Dec 30, 2012

We all think we're right, but maybe we're all wrong.

"Just as the Infinite can never be totally objectified in words, always transcending our finite definitions of God, perhaps the words themselves, at least in their totality, also always lie beyond our reach, escaping any final objective meaning."

Christians never fully agree with one another on their beliefs. There are the many denominations, and then each individual chooses to accept and reject certain teachings according to his/her own understanding of God and the faith. How we perceive God is shaped by our era, culture, and personal experiences.  Is there a physical place called Heaven and Hell? Is a more Calvinist or Armenian outlook correct? Should baptism be conducted via sprinkling or immersion? Should babies be baptised? Is it right to do this and that?

Maybe all of us are right. Maybe none of us are. Who are we, anyway, to think we can even come close to understanding the workings of His Kingdom? And do the intricacies even matter? I personally believe that regardless of whether we're all partially right or completely wrong, what really matters is the desire to seek and love God. In other words, it's the motives that God wants you to get right more than the little details. He might not want us to fuss over these questions as much as He wants us to simply commune with Him and dwell in the relationship.

 John receives a very vivid vision of Heaven in Revelations. Is only his vision the right one? If anyone else - prophets, leaders of the Church, or even any sibling in Christ - receives a vision of what they believe is God's revelation to them about Heaven, are they all wrong if it doesn't correspond with what John describes?

 Of course not! Again, I'm quite certain that we could all be right, or wrong. Who knows for certain what Heaven might actually be? Whether a place or dimension or the Kingdom here on Earth, what does it even matter? Perhaps all the visions that people have received over time is just God trying to reveal Himself to each individual in a way that they themselves can somewhat fathom. Maybe it really looks nothing like what anyone has ever received in a personal vision. But with the limitations of the human experience and understanding, it is all that God can give us to help us understand a Heaven that is magnificent, wondrous and glorious beyond our imagination.

Dec 29, 2012

Where is God in tragedy?

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so:
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.
From Rest and Sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go--
Rest of their bones and souls' delivery!
Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!
- John Donne

I'd just like to start by saying that this post isn't meant to prove God's existence to non-believers; I'm not trying to prove anything in this post. This post is meant to provide a personal viewpoint for believers who are struggling to find God's love and care in a world of pain.

A friend of mine mentioned how in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, many people questioned how it was possible that there was a God in this world who would allow something like this to happen. How twenty innocent, potential-filled children and six wonderful, selfless adults could die at the hands of one murderer while God simply watched on.

I think it's important for the believer to remember that while God always has a good plan for us, He also loves us enough to give us free will. Because we are His children, He gives us the liberty to make our own decisions. And free will is something He has given all of us; it's a gift that He won't take away. And many times, our free will clashes with someone else's will or even God's will, and we can't help the fact that some use that will very destructively; that a man used his free will to destroy innocent, beautiful lives. And God let the consequences of his will play out.

What about natural disasters? I'm not going to try to justify it; I'm not going to pretend I know.

Then again, what is death but the ushering into a new life? I like to picture us as fish in a tank. When a person dies, it's like God takes a fish out of that tank and simply transfers him to another tank - the transition from the mortal to the eternal. And all of us in the first tank are distraught, because our friend is gone forever. God, why did you allow an innocent one of us to be taken away?

But he isn't gone. He's simply in a different tank, one we can't see.

Death is definitely destructive in other ways. The shortest verse in the Bible - "Jesus wept" - follows the death of Lazarus. Jesus was the visible image of of God on Earth, the full example of His love. And even though he knew that death was simply a transit into eternity, He cried at the thought of losing his friend here. Jesus, the full representative of God, cried upon a friend's death. Death destroys human relationships, and God Himself understands our pain of losing a loved one; it's just important to remember that it never ends there.

I pray that even when we're distraught and dealing with the immense pain of losing people we love, He reminds us that their real lives have only just begun.

There are a lot of related but separate issues, like that of poverty / suffering, salvation and the age-old question: "Why would a caring, loving God allow evil and pain?" All three issues are entire separate discussions and it'd take me too long to type out. Maybe I'll talk about them in another post someday, but I guess I can just give a really brief summary of my thoughts on those issues:

On poverty and suffering: I think all of us are born with a life's test, something we struggle with our whole lives. For some of us, it's emotional vulnerability. It could be things that many people don't see as wrong but might struggle with in their Christian walk, like greed, selfishness and pride. Maybe it's the struggle to be a filial child, or a responsible parent, or to stay true to yourself in a corrupt world. Maybe it's lust. And for others, this test could be sickness, poverty, disability. These 'tests' are a lot more tangible and obvious, but they're a test of hope and character, too.

