Image Bearer

It was about 8’O clock in the evening. I was standing near one of the crossroads near my house waiting for someone. As I was standing, a little girl came towards me. She must’ve been around 7-8 years old. In her hands was a plate. On the plate there were two lamps and a picture of a goddess. She came to me and raised the plate. So, that I can bow my head to the goddess and receive my blessings.

Such a scene is not at all uncommon around here. In fact, it’s a gesture of good will. However, whenever something like this happens it is my general practice to politely refuse to bow and send them away without thinking much about it. The reason is that I respect them. Now, it might sound paradoxical that the reason for refusal is respect. Because, to deny a polite offer is in fact very much close to being disrespectful. But my reasoning is like this: If I bow my head before the gods they worship, I am in fact a hypocrite and acting contrary to my beliefs. If I act contrary to my beliefs, I am ridiculing all the people of faith in the world saying, “Your beliefs are not worth holding onto! In fact, the present circumstances ought not be judged and dictated by an eternal creed.” So, if a person comes up to me, following his/her own creed, offering me to receive my blessings from their gods, then I must politely refuse and act according to my own creed.

But anyways, let’s get back to the incident that we were talking about earlier. When the little girl came and stood before me, I was stunned. Because something happened that had not happened in all the years of my life after the day I had chosen to follow Christ. I almost heard the sentence, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I could not move or even bat an eyelid for a few seconds. The little girl before me was beautiful. Innocence was beaming from her eyes. All the excitement of being given such a great responsibility was overflowing on her face. Her childish frivolity had not yet vanished completely from her conduct and yet, she managed to approach me with a sincerity that only a child can apprehend. All of this, happening at not a moment’s notice caught me off-guard.

Regaining my composure after a couple of seconds, I followed my general practice and politely refused. But this time, I said “God bless you”. How could I let her go without blessings, when she had taught me so great a lesson?

You see, she was an image-bearer. In the plate in her hands, was a picture of a goddess and two lamps. Having received this image, being told to carry it from person to person, place to place, had her excited in a way that it was the greatest thing that happened to her. The way she carried it with sincerity was exemplary. This little girl from another faith had taught me much more in a few seconds than I could’ve learned by reading a thousand books.

During the afterthoughts of the incident, I was plagued by a singular question. What kind of image bearer am I? Am I as excited, as sincere, as honest, as humble as she was? I who claim to be a Christian, an image bearer of the living God, the follower in the footsteps of Christ, I, who claims to be these things really live up to that mark? Sadly, I have to answer that question in No. Some introspection is certainly in order but that doesn’t mean all is hopeless.

Regarding Jesus, John says, “In him was life. And life was the light of men.” Regarding us, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” These words are not empty. These words are the light that shines in the darkness. It doesn’t matter where one is in his journey to imitate Christ. The only thing that matters is that He is with you. And though we may weep at our unfaithfulness, we can always rely upon his faithfulness. So, I implore you, let us follow him and learn from him. Let’s be Image-Bearers.

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.”

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?)

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

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.

God vs. Responsibilities

Last Friday, there was an ICPF retreat here in Ahmedabad themed “What makes God smile?”. It was good. Better than expected (Or should I say as expected, since God is the master of doing the unexpected!). During the retreat there was some time allotted for a question and answer session. I love those sessions. I love them because I love questions. Questions are those peculiar creatures that go Pop! in people’s heads at random times and then do Kaboom! to some false assumptions or give birth to some Eureka! moments.

So, I was listening intently to the questions and there were a few that caught my fancy. However, if I try to answer all of them in one go, this post will become a huge pile of jumbled radioactive mess that will make your brains melt at the rate of 12 grams per second! So, taking in consideration the mental heath of my readers I’m going to answer one question at a time.

So, the first question goes like this: In our daily lives we have different responsibilities. Responsibilities to our families, to our friends, to our studies, to our work and in some cases, to dogs and cats(umm… I mean, pets). Situation is just like the spelling of the word : RESPONSIBILITIES. Complicated, big and with lots of I’s into it (‘I’ have to do this.. ‘I’ have to do that..). So, in fulfilling all these different responsibilities, sometimes, we don’t have time for God. But if we drop our responsibilities, that’s no good either. So, how should one balance the two?

