Lazarus! Come forth!

Those of us who have been Christians for a significant amount of time are familiar with the story of Lazarus. It’s a story that is widely known. Many sermons are preached from this story. It shows Jesus’ humanity as well as his authority. It’s a story of triumph over death. A story of love. A story of life.

Let me reiterate the story quickly. In Bethany, a man named Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was sick. Jesus’ relation to this family isn’t mentioned in the gospels. But the family had known Jesus and Jesus knew them. John says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. So, the relation was dear and deeper. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent for Jesus urgently. The sisters knew that if Jesus comes, Lazarus won’t die. They knew and believed. And Jesus loved them.

When the message did reach Jesus, he stayed where he was for 2 more days. After 2 days, Jesus declared to his disciples that Lazarus was dead and they should head towards Judea so that he can “awaken” him. When Jesus arrived near Bethany, he found that Lazarus was buried for four days. Jesus met Martha and Mary. He wept. And then, he raised Lazarus back to life.

All study of scripture is the study of God. It is the study of his nature. It is the observation of his love. By studying scripture, we come closer to him. So, when we study this story, we must also apply the same principle. The part of Martha and Mary in this story is merely human. What I mean to say is, if caught in a similar situation, our actions would not be too dissimilar from those of Martha and Mary. But all actions of Jesus are extraordinary.

First of all, when Jesus receives the news that Lazarus is sick, he delays. Why? When Jesus received the news, he was about a day’s journey from Bethany. When he reached Bethany, Lazarus was buried for 4 days. Jesus delayed only 2 days. Maths tells me that Lazarus was dead 1 day before the messengers reached Jesus. Jesus knew this. And saw no reason to hasten. But this was for God’s glory, that he would raise Lazarus after 4 days, when there was no doubt regarding his death.

Second, when he finally arrived to Bethany, after meeting Martha and Mary, he wept. If he was going to raise Lazarus, why did he weep? Why wouldn’t he weep? He was touched by the grief of Mary and the people who came with her. The words of Mary, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” struck his tender heart. He was distraught and could no longer keep his composure. He wept.

It is not surprising that he wept. But it is surprising that we ask such a question. Why do we think that his tears were rendered ineffectual by the impending resurrection? Can it be that we are too easily intoxicated by power that we forget our humanity? Maybe we are. But he is not so weak to let his power harden his heart or to let his heart be deafened to the cries of his children.

Though Lazarus was dead, he was not completely lost. Life, was looking for him. “Where have you laid him?” he inquired. And though grave was sealed, he told them to roll away the stone. In the grave, lay Lazarus. Silent. Slayed by Death, the last enemy. In the grave, lay Lazarus. Loved by Jesus. Loved, though beyond the grave. As the crowd was looking, Jesus shouted in a great voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” That thundering voice shook the pillars of the underworld. For which death had consumed, God had called. A grave was opened. A requisition was made. The belly of death was torn asunder. Lazarus was reclaimed. Dead, he went into the grave. Alive, he came out!

The same voice that called Lazarus back to life speaks even today. The one who defeated death is alive even today. He is eager to give life to those who will receive him. He declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.”

In Defense of Faith

This post came into being as a result of a recent debate on Facebook. The debate was about different religions. While discussing the whole range of issues covered in that debate is out of the scope of this post, I’d like to comment on one particular point that I wasn’t able to explain articulately during the debate.

During the debate, a statement, which I don’t see as an argument, was used as an argument. “Christianity is based on faith”. This statement was brought up repeatedly as if it was weakening the case for Christianity. I have written about faith earlier. If you’re interested, you can read this and this. However, this post should stand on its own.

It seems that it’s assumed that if anything is based on faith, it has no connection to reality whatsoever. However, my relationship with my friend is also based on faith. Does that mean our friendship doesn’t really exist?

In our times, where empiricism reigns supreme, it has become a fashion to denounce anything that has any relation to faith whatsoever. And if that thing is religion, even more so. But if a faith is based on reason (as my post here illustrates) then denouncing that faith is equal to denouncing the reasons of that faith. Let’s look at the central claims of Christianity and see if they are reasonable.

  1. Existence of God

    “If there was no God, there would be no atheists.” – G. K. Chesterton (Note: That’s not an argument. I’m just poking fun. Listing down all the arguments is out of the scope for one blog post. However, if anyone wants to argue, I hear comments are the place to be!)

  2. Historicity of Christ

    Wikipedia says, “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed historically”. So, if any of you have doubts about his existence, take it up to the “modern scholars of antiquity”. Whoever that might be…

  3. Resurrection of Christ

    Yes, I know, it’s a crazy claim. You know what’s crazier? The alternative. Suppose Christ was never resurrected but still, there are 2.2 billion people in the world believing that he did. How? The most common response is that they were raised up to believe that. So, there’s a boy who believes in Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. He grows up and stops believing in Santa Claus but still believes in Jesus Christ even more intensely. Why?

    There’s a better question. If Christ was never resurrected, how and why did the greatest civilization on earth at the time, Rome, after opposing and trying to exterminate Christianity for nearly 3 centuries, bowed to the cult of “one dead man”?

    The answer to both of these question can be given in one simple statement. “He was resurrected.” Every other explanation comes from either the tea table of conspiracy theorists or the people with an agenda.

    (Note: If you want to study the matter in detail, the case for the resurrection is well described in the books of Lee Strobel. If you’re not the reading kind, try a video.)

I can write much more about the subject, but for now, this should suffice. None of these three claims can be justly eliminated. But still, there remains a subconscious bias against faith, that anything based on it should be thrown out. Only the things that are empirically verifiable should be trusted. This is a recipe for madness. Because, if faith is ever eliminated from our daily lives, reason will go with it and what will remain, will be unreason.

Let me illustrate. Let me tell you a story of a man who decided to eliminate all traces of faith from his daily life. Incidentally, (or consequently) on the same day, he fell sick. Being an empiricist, he took a thermometer and checked his temperature. The mercury was at a level where it shouldn’t be. So, he decided to go to a doctor. He wanted to take a taxi, but couldn’t bring himself to trust any taxi driver. So instead, he took his bike and somehow managed ride it to the nearest hospital. After filling some forms, registering his case and waiting in a long queue, at long last, it was his turn to go to the doctor. And this is what happened in the doctor’s office: The doctor said, “How do you feel? What’s the issue?” “I’d like to see your license to practice medicine.” “What?” “Your license. Please.” “Is this some kind of surprise inspection?” “No, I just want to make sure that you have a proper license” “Well, I don’t have it on me right now… it’s at home. But, you don’t look so well. Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” “I can’t do that. How do I know you are a doctor?” “Well, I’m working at a renowned hospital which has very strict regulations for hiring…” “Well, you could’ve paid your way to your job…” “Seriously?” “I’d like to see those strict regulations…” “Mister, there’s a long line of people waiting outside who need my help. So, please, can you stop being so difficult and let me diagnose you already?” “No. I want proof that you’re a doctor.” The doctor picked up a phone and called security, and security escorted our hero out of the hospital.

