I am convinced that it is not about me. It never was. I do not doubt his blessings towards me – his love, providence, grace and mercy – but I have these things so that I can translate them into actions that would serve others. Again, I do not propose that I know how to do them right, but I am convinced that despite my weaknesses, I should try. But it is difficult to try because this runs counter towards the norm. Let’s take education as an example. It is very common, particularly in Asia, to have a very set route towards education. We must excel academically so that we can go to university. When we’re in university, we must excel so that we can find a good job. And once we have found a good job, we can then buy the big house, the big car and have the big bank account – and then life will be amazing. I would very much like to walk into a lecture hall in a university and to address the students by first informing them that the very fact that they are sitting in that lecture hall, meant that they are the minority 5-10% of the world who would get to see the insides of a higher education institution. There are people who are still fighting and dying for the joy and the pleasure to read and write. I would like to tell them how much of a privilege it is to be a university student and to have the opportunity to learn, to question, to ask and to debate. That such an opportunity is given to them meant that they have so much more opportunities in the world for influence and for change – the future leaders of the world. Imagine how much change can happen, if everyone within that lecture hall would decide to live their lives beyond the confines of their pleasure, but to consider themselves as a participator in the world; to believe that if they extend their hands towards others, change for the better can, and will, happen. If not in their lifetime, then in the next generations that are still to come.
I don’t think change – or at least, permanent change – happens with a few men or women doing extraordinary things, albeit they are some in our human history, who are such wonderful beings. But I think great change can happen when normal people – people with weaknesses – decide to think beyond themselves, and practice that in small acts everyday. It is the single mother who is working 3 jobs so that her kids can have a better life after she is gone. It is the husband who decides to go home to the wife of his youth, rather than cheating on her with his secretary. It is the employer who decides to create a good working environment for his /. her employees, and to think of people as more than an expense line. It is the mother who continuously gives strength to her son; it is the father who always cherishes her daughter (there are places where this does not happen very often), It is the pastors and missionaries who, with one hand preach of Jesus and salvation, and with the other, try their very best to provide food, shelter, education and medicine to those who need them the most within communities. One can never know how actions, both big and little, can change lives. I truly believe in the ripple effect of actions and omissions. The one truth that I try to have in my mind is this: there will never be another you that is like you, in the past, in the present, or in the future. You are uniquely you. Having this in mind helps me keep away from thinking of people as huge masses – that person is someone’s brother, someone’s sister, someone’s lover, someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, someone’s husband, someone’s wife.
I am still discovering for myself the answer to the question posed previously: “What can I do to bring change?”. And I think that this question should be considered by all despite of worldviews and beliefs. Because we are connected to one other, impacting each other, and living in this world together. The average human lifespan is but 70 to 80 years. I would like my existence to count for more than the wealth that I have amassed or the career that I have achieved. Because wealth and career can be destroyed within minutes. It is by following Jesus and loving people that eternal treasures are stored up in heaven.
I came across this story recently:”In AD 1000, 186 years after the death of Emperor Charlemagne, officials reopened the great king’s tomb and encountered an amazing sight. In the midst of all the finery buried with him – the gold, the jewels, the priceless treasure – was the skeleton of King Charlemagne, still seated on his throne and with the crown still on his head. On his lap there lay an open Bible and one bony finger rested on these words: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Author’s note; Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children, then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for, then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out allegories to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images: a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.
I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices, almost as if were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death. And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again!
“Safe?”, said Mr. Beaver, […]“Who said anything about safe'? Of course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you!”
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer. “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.
“You come from the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve”, said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content”.
“But who is Aslan? Do you know him?” “Well, he knows me”, replied Edmund.
Aslan whispered to Lucy: “Courage, dear heart!”
“Oh Aslan,” said Lucy. “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?” “I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. “But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.”
‘It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?” “But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan. “Are – are you there too, Sir"?” said Edmund. “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
“You would not have called to me unless I have been calling to you,” said the Lion.
Nothing now remains for us seven but to go back to Stable Hill, proclaim the truth, and take the adventure that Aslan sends us.
Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the glass there may have been a looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones; yet at the same time they were somehow different – deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story; in a story you have never head but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked like it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that; if you ever get there you will know what I mean. It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia so much is because it looked a little like this.”