Salvation: I believe that Jesus is the way to salvation. Now, I know that what I'm going to say next might draw a lot of questions and some might call me a blasphemer or whatever, but I don't believe that God will look at a non-Christian whose heart was full of kindness, love, selflessness and faith in a greater hope and say, "I'm sorry; you were a great person, but you didn't believe in Christ and therefore you're going to Hell." After all, aren't we all His children? Weren't we all made in His image? (If you then ask "Well then, why become a Christian?", Christ is a lot more than a ticket to heaven, and well, Christianity works for me; Jesus's authority and existence is real to me.)

Classic question about evil and pain: There's so much more to God than our comfort. He is so much more than a needs-meeter. I think most of us agree that God's more interested in our character than in our comfort. Remember Job? God allowed everything - family, possessions, health - to be taken away from him, but He had a much greater purpose. Remember Judas? God allowed Judas to choose to betray Jesus and cause Jesus's death - but there was a greater purpose, and Judas's betrayal became His way of elevating Jesus "to the place of highest honour".

These issues and more will take forever to discuss, and I'm not planning to delve into them in greater detail right now. This post isn't meant to justify my faith or justify God; I just hope it brought an alternative point-of-view to any Christian (or curious non-Christian) who struggles with questions like I do.

Into Your hands, I commit again

It's a hard day for me. Tears ready to fall, a mind wallowing in doubt. I don't know if the recent decision I made was the right one. What if I had taken the other road? Would God still fulfil this goal He has given me, regardless of the route I decide to take? Why choose the path of pain? Is it necessary?

And at worship, I bow my head and say, God, why? Give me strength to do Your will... Am I suffering for nothing? Does it even matter?

And they sing.
This is my desire: to honour You

And later it comes, a song I sang while leading Chapel in school: Into Your hands, I commit again, with all I am, for You Lord. 
It tells me that it doesn't matter whether or not God would have given me all the same blessings had I taken the other, less painful route. What matters is that I made the choice because I made my fear of God a priority, and that is a worthy sacrifice, and it's my thought process - how I arrived at this decision - that God sees. 

Dec 19, 2012

Literature and the Liberal Arts

Q: I'm having a real hard time deciding what course to do in University; it seems as if I can never make up my mind over what I want to do as an occupation. My interests are very similar to yours, so I was wondering if you could give me some advice?

You know what I'll say. Liberal arts!

I was very bent on going to the UK to do a Literature / Creative Writing degree, but after a while I realised that writing is not as much about learning how to write as it is about ideas. And ideas come from everywhere, every single discipline, every issue in the world. In the UK I'd have spent three years on Literature, and pretty much only that. I mean, there'd be the chance to take other modules, but not as much as I'd have liked. I don't think it would inspire me as much as studying a whole range of disciplines and issues would. The thing I love about the liberal arts program is that they teach you to view something through multiple lenses - not just that of a writer but also through that of a historian, economist, chemist, philosopher, psychologist, whatever! The liberal arts introduces you to a range of issues and teach you to view them in different ways, analyse them from every angle.

And then, when you've been exposed to the various disciplines, you draw links between them, because in today's world, no discipline stands alone. With these links formed, you then focus on your major, and then your major becomes more than just one discipline. It's everything.

Literature, to me, is not a discipline. It's a whole range of world issues. Studying Literature means studying how people write about different issues and portray the human condition. You can learn how to write by looking at how other people do that, but not without taking a journey through the root of their inspiration, the issues themselves.

So if you're looking to study Literature, go for the liberal arts. Learn about Africa's history, or genetics, or Confucian ethics, so that when you pick up a novel that happens to address issues like the slave trade or genentic testing on fetuses or Chinese family values, it means so much more to you.

The best part is, I have no idea what career I'll venture into in the future, too. Right now, I think I'll probably work with an NGO. But with a liberal arts education, does it matter? You have the ability to connect ideas and disciplines; analytical skills and critical thinking skills are useful for any profession; most importantly, anything can be learnt. If you feel like going into medicine or law or something else that's very specialised after that, you'll do a postgraduate, but what you gain in the liberal arts will always stay relevant.

Random lookback

Freaking can't stand the crap I write. It's so bad. T_T

Dec 12, 2012

English Language & Linguistics tuition!