Still, not feeling well, he went to another doctor. The doctor, fortunately (or unfortunately) was able to show him his credentials, but it was from an authority that our hero didn’t recognize. So, he decided to not get treated and instead look up the authenticity of the said authority. He hired a private detective to investigate the said authority. The investigator said that he’d contact him back 3 days later with the required information. Still sick, going back home, he realized what a grave mistake he had made! He “put faith” in a private detective without checking him out… “The fever must be getting to my head…” he said to himself. Went home and rested.

Long story short, two weeks later, he was still sick and his credit card was overdrawn. In his mad decision to never put faith in anything, he had managed to anger 4 doctors, 3 private investigators, 1 police officer, a parrot (don’t ask) and the head of the medical department of a renowned hospital. It was a public spectacle at his home, when on the morning of the 15th day of his life changing decision, an ambulance came and our hero was dragged to a lunatic asylum, kicking and screaming…

That story never took place in reality but it’s a very plausible scenario. And if only one person’s mad decision can cause so much havoc, what will happen if the whole world made a similar decision?

There’s one more point that I’d like to make. Someone might say that the use of faith in our everyday lives and religious faith are two different things. To those people, I’d like to ask a simple question. “How is it different?”. To me, both of them are one and the same things. Both of them depend on reasons. And these reasons are available for everyone to evaluate and criticize. As for me, I’ve not found a single philosophy/religion/belief system that is as worthy of trust as that of the crucified Christ.

Why doesn’t God just kill the devil and lets him roam around?

Recently I came across a question. It goes like this: When the devil first rebelled, why did God not just bring out a heavenly shotgun and shoot the devil in his face? A second and related question is, why does God let the devil roam free around the world? This is my response:

Let me predicate my answer by saying that all this talk is like two fishes born and brought up in an aquarium talking about what happens in the ocean. Just keep that in your mind. Now, let’s get on with the answer.

First of all, let’s play out the events that happened before the creation.

  1. There is a rebellion in heaven and the devil is defeated and cast out from heaven into the infernal lake of fire.
  2. Heaven and earth is created.
  3. Man is created in the likeness of God and given free will to choose to love or reject God.
  4. Devil comes and tempts Eve. Adam and eve commit sin. A perfect world is shattered.

This is our stage. Question no 1 arises in the step no 1.

Why was the devil only cast out instead of being destroyed completely? In response to that question, another question needs to be asked. What do you call a person who rules with unrestrained force and kills anyone who opposes him? A dictator. That’s what. Are you asking for God to be a dictator? If God had done that, the devil would’ve been right in leading an rebellion against such a God. Since he would be rebelling against a dictator.

There are also a few matters in this situation that we need to keep in mind.

  1. A simple battle in heaven cannot fully display how truly horrifying sin is.
  2. Destroying one rebel by force doesn’t make sure that another one doesn’t arise. The only conquest that lasts eternally is a conquest by love.
  3. The reason Lucifer led the rebellion was he wanted to be greater than God.

To address these issues, God creates a plan. Heaven and earth is created and man is created in the likeness of God. Here he addresses point no 3. No one can be greater than God since God represents the greatest, highest most perfect being that exists. God creates man in his own likeness. A being who has potential to walk with him as equal. (Notice that I am using the word potential. Man wasn’t equal to God at the time of creation. But by virtue of being created in his likeness, he has this potential. This potential is fully realized later in the life of Jesus.) So, first of all, God removes the motive of the rebellion. What Lucifer fought for is given to men for free.

To address the second point, the implementation of “No more rebels” policy in heaven can be done in two ways. First is a very simple method. There is an idiom in hindi which says “Na rahega baans, na bajegi baansuri” which can be roughly translated in English as “Without a bamboo, a flute can’t be played”. A simple “No more creation” policy would make sure that there are no more rebels. But that would be taking away the good with the bad. One might also say, “Throwing out the baby with the bathwater…”.

Another way is to do it by love. That’s the way God chose. For love to be possible, there needs to be a choice. Thus free will. Ability to choose or reject God. So, God created Adam and Eve in his image and gave them the gift of free will. I’ve explored this in more detail here: http://noelkurian.com/2012/07/why/ So, moving on, we come to the step no 4 in the original stage. Devil comes and tempts Eve. Here, question no 2 arises. Why didn’t God just stop the devil? There can be several answers here.

  1. God didn’t know. But if that’s the case, than God is not omniscient.
  2. God knew but couldn’t stop him. In that case, God is not omnipotent.
  3. God knew but he let him. If that’s the case, than God is not benevolent (all-loving) and maybe he is using us just for his entertainment… right? Wrong. There is another explanation.

The third option is indeed the case. God knew but he let him. So what can be this another explanation? Let’s look at the scene again. Right where we left it. Humans are created with free will. An ability to choose or reject God. With this ability also comes a possibility of denying God. Just like Lucifer did. Just like Adam and Eve did after the temptation. But maybe even if there wasn’t a temptation, there still remains a possibility that man will sin. Because the ability to deny God is in him, not external to him. When tempting, devil doesn’t bring something evil and put it inside man. He is only bringing out what is already inside him. (Terrifying isn’t it? The nature of temptation?)

So why did God allow him to tempt the man? Because it accelerates the process. Yes you heard it right. By tempting man, the devil is actually helping God by accelerating his plans. Now at later stage, when Christ is crucified, the true horrific picture of what sin leads to is put on display for the whole creation to see. Which addresses point no 1. Now as the result of both God’s way and going against God’s way is shown clearly to the whole world, the choice of either choosing him or rejecting him is made clearer. The bible reveals the logical out-workings of sin (going against God’s way, rejecting him) very clearly. It states, “The wages of sin is death.”

So, why does God let the devil roam free? Because he helps him. (A divine irony, wouldn’t you say?)