Look at the title of this post and say, “The title is wrong”. Do it. “The title is wrong”. It should be, God and Responsibilities. Now why do I say that? First of all, that’s how God works. All of us who are Christians believe that God has a definite purpose for our life. If he has a definite purpose and plan for our life, he will at times tell us what we need to do. And then to do those things will be our responsibility. He will never force us but only lead us. It’s our responsibility to follow.

But, is it possible that he tells us what to do only at certain times and at other times we should do as we please because God hasn’t told us anything specific to do? No. God’s plans are way too intricate to be left up to chance. And he never leaves them to chance. He is constantly watching from the shadows and shaping us as we are going about our daily duties. And for him to shape us as we are going about our daily duties, he must use the things that we do daily.

A thing about our nature is, an action, an activity or an event will not have a significant impact on our lives unless it happens daily. To be healthy, one must exercise everyday, not once in a year. Now, there are exceptions to this rule but these exceptions most of the times are disruptive and abnormal. I mean, if someone close to us dies, it will have a significant impact on our lives bit it’s not everyday that this happens. It’s outside of the domain of what we call normal.

So, only the things that we do daily has significant impact on our lives. And God uses this simple principle to shape our character. He is constantly at work on us and he is constantly testing us if we are ready for the next phase of our development. We might or might not plan our days, but God certainly does. And his way of planning our day is assigning us responsibilities. He constantly watches us how we handle these and by using these responsibilities he slowly shapes our character.

So, that’s how I understand the relationship between God and our responsibilities. But, there is another aspect to this topic that must be addressed. And, because this aspect exists, the title isn’t totally wrong. Think. What would make a person to ask such a question? For the questioner, there are so many responsibilities that he/she doesn’t have time for God. The person truly feels that he/she should spend more time with God and is feeling guilty about it. But if the responsibilities are also assigned by God, then it would be like going into the temple of God when he has clearly told us to do something else. It would be disobedience. It would be hypocrisy.

There we have a dilemma. If one does follow through all the responsibilities, the responsibilities eat up all the time that one has and there is no time left for God. But if one cuts on the responsibilities, he/she is indirectly disobeying God. However difficult the problem looks on the surface, it is not as difficult as it looks. It can be addressed with one simple but profound truth.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (ESV) – 1 Corinthians 10:31

This particular verse has been like an eye opener for me. For in it lies the definition of worship. Most people think of worship as what we do in church. Singing songs. But bible talks about worship in spirit and truth. Not in songs and tunes. And, the last part of this verse says, “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” So, the definition of worship becomes, “Worship is anything that we do for the glory of God.” Now, it may look on the surface that this definition is inclusive of every action but it is not so. One can certainly give his parents a glass of water for the glory of God but one can not lie to his brother for the glory of God. So, one must examine what he/she does before doing it.

So, how does this new perspective about worship help us in our current dilemma? Well, it helps us because it makes possible for us to be constantly in touch with God. There is simply no reason that you can’t go about attending to your responsibilities and worship God both at the same time. Certainly, some time does need to be kept aside for studying of his word and prayer. But this time will be like the topping of a cake. Because at that time, you will not come to God asking for his presence, you will be in his presence throughout the day worshiping him through the things that you do throughout the day. Now, instead of little or no time for God, one would have the whole day with God.

There are also a few more things that I would like to say but this post is long enough as it is. So, I’d explore this idea of worship and staying with God throughout the day in some other post. I have also put forth the same idea of worship in an earlier post A life of Worhsip in much more detail. I’d also recommend reading this excellent book for pointers on how one can be with God throughout the day: Practice of Presence of God – The Best Rule of Holy Life.

The Fallacy of Social Evolution

First of all, let me define my terms. What do I mean by social evolution? Well, it’s a close companion to the theory of evolution. It basically states that all of our social behaviors have evolved for millions of years and are still evolving. You should note that this evolution has no direction. It doesn’t understand if it’s going up or down or left or right or if it’s going round and round. It is basically a balloon full of hot air which goes wherever the wind blows.