Okay guys I know my blog hasn't been properly updated for too long. I've yet to summarise my UK trip, talk about Australia, and everything else. Here's a short post.

I'm currently giving ELL lessons to two students: a home-schooled girl and an army guy. Enjoying it a lot. I love ELL. ELL tuition is really hard to come by 'cos it's such a new subject and those who are willing to teach it are mostly currently teachers who will probably charge you too much.

So. If anyone ever wants ELL lessons... contact me! I wasn't actually good at ELL in school until the last bit of J2, so I'm not one to contact if you're already doing it in school and just need an extra boost to make sure you get that A. But if you happen to be a home-schooled student or if you're retaking the 'A's as a private candidate and all, I'll be more than happy to help!

Dec 3, 2012

The easy way out

My flesh and my heart fail,
but God is the strength of my heart 
and my portion forever.

My grandmother told me about my aunt who had a terrible relationship with her mother-in-law right up till the death of the latter. My aunt was a Christian and had influenced her husband, and the husband's family hated that. Don't get baptised, said my grandmother. That way, if your husband was a Taoist or something, you could just convert, and you wouldn't land yourself in the same fate as your aunt.

The best thing to be, my grandmother said, was a free-thinker. That way, you could attend any religious festival. You could eat at a church or at a temple. You could pay your respects at a funeral with joss sticks or a prayer. So much easier, no conflict.

Faith was never the easy road. That's why it's worth anything at all - you believe in a God who loves you, and you want to spend your life loving Him, too. It's a high price to pay, but it's not about convenience. It's not about me and what's best for me. I'm no longer myself, I no longer live; Christ has taken my place in my life. It's about Him.


I said, well, why not? And he said I don't want you to take this road just because it's the easier one.

I made a difficult decision today. I decided not to take the easy way out. My life shouldn't be about me. I want He who is in me; I want to be His broken vessel.

I made a tough decision, and I hope I successfully stick through it, stay true to myself. I could have said yes and had a good time. It was so easy. So easy to linger in the comfort of limbo, or to make a convenient choice.

At worship today, I bowed my head and said God, I did this because I want to put You first. Won't You acknowledge it? Won't You come and be here with me? Is it worth it? Worth You?
And then the eleven-year-old sang:

I have a hope so sure; an anchor for my soul 
My peace in the worst of times, I trust in God alone 
Let every voice declare it now

My God reigns; His love will never fail me 
My God reigns; He's ruling over all 
In all my life, in every situation I know
My God is greater; my God is over all

Look into an old person's eyes.

You are cowering against the wall, enduring hunger pangs and gun shots. You are watching your siblings die in the hands of a faceless Japanese.

You are mourning over your hero of a father, but you must stay silent.

You will suffer, you will toil, to make sure your own future children will have a good life.

You're a timid mouse on the streets that reek of brutality. You hurry past a soldier. A blow. A stream of shouts across your head: you forgot to bow. You feel the flash of fear, real fear, where you don't know if you'll live another day.

Peace is nothing but a faraway dream; one they say you must forget. You force yourself to take these grains of nothing and create your own courage now, all by yourself, because the world always tramples what you live for.

You watch the smoke clear and a small, rebellious spark in your heart hopes that hell just might be passing over, even if only for a day.

And you realise, in the blink of an eye, that the poverty and simplicity you've always known have disappeared; this island has been scrubbed clean of its bloodstains, like none of it ever happened. Spick and span, gleaming with skyscrapers and technology, university degrees are given out like food rations; children are whining about not getting the latest video games. Your own kids have left you to lead a better life, just like you've dreamt for them.

But the Singapore you know is an old, old lady, a friend you haven't forgotten; her veins bleed stories of suffering and tears. The younger ones don't get it, they don't care. They don't see this old friend of yours; they see her immaculate makeover, complete with botox, whitening and spotless glamour. History is little more than banana notes and torture tales. Oh, how much you want them to know. You try so hard, but you can't do more than relate excruciating memories that live in your head as vividly as yesterday, at a family gathering around the dinner table. They don't bat an eyelid because the stories are too dramatic to be relatable. Too much to seem real.

You never thought you'd hit eighty, you never thought you'd be one of the tired ones. You feel it with every day. Your pace is slower, heavier. Your pauses are longer. Your voice is feebler. You are but a speck slowly disappearing into the wind, and the stories will be gone forever.