Slaps, Maths and Making the World Better

Today, I was commuting to office via BRTS. As usual, the bus was crowded, especially near the door. I don’t know why but there seems to be some type of strange force at work in the BRTS because people to gather right next to the door even if the rest of the bus is empty. As the bus came near the stand, the people were queuing up to leave because the bus was nearing their destination. And as I was watching people struggle to reach near the door, there seemed to be some sort of quarrel between the two that were standing right next to the door. The guy who was standing right next to the door, was just standing there. He was yet waiting for his destination, yet he had the brilliant idea of standing next to the door and getting in the way of people coming in and leaving.

As I watched, the person behind him suggested that he should go into the back of the bus if he wasn’t going to leave the bus on the next stand. The guy replied, “I will.” And then stood right there for about 10 seconds ignoring what the other person suggested. Which angered the guy standing right behind him, and he pushed him aside and tried to take the first spot right near the door. And as Newton’s third law of motion states, “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.” And in about 30 seconds, they were exchanging slaps and pulling each others cloths. One guy’s shirt got ripped off. And even though, one of the guy’s destination had already come and the bus had come to a standstill, he wasn’t leaving. In fact, he continued and when people pushed him out of the bus, he was still trying to get in to continue the fight. Fortunately, the driver quickly started the bus, leaving him on the bus stand with a rag of a shirt.

In the following moments I was thinking about the incident. About how it could’ve been avoided. In this case, there was no right or wrong, both guys were at fault. But still, things didn’t get out of hand until one of the guys slapped the other one. That’s when the whole situation went south. And at that moment, I remembered what Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” The situation would’ve been very different if one of the guy had exercised this simple statement. In fact, the fight would’ve never gotten started if there was a real christian among them. If I was one of them, what would I have done? In this simple situation, the answers are very simple. However, in a situation where it’s not in our power to hold or contain evil, what would we do? In a situation where we are being wronged, and we have no power to stop it, what would be the correct response?

Due to our fallen nature, we are easily provoked. And in our anger, we do irrational things. We do things that are completely against what bible teaches. And sometimes we just ignore it saying that it’s unrealistic. I mean, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also” Seriously? That would make me look like a fool! Well, maybe it will. And there can be many arguments and counter-arguments about the practicality of the stated instruction. However, I’d like to present one simple argument that proves it’s practicality.

But before the argument, comes the assumptions. The assumption of this argument is, “The end goal is the betterment of the world”. Let’s look at the argument.

  • At the beginning of the world, the amount of evil done in the world is 0.
  • At a point in time when you are wronged, the amount of evil things done in the world is e.
  • If you react to evil by doing something evil then after the act, the total amount of the evil done in the world would be e + 1. (1 is you!)
  • Now, suppose if we take two points in time, suppose the beginning of 2013 and 2014, and note down the total amount of evil done up until that time, and call it e(2013) and e(2014)
  • Now if we want to find out the amount of evil done in 2013, it would be (delta)e = e(2014) – e(2013)
  • Here, (delta)e represents the total amount of evil done in 2013 year.
  • Now, the 2013 would be an ideal year if there is no evil done in 2013. Consequently, (delta)e would be 0.
  • So, to improve the world, we need to reduce the value of (delta)e. If it reaches zero, we’ll be living in a heaven on earth.
  • Is it possible for (delta)e for a whole year to reach zero? Possible? Yes. Likely? No. So, the only option for us Christians is to reduce the amount of (delta)e as much as possible and make it as close to 0 as possible. How, for one, by not doing evil ourselves and by sharing the gospel to other people so they too can get out of the cycle of evil.

A few observations in the scenario above:

  1. e(2013) is certainly not zero. What it means is, something bad has already happened to many people for which other people are responsible. Someone has already slapped the victim. (Note here that I’m using slap as a metaphor for evil things done. I’m aware that there are certain kinds of slaps that are necessary and even well deserved. I’m not talking about that kinds of slaps) Now the victim can either slap back or turn the other cheek.
  2. In scenario A, a person slaps back. Then the original slapper slaps back. And the slapping cycle continues ad infinitum.
  3. In scenario B, if a person turns the other cheek, there might be another slap coming. And the one after that, and after that and after that… but somewhere it will stop. It will certainly stop. The cycle of evil stops. (Not to mention, the armies of heaven will be gunning for the slapper! And soon he’ll turn from one of them to one of us! More power to Christians in making the world better!)

There it is. A practical, (no-nonsense) mathematical proof of Jesus’ simple statement. Practicality is subjective to the end goal. And if your end goal is betterment of the world by sharing the gospel, then who says it isn’t practical? Anyone?

On Prayer

“The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire; it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, subdued evil instincts, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-sufficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by the clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings.” – John Chrysostom

Apology

I apologize for having written an essay on the subject of prayer for two reasons. First, I do not consider myself to be an expert on the subject. I do not even consider myself particularly good at it. It is quite possible that at some point I might have made an error in judgment. If that is the case, I implore my seniors to point it out. The comments are open. Having said that, I’m driven to write this because what I see around me seems to suggest that there are some misconceptions about prayer right within the christian community.

The second reason is a more practical concern about how this essay can be misinterpreted. As you will see later, I have criticized and remarked upon certain practices I have seen regarding prayer. In this, my intention here is not to put anyone down. It is to share what I’ve learned about prayer over the years. So that it may serve to edify others.

Presupposition

My first assumption is that the Bible, the word of God, is true in its meaning. More specifically, I’m assuming that when Jesus says you are my friend, he means exactly that. When he calls us as his bride, he is referring to a what we (or at least Hebrews) mean when we (or they) say bride. When God calls us as his children, he is referring to the relationship between a father and a child that we all know. There is only one difference. When God refers to our relationship with him by comparing it to a human relationship, he is referring the ideal instance of that relationship. Not a flawed and watered down relationship that is tainted by sin and the fallen nature of the world.

The second assumption is that people’s prayer in private is very similar to their prayer in public. I will expound upon this in the next section.

These are the two assumption on which the rest of the essay is based on.

The problem

Now, as for the certain practices that I mentioned earlier, it can simply be summed up in a simple phrase. Ritualization of prayer. I have to admit that this deduction is based purely upon what I have seen of prayers in public meetings. I haven’t seen anyone praying in private for the simple reason of my seeing them pray no longer keeps it private. So, in a way, it is possible that my deduction is completely false, but my observations lead me to believe otherwise.

I also agree that this doesn’t apply to everyone. In our journey towards Christ-likeness, we all are in different places. Some are far ahead, and some have just begun the journey. I’m certain that there are people to who know better than to ritualize prayer. However, I also know that there are many others who are not as informed. Because, I have seen people praying the same prayer over and over, with same words. As if they were chanting some mantra. As if the potency of prayer depended on the length of prayer or repetition of words.

Then, there are others who speak a completely different language when they pray. Does the potency of prayer depend upon the perceived grandeur of words used? Others remind God who he is and his promises to them in EVERY SINGLE PRAYER. Do they really think that the God who writes the number of hair on their head in his strange little book would forget the promises he has made to them? Many more have a habit of belittling themselves. Do they realize that they are belittling the image of living God?

I understand that some of these criticisms are quite superficial and only a consequence of a much deeper problem. But in any situation, a problem can occur only for two reasons.

  1. Foolishness.
  2. Believing some kind of lie or half-truth. Misunderstanding, or a partial understating of a situation.

In this case I think it’s because of the second reason. I can speculate further upon the origin of the misunderstanding, but it will only lengthen the essay without contributing anything to the solution. So, suffice it to say that it can be anything from a shallow understanding of the word of God to borrowing idioms from the surrounding culture or religions.

Humility and Honesty

I have tried it before and I tried it again but it seems that there is no way to separate the two. Because one inevitably leads to other. And since I’ve written about humility earlier, I won’t go into much depth. However, there is one overarching point that needs to be made.

Humility and honesty are two qualities required to pray. Psalm 24:3-4 says: Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

What does it mean to have clean hands? Or a pure heart? A person who has not sworn deceitfully. Is it not talking about honesty? What does it mean to lift one’s soul up to vanity? Is it not the very definition of pride? So, the passage simply says, a person who is humble and honest, only he, will be able to ascend into the hill of the Lord.

Even taking into consideration the Crucifixion of Christ for the sin of all mankind, the principle remains true. For salvation is a gift. And to receive that gift, one must have the humility to accept that he has been wrong all along. That he is a sinner. And to repent of his sins, he must be honest. He must turn away from all that he recognizes as sin. Not only in word but in deed.

(You should also read the humility in prayer subsection of the previous essay specifically.)

Patience

Patience, although not a requirement of prayer, is a good quality to have. Because, it’s not a good thing to force God’s hand. (Yes, I believe it is possible to force God’s hand. If you want details, ask in comments.) I do not mean to say that he will punish you in some way for forcing his hand. Because your only punishment will be, you will get exactly what you ask for. And what you ask for might not be the best thing for you.

I will illustrate this in a very simple manner. For instance, take this statement: Little kids shouldn’t run around the living room with scissors. Why? For two reasons:

  1. They will make a great mess out of a perfectly fine living room.
  2. They might hurt themselves. (An inquisitive toddler’s mind can come up with a quite innocent question like: What do scissors taste like?)

For quite similar reasons, God might withhold some blessing from you. The reason for him not answering your prayer is not that he doesn’t care about you but it’s that he cares a great deal more about you to give you what you ask for. He will bless you at the very moment when you become capable of handling that blessing. So, be patient.

A conversation

Now that I’ve dealt with some of the continual aspects of prayer, I’d like to focus on the more immediate elements. But as far as we have come, there is one question that is yet to be answered. Even though the essay is titled “On Prayer”, I’m very doubtful that any of you even noticed that I haven’t defined prayer. It is because deep down we already know what prayer is.

But if a meaningful discussion is to be had about any subject, the necessary terms must be defined. Thus, a definition for prayer is required. Prayer can be defined simply as a conversation or a communication with God. Here, I must clear up a very subtle difference. Prayer is NOT a way to communicate with God. It is, communication with God. If it was one of the way (or even the only way) to communicate with God, it would be ritualized and commercialized (as it happens in many temples/mosques/religious sites). But for us Christians, it itself is, a communication. A conversation with God.

Now that we have a definition for prayer, I would like to go back and draw from the first assumption. In summary, it states that God is our friend, father and lover. Although God’s roles in our life is not limited to only these, for the purposes of this discussion, these three would suffice.

If prayer is really a conversation with God, the one who is our friend, father and lover, shouldn’t we be expectant of a reply? But we have made a monologue out of a dialogue. We have made a habit of speaking our piece and then goofing off without paying heed to what God might have to say. Somehow we have developed a subconscious misconception that God’s only way of responding is either by approval or denial of the requests we make to him. Do we think him not capable of an elaborate answer? But we all know that it’s a false belief. Why then do we continue to behave as if it were true?

For a dialogue to be meaningful and even pleasurable, both the parties must have ample opportunities to speak. It must be plain and not pompous. It must be varied and not monotonous. There must be mutual respect between the participants. Both the participants must be honest in their speaking and humble enough to listen to the other person. We all know these axioms are true regarding conversation. We apply and obey each one of them in our conversations with our friends and family. But not in our prayers. Why?

Silence

Although this section is a reiteration of an aspect of the previous section, I think it needs to be clarified. Because in our age of technology and instant gratification, we have become alienated and even somewhat allergic to idleness (there is a difference between being lazy and being idle) and silence. So, let me phrase it out clearly. In prayer, we need to be silent. Silent not only verbally or in activity but also in thought. Silent until God responds in some way.

Before God responds, one needs to be ready to listen to him. Sometimes, we tell God that we are ready to listen to him, but all we are ready to listen from him is what we want to listen. We have already made up our mind and all we want is God’s endorsement for our plans. So that we can go on doing what we please while parading as if we are doing exactly what God wants. We need to subdue our own will in order for God’s will to be revealed.

In such situations, there is a struggle. A silent struggle of who will submit to the other person’s request. C. S. Lewis said, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way”.” And saying, “Thy will be done” to God is not easy even if we know that it is in our best interest. Submission doesn’t happen instantly. It is a struggle in the battlefield of our mind. It requires time. A time without distractions. A time of silence. Because real conversation happens in silence.

Humor and Poetry

I have a feeling that to really get the point across, to really make you understand how serious I am about prayer being a conversation, a conversation between friends/lovers or father and a child, I must mention jokes. Because I consider humor to be one of the hallmarks of intimacy.

In our times, there is a certain idea about the character of God parading around as truism. The idea states that God is some kind of a very serious, bureaucratic businessman. That he is so formal and mechanical that if you make a joke in his presence, he’ll sentence you to a thousand flaming deaths! It is simply not true. I’m alive is the proof.

You see, God invented humor. He is not the grumpy headmaster with a rod that so many of us have grown up believing him to be. To the contrary, he is quite the character. He teaches via parables and talks in riddles. He loves poetry and paradoxes. In scriptures, I find certain remarks by Jesus that make me giggle whenever I read them. “The last will be the first and the first will be the last” or “Whoever wants to save his life will loose it, but whoever looses his life for my sake will save it” or “He who is least among all of you is the one who is greatest”. Even while teaching the deepest truths, he somehow manages to find space to be poetic. To speak the plain truth and still leave a mystery. Trust me, when you are really with him, there isn’t a single dull moment.

I must admit that a danger also lies here. It’s a danger of taking God too lightly. The danger manifests itself when a person assumes too much too early in his relationship with God. However, when one really comes to know God, it’s mostly nullified. So, my simple advice is, do not assume too much about the character of God and do not take God lightly. He is God and he is to be revered. The only reason for us being able to make jokes or speak lightly in his presence lies in who he is and not in who we are.

Tears and Burdens

Not everytime we pray, we are happy or in the mood of cracking jokes. No, most of the times, there are pressing matters, urgent problems in our lives that we need God’s help with. Sometimes we are so desperate that we begin to weep in prayer. Crying to God to fulfill our needs.

Other times, we feel so overwhelmed by his blessings that we are overcome with tears of joy. Crying in exultation because we can’t find words to express our joy and thanks.

However, in both these cases, the cries originate in our hearts. But there are another kind of tears that originate somewhere else. They originate in the heart of God. And these tears are not of want or need, or even thanksgiving. They are of love. Tears of love.

As I’ve been emphasizing all along, prayer is a conversation. But it’s not a conversation that’s only about you. There are times of deep and delicate intimacy when God shares his own heart with you. He shares his passion and love for all humanity. A passion and love that is so intense that I don’t think there is any human response possible other than a complete breakdown in tears. In these little episodes of intense intimacy, he shows what he sees and shares what he feels with you. When you really see though the eyes of God, the eyes in which there is no judgment but grace, no criticism but love, no discrimination but eagerness, eagerness to find all his children in his arms, when you look through those jealous eyes, the life we live, the requests of material blessings that we continue to make look so insignificant and petty. It is at these times that he transforms you from the core of your being. He makes you more like him.

So, prayer is instrumental in our growth as Christians. It is during prayer that our heart becomes one with God. It is during prayers that our will gets united with God’s. And when that happens, we can no longer be who we were.

Prayer is situational

Like any conversation, prayer is also situational. You do not go to your friend’s dad’s funeral and then crack jokes. You do not go to a party and start talking about the poverty in Africa or poor work conditions in china (although it is not out of the scope of possibilities). In every conversation, you have to grasp the context.

It is quite obvious that not every single element that I’ve mentioned in this essay will be present in every prayer. Not in every prayer do I admire the beauty of stars or poke fun at the weird shape of trees behind our home. Not every time do we discuss the parable of artificial and natural light sources. Not every day is my heart burdened with the intense love and passion of God. Not everything happens every time. It can, but it doesn’t need to.

Prayer life

There is a certain question that goes around in christian circles. “How’s your prayer life?” While the intent behind the question, the show of concern about one’s spiritual state from one’s seniors is good and even encouraging. There seems to be one simple problem with the question. Nobody has ever told me what exactly do they mean by “prayer life”.

Also, if all the people asking this question were asking for the same thing, I would’ve figured out the meaning long ago. But every time I answer the question, the follow up discussion seems to suggest that each person was asking for quite different things. It is as if the question depends less upon itself, but more upon who is asking the question.

In my earlier days as a believer this caused me a lot of unnecessary confusion. Because I never understood the true meaning behind “Prayer life”. Because one person suggested that the quality of prayer life depended upon how much time does one spend in prayer. Other person suggested that it is the sum of all the “spiritual” activities. Others yet suggested that it meant if the totality of your life was in accordance with the word of God.

Since those early days as christian, I have learned much. And even though I know that I have a long way to go, one thing I am certain of. And that one thing is the meaning of “Prayer life”. If I had to define it, I would define it as, “Intimacy with God”. In my opinion, those three words sum up the whole purpose of Christendom. Individually or collectively, that is the purpose.

If we take that as the definition of prayer life, then the question becomes, “How intimate are you with God?”. That is a question we all can answer. Also, the follow up discussion is also much more meaningful than adjusting the schedule to make space for more prayer time or the endless classification of spiritual and non-spiritual things. Instead of wandering around superficial topics, the question directly gives us access to the core of the issue. It is, “How should one develop intimacy with God?” To answer this question, I provide 3 pointers.

  1. Know him.

    The primary way of knowing God is through the word of God. Read the bible. Study it. Meditate upon it. Question it. Through studying and scrutinizing the word of God, you will come to know God.

  2. Pursue him.

    Once you know him, pursue him. Pursue him through prayer. Try to become like him. Talk to him. Ask him to share his heart with you. Ask him to teach the deepest truths and hidden mysteries of the world. If you take nothing else from this essay, take this statement: Prayer is primary means for developing an intimate relationship with God.

  3. Walk with him.

    Apply the word of God in your own life. At your workplace. Among your friends. Not only in word and deed but also in your thoughts. There is so much we know but do not practice. Learn to walk the talk. There is a saying that goes “A praying man will stop sinning and a sinning man will stop praying.” I have found it true in my own life.

Final remarks

There are few final thoughts that would like to mention. First of these is faith. Faith is indispensable. Bible says “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” I have taken this statement as an implicit assumption for anyone who is reading this.

Second, just like Paul, I do not say that I have achieved everything I have mentioned in this essay. Far from it. I’m still trying. However, the spirit of God doesn’t lead us down a path blindfolded. He shows everything very clearly. What I have described here is the landscape of prayer as I can see through my young eyes. My seniors are welcome to criticize and contradict it through scripture.

Notes on Humility

Humility is one of the many mysteries of Humanity. It is one of those elusive ideas that are difficult to describe yet almost intuitive to understand. Everyone has a basic understanding of it, But when asked what it is, few are able to answer. Recently, I was in that difficult position. I was searching for words, a means to communicate, what exactly it means to be humble. And to tell the truth, I probably wouldn’t understand my own answer if I was the questioner… So, here I try to rectify the issue. This is by no means a definitive guide, just some thoughts gathered from here and there… Some, my own.

The general idea of Humility

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – C. S. Lewis

As usual, Lewis right on the mark! People have a general misconception that humility is about thinking of yourself as inferior. Maybe inferior to your own self. How can a person be inferior or less that who he actually is? Less than what God made him? Believing such a thing would be not be humility but believing a lie.

The secret of humility is in forgetting the self. It is when you begin to forget yourself you become humble. It is because pride can not operate if you do not think about yourself. Pride craves glorification of your self. Pride compares everything with self. And finally, pride deceives the self. If you look at those sentences, you can easily see that it’s the thoughts regarding your self that are primary means (and the end) of pride. So, to eliminate pride, stop thinking about your self.

Humility in Prayer

“You should be humble when you pray.” That’s something I have heard a lot. I haven’t found any verse in the bible that specifically and clearly instructs this, but I know this to be sound advice. Because anyone can see the obvious problem with, “You should be proud when you pray”. So, instead of arguing upon the validity of the advice, let’s focus on what it means.

I see humility in prayer as this. Forget yourself. And more importantly, forget your own ideas of God. Sometimes, in prayer we paint ourselves as the lowest of all creatures… even as worms. And then, we go on saying how great God is. As if we can ever understand or capture his greatness in words or even abstract ideas. This I see as capturing God in a box. If continued for some time, it can take a form of limiting God. For sometimes we do not allow ourselves to pray to God, instead we pray to our ideas of God. At length, the idea of God becomes an idol.

So, in prayer one must avoid lengthy descriptions of God or your own self. For prayer is a conversation and when you converse with your friend, you do not describe who he is or who you are. You just converse. In the same way, in prayer, converse with God. Come to him as you are, accept him as he comes to you. No moderation is needed.

Humility at Large

“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” – G. K. Chesterton

That’s some perspective upon perspective. Chesterton was a master of meta-perspective. But what does the statement really say? Do you consider yourself a mountain of self achievement or are you the child that looks at his elders with admiration and love, all the while dreaming the dream of being like them. If you are former, you will only see small people, almost like insects, going about their work from the window of your top floor office. But if you are the latter, then you will see the wealth of wonders all around you.

It is a quality of humility to look outside. Pride only looks inside. And if you ever want to have friends, if you ever want to help others, you must look outside. Although the idea of “seeing the bigger picture” may be classified in some different category of classifications, one can not do it without humility. A proud man is often blinded by his own flashes of light.

A single thread in a tapestry
Through its color brightly shine
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design

The Pride of Humility

It is the one last thing that jumps into my mind every time I think about pride and humility. A danger lies in the process of “humbling yourself”. Whenever you “humble yourself” you need to check if this exercise of humility is feeding your own ego. Enlarging your pride because you are humble!

“In reality there is perhaps not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself…For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” – Benjamin Franklin

Technology! I will (selectively) ignore thee…

Warning: This is a rant. It’s not meant to make sense so if it doesn’t, don’t ask me. Also, it’s possible that you might loose your sanity reading this. If that happens, I take no responsibility.

For quite some time now, I’ve been successfully containing a brain explosion. This post probably is just a way to for my brain to let loose some of the pressure. What’s the pressure is about? Well, it’s technology! This is a very exciting time to live in. There is so much going on in the world of technology that there isn’t enough time to comprehend it. And that’s why my brain is going to explode!

Everyday, I set sail on the high seas of the internets and wander aimlessly following links that demand clicks through text that seems so alluring. There on different shifting sands of text and moving pictures I see electric cars, talking glass and stranger things. Visions beyond my dreams. Sometimes I wonder, am I awake or in a dream, for the world seems clothed with artificial lights. When will the sun dawn? When will the night end?

But then, I know that I’m not dreaming. How? Don’t ask. I’m not dreaming and I’m not mad! But the world doesn’t make sense. Take me to Google and show me how simple it is seek out the secret of a gleaming star. But, how can I know that by which I know? How does Google work? That is the mystery. Held in secrecy. Incomprehensible. Not because it’s too difficult or secret, but because it’s too big! This arcane piece of engineering serves millions daily. Of these millions, I am one. And recently, at Google I/O there was more mana added into that mystic soup that makes Google tick.

That reminded me of this: “Look at you, hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?” That’s what comes to mind when I look at Google.

Of course, many people use Google’s services daily and don’t think about it. And that’s alright. Nothing wrong with it. But I can’t do it because that’s my field. I need to know about the happenings of the industry I work. (Although the option remains to grow a long beard, take up lisp programming and become a hermit) The industry is growing way too fast.

There is low level system programming and then there are giant pieces of arcanum like google search. All programmers work somewhere between this spectrum. Nowadays new programmers begin their journey for enlightenment somewhere between these two extremes. Supposing that all the technologies of present can be conceived as a giant pole of which one end is low level system programming and highest being the cutting edge research and things that google does, a programmer’s job is something like rope walking using our hypothetical pole as a balance pole.

But the problem is, this particular pole is shrinking at one end and rapidly growing at the other. Low level system programming is very slowly being eaten by the hardware beneath it and on the other hand new technologies come about in existence with the violence and swiftness of a wildfire. So, a programmer not only has to walk a tight rope, but he also has to constantly change the place at which he grips the pole to keep it balanced. And not to mention, with the length increase, the weight also increases…

But enough about senseless metaphors that make no sense whatsoever. Bottom line is, way too many things are happening in the world of technology that it’s not feasible to keep track of all of it. And reaching this conclusion is difficult for me because I’m an eat it all kinda guy. I want to know it all.. but it seems that I no longer have time. Not here. Not now. So, I’m going to listen to the old adage “Ignorance is a bliss” and ignore what’s not important and focus on what is.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil – The First Temptation

Since I wrote my last post on the topic of the Fear of the Lord, something’s been bugging me. In that post, there is one topic that I have left untouched and upon that very topic, I have based my reasoning. I have stated that, “You should obey the Lord, when you don’t know what is right and what is wrong.”. This statement assumes at least some knowledge about what is right and what is wrong. Where does this knowledge come from? This, I have not addressed.

How can I know what is good and what is evil? I will address that question later. But for now, let’s go back to genesis and look at that unfortunate event that sent the whole world into disarray. As Eve was walking in that blessed garden of Eden, she unintentionally wandered too close to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It wasn’t a significant event, as I’m sure that she would’ve waked past that tree countless times. But this time, something was different. She heard a serpent calling her. She responded. And the snake had one of the most intriguing proposition. As I read the words of this most preposterous utterance, I’m amazed that how can anyone tell so many lies in such a short sentence and still sound convincing?

But the serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Gen 3:4-5)

With this simple statement, the devil accomplished two things.

  1. He sow the seeds of the very pride in the heart of humanity that had been the instrument of his own downfall.
  2. He laid the foundation of all the vanities of man that are based on lies.

Let me explain what these two things mean. The devil begins by saying that when God said that you will die, he was telling a lie. Actually, you won’t die. The reason God was telling a lie is because he is afraid. In fact, if you eat the fruit of this tree, you will become like him. He doesn’t want you to be like him. All powerful, all knowing. That’s why he has told you not to eat the fruit of the tree. That’s what the devil says to Eve.

Now if you take that statement and look at it under a microscope, you won’t find a single thread of truth in it. You will not surely die? A plain lie. (Although Eve did not immediately die, in the sense as we normally perceive death, that is a topic for another essay) Your eyes will be opened? Nonsense. My eyes are already open and I can see plenty fine, thank you. I will be like God? I’m already like God. He made me this way. You will know good and evil? I already know what is good. And why in the nine hells would I ever want to know evil?

If that’s so plain to see, then why couldn’t Eve see through the deception? Pride. It blinds you. If you begin to see, it binds you. The devil was playing with her pride as an independent sentient being. Independence and freedom. Two of the many invaluable gifts that her creator had bestowed upon her. And pride is a possible by-product of the mixture of these two. That pride once blinded the archangel Lucifer and led to his downfall into the infernal lake of fire. That same pride also blinded Adam and Eve from seeing the truth, which consequently corrupted a perfect world.

But that wasn’t the only thing that the devil accomplished. Leveraging on the opportunity of having sown the seeds of pride in the heart of humanity, the devil told a lie and made it look like a truth. The devil made the fruit of the tree of good and evil desirable when in fact it was the most useless fruit in the whole garden. The fruit certainly had a purpose as I have pointed out earlier, but it was not advantageous for humans to eat it. We all know that prior to eating that fruit, humans already understood what good and evil was. Even after knowing that they would be doing a bad thing, they did it. And that was the first sin. They did it because they believed a lie to be true. This lie sent them in the wild-goose chase of the knowledge of good and evil that will make them like God (forgetting that they are already like God) instead of only focusing on God. It was the very first instance of man’s pride getting better of him and believing a lie, they sinned rejecting the truth that they already knew.

The same thing continues to happen to this very day. All the lures and attractions of this world are lies. Partial truths made to look like the ultimate truths. Temporary pleasures decorated to look like eternal nirvana. Because the man believes that these things are true, he runs after it. Trying to grab hold of it. And as Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes, all these things are futile and like chasing after wind. A lie can never deliver what it promises. But the one who believes a lie, will go chasing after it; because for him, it is the truth. And truth is the only thing worth following. And thus, the man who does evil, only does it because somewhere is his outlook of the world, he has mistaken a lie for a truth. And to this day, these things keeps us in the tangled mess of evil and away from good.

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at what it was that caused us to sin in the first place, only now we can go about its undoing. If we are to avoid sin, if we are to regain the perfect knowledge of good that our race held at its very inception, we must see through that very first temptation. After truly seeing the temptations for what it is, in my opinion, we must focus on undoing the second accomplishment and deal with the first as we encounter it. Because without having the truth by your side, you will not know when pride deceives you.

The way to go about acquiring knowledge about good is to go to God. Because he is the source of every good and perfect thing. When we begin to reach out from the ashes of this fallen world to the eternal God enthroned in heaven, we must study his methods and his ways. To all who seek him, he reveals himself for he is the God who loved us first. I have found a book called the Bible. It contains his words. There is truth in it. It will cleanses the windows of your eyes that have been stained by the dirt of this world. The truth for a truth and a lie for a lie it makes plain to see. But this book has a singular purpose. It is not self contained, rather it points towards a person who claimed to be THE Truth. But, there’s more…

Soon, you will come at the crossroads of the cross. Upon that cross, hangs the lamb of God about whom a voice in the wilderness cries, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”. You may be a thief, a widow, a beggar or just a kid but to him it doesn’t matter who you are or what the world calls you. He loved you, and love is blind. When you encounter the cross for the first time, do not run away. It is not there to condemn you but it is the instrument of your salvation. The very pride that led us to sin in the early parts of genesis, will be laid to ruin by the sight of the cross. For when the devil sought to become the greatest of all, Christ became the lowest of all, the servant of all and he took up the cross on behalf of me and you. And as if it was not enough, he rose from the grave for love’s sake. He became the light of hope in a dark, cruel and unforgiving world. He is the truth. And his cross is the remedy for our pride. He will come to you when you call him. He will tell you what is good, when you ask him.

The Fear of the Lord

Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (ESV)

Interesting. Isn’t it? Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. It is one of those verses of the bible that is quoted so many times that we don’t even think about what it means. When I was in school and exams came, pastors and believers reminded me of this verse. Meaning, if you fear the Lord, you will pass your exams with good marks. I wonder if Solomon was thinking of our 21st century exams when he wrote that…

Is academical exams really the right context to this verse? Well, I’m really not gonna answer that… Figure it out for yourself! Although, I think you’ll know the answer by the end of this essay. But first, we’ll have to understand what the verse says. As you can see, only the first part of the verse is cryptic and the latter part is just descriptive. So, I’m going to focus on the first part only.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”

Let’s break it down. There are two different components in the sentence. First is, “Fear of the Lord” and second is “Beginning of knowledge”. I’d also like you to note that some translations say, “beginning of knowledge” and some translations say, “beginning of wisdom”.

You may ask, what’s so interesting about these two components? Well, I don’t know about you but they are plenty interesting to me. The reason is, when I was younger (and still), I wanted to become very wise. But, the verse made no sense whatsoever to me. Why? Because it makes no sense. How can the fear of the Lord be the beginning of wisdom? And, what exactly is this fear of the Lord? Am I to tremble in his presence?

Certainly, that can not be. Because somewhere else the bible tells about how this God loved me so much that he sent his only begotten son to take up the cross that was mine to bear. This son, Jesus, beyond the miracles he did and the dead he raised, brought hope into a hopeless world. Then, when time came, he carried the cross of my shame upon his shoulders and died for my sin. Are you telling me that this is the God that I should fear? How can I fear him who loves me so much?

This was the reasoning of my childhood that made the verse so cryptic. If I can not fear God then I wouldn’t be wise. If I do fear God, it wouldn’t be fair. Since, would God, after going through all of that want me to be afraid of him? If not, what does the verse mean?

Well, the key to this puzzle of fear and love lies in the second part of the verse. ESV translation says, “Beginning of knowledge”. NET translation is a little more elaborate and says, “Beginning of moral knowledge”. And then there are some other translations that uses the word “wisdom”. So, I think some definitions are in order.

I don’t know if there are any official definitions of knowledge and wisdom, but I think the general idea is knowledge is the things that you know and wisdom is the application of that knowledge in the right way. In the verse “beginning of knowledge” is too general. Plus, taken literally it can’t be true because from the day you are born you start gaining knowledge. Doesn’t matter if you fear the Lord or not. So, it must mean something more specific than general knowledge. And we do have a contender. It is “wisdom”. So, why does some translations say “wisdom” and others say “knowledge”? And even more importantly, why can’t the translators just agree upon one and stop making bible more cryptic than it already is? 😉

Well, I can see their difficulty and I’m also having a difficult time describing the difficulty. I’ll try my best to explain. First, think of wisdom. Application of knowledge in the right way. Now, I’m (almost) certain that everybody applies their knowledge in some way or the other. However, only the people who use their knowledge in the right way are considered wise. Others are called fools. OK. So far so good. Now, if you notice, in the verse it is not talking about just plain old wisdom. It’s talking about the beginning of wisdom. So, if we are just beginning to be wise, then we aren’t exactly sure which one is right and which one is wrong. And if we are not sure which way is right and which way is wrong then how will we apply our knowledge in the right way? Thus, becoming wise? How will we become wise?

That last question is the theme of the whole book of proverbs. Wise sayings from the wisest man that ever lived. And in the very beginning of this book he says, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge” (NET). Great translation! It is not too general like knowledge and doesn’t self destruct like wisdom!

Now, if we look at the situations in our lives, in regards of knowing the right thing we will understand that in some areas of our life we know exactly what is the right thing to do and in other areas we aren’t sure. So, if we are sure what is the right thing to do then, we should just do it. (There may be times when we think that something is right but is not… but that’s another matter and I’m not going to discuss it here). We would be wise to do it, and doing that thing wouldn’t be called beginning of wisdom but it will be just an exercise of our already present wisdom. Although failing to exercise wisdom will be foolishness of epic proportions! But let’s get back to the topic at hand. The verse seems to suggest that when we are not sure, we should fear the Lord.

So, the problem that I faced in my childhood is solved. I used to ask, would it be fair to be afraid of him who loves me so much? I know the answer. No, it wouldn’t be fair to fear him. It would be foolish to do so considering the knowledge of the love of God. So, you shouldn’t fear God as a mouse fears a cat. To summarize, “one should fear the Lord when he is not sure which is good and which is bad”. If you know which is good and which is bad, then there is no point in sitting on the intersection thinking what I should do. It’d be waste of time. Just as bad as doing the bad thing.

But we still don’t understand exactly what it means. We eliminated one possibility of the meaning of “the fear of the Lord”, but we do not know it’s exact meaning. Does the “Fear of the Lord” has a bit more subtle meaning? Let us examine another place in the bible where similar advice is given. It is in psalms. Most probably, also written by Solomon.

Psalms 111:10: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (ESV)

And, NET translation:

Psalms 111:10: To obey the LORD is the fundamental principle for wise living; all who carry out his precepts acquire good moral insight. He will receive praise forever. (NET)

Compare the two. It is basically the same advice but a bit more elaborate. Interesting. One translation says, “The fear of the Lord” another says “To obey the Lord”. I think we just hit the jackpot! The so called “fear” is nothing but obedience. How so simple! So, if we replace this newfound insight in our original summary statement, it becomes “One should obey the Lord when he is not sure which is good and which is bad” And that, indeed will be the beginning of wisdom. Since it is him, who defines good and bad. If you are not sure, ask him who defined the two!

That’s my reasoning of the matter. However unorthodox, it does lead to the truth that is contained in it. However, I think I must also address one other view that is prominent among Christians. It says, the “fear” is not literal fear rather a kind of reverence and awe. And I do agree with it to some degree… but not in this context. I find it insufficient.

The reason is, people who ask the question “What does this verse mean?” are mostly new believers or youngsters. People who don’t have much knowledge and experience with the mysterious ways of God. And to them it seems as if you just bent the meaning of scriptures. You just gave your own interpretation which doesn’t really connect to what is written. If that was really the meaning, why isn’t it translated like that? Why doesn’t it say, “The reverence of the Lord is beginning of knowledge”?

The view that it should be interpreted as reverence and awe doesn’t really make sense to everyone. It could be said that it is a correct answer to a wrong person. If the questioner is just a skeptic, would it make sense? To him it would seem like you are reading your own meaning into the scripture. If the questioner is a new believer, would the answer help him when he has yet to learn to revere God? Is it so easy to revere him when you are living in a fallen world?

Let me try to answer it. Why is the word fear used if it meant reverence or awe? Maybe because it didn’t mean that. Especially in regards to new believers. To answer this question, we must examine the nature of fear and the nature of reverence and awe.

The origin of fear lies in the lack of knowledge whereas the origin of reverence lies in knowledge. You can not revere someone without knowing them. But you can certainly fear someone without knowing them. Awe, I think, is a higher form of reverence. It is fueled with knowledge acquired through dramatic bursts of revelation! So, only when you know God intimately, you can revere or be awestruck by him. Whereas you can very easily fear things that you don’t know or only partially know about.

In our lives we incrementally gain knowledge about God. When we learn about God for the first time, we do not know about him much. We know just enough to take the very first steps of faith. God is still largely distant to us and his ways are still a mystery. However, we know the world and it’s ways all too well. And in this state of infancy, the word of God speaks the eternal truth. “Fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom.”

Reverence and awe inspires worship but fear inspires restraint. And at this time of infancy, this restraint is useful. It keeps us away from the dangers of the world. This might be a time which we do not like nor understand, it is a time where God holds us in his hands and molds us. He uses fear to restraint us so that we do not stray too far away from him. He is a loving father who doesn’t want his young child harmed. Every time, you choose to fear God, in other words, you choose to obey God, even though his ways seem foolish and boring, after some time, you’ll begin to understand why it must be so. It is so because there is a very good reason behind all his laws. This reason is not plain to see, but it becomes clear when you practice his law.

As the verse says, “all who carry out his precepts acquire good moral insight”. This moral insight can’t be learned in a lecture hall. It must be gained by living according to the law of God. Once gained, this insight, this truth will fill you with awe for your creator. Slowly, you will begin to worship him day and night. What first was fear and uncertainty, will begin to turn into a force of certainty. For now you understand just a little bit more of how awesome this God is. A little bit here and a little bit there. You will begin to be wise. You will begin to understand the mind and heart of God.

In the beginning, you might be afraid of this great and mighty God. Afraid of his power. Distant from him because you do not understand him. But, this very fear he will use to bring you closer. And one day, you will fear him no longer. Because his perfect love will cast out all your fears.