But, according to this particular theory, a few thousand years ago, someone tied a rope to that balloon. Then someone tied another and another and then they kept tying ropes for a few thousand years. Now, the balloon couldn’t go wherever it wanted to. Rather, it is controlled by the people that tie and cut the ropes. Generally, the system that handles tying and cutting the ropes is known as the government.

Now, the government in the 21st century is largely influenced by the people that are governed. If the people don’t like the government, they stage a coup d’etat and overthrow whoever is governing. Egypt is a recent example. And then, the people have the power to bind and loosen the ropes that lets the balloon float.

That is a quite convenient arrangement. What it means is, now we have the power to shape tomorrow’s world. Now, there is a social organism which controls it’s own social evolution. That is quite interesting. It is also quite intoxicating. It feels good to be in power.

Now let me get to the point. The world I see around me fits the last description. Humans do have the power to shape tomorrow. But what I don’t agree with is the beginning. The Darwinian theory of evolution. Because the Darwinian theory of evolution and social evolution are quite contradictory. I don’t mean to say that a thing such as a contradiction exists in the world of Darwinian evolution, however, it does exist in the world where I live.

Where is this contradiction? I’ll tell you. We all know that humans have an inherent desire to do good. Even the bad things that people do must have some element of goodness in it. So, when we try to shape the tomorrow by forming laws, we desire to make the world better. Not worse. But good and bad don’t exist in the naturalistic world. So then, what the heck is Joe doing forming laws?

But since I am feeling generous today, let’s grant a morality to naturalistic philosophy. Suppose that good and bad is the product of evolution. So, we have a set of standards defined by a blind process of which one we don’t like and one we strive for. Alright. But if that’s the case then we are actually being controlled by the process of evolution and we aren’t actually shaping the world of tomorrow. We are just playing out a script that has been written by a blind process which in all probability does not exist. We are the puppets and the universe is pulling the strings. You know, there is a word for it. Fatalism. Where Dr. Fate decides everything and you don’t have the freedom to choose anything.

So, any way you look at it, in a naturalistic framework, it is self defeating through and through. BUT, (and it’s a big but) it seems that it is true. We just need to look at our history to know that mankind has actually shaped the world we see around us today. So, maybe it is true. If you have read so far, you must be wondering what does it mean? Why is it important?

It is important because we are shaping the world of tomorrow. With each action, we are changing the world. However, it is more important today that it was before because of the prevalence of the scientific methodology in the modern thought. I don’t mean to say that the scientific methodology is wrong. It is perfect. But I’m not sure if that is the right methodology to apply in the regards of social or cultural reform.

The reason is, science helps you determine a certain category of truth. Namely about the physical world. However, there are certain things that science can not tell you. It can’t tell you the meaning of love (or meaning of anything for that matter). It can only help you gather information. Nothing else. The scientific methodology consists of trial and error. In layman’s terms, it is about gathering data from experiments and then refining those experiments to reach the truth.

However, this particular method itself is problem for social evolution. Because it means experimenting with society. With people. Testing on human subjects without their informed consent is considered a crime. Still it’s ok to do so under the label of social evolution. In social matters, it is better to find the right way without experimenting. Otherwise, humanity will incur a great loss.

Supposing that any civilization tries to go by the literal meaning of social evolution and tries to find the ideal government or society. If a society goes in the search of utopia, who guarantees that it will ever get there? Who’s to say that they will not fall into the thousand pitfalls of all the modern and ancient philosophies and become just another casualty? Just a tragic tale telling others to not go by a certain route? Just another case study at a community college?

Who can by certainty say that such a system even exists? And who is to say that with our finite knowledge and understanding we will ever find it if it exists? Who is to say that we will not keep trying the wrong way until every single one of us ceases to exist? Modern thinkers say, “Our morality is constantly evolving. What is good today might not be good tomorrow!” All I can say to them is, “Nonsense! You were a good thinker yesterday but today you are not!”

This is the problem with our generation. We don’t know the truth and we don’t know what is truth. I wrote a story to illustrate what I have said in this post. There can be a thousand wrong ways in which humans may try to evolve the society into. However, there can be only one right way. There are many angles at which one can fall but only one angle at which one can stand.

This is one basic property of truth. Truth is exclusive and it eliminate all falsehood. Once you know the truth, you can tell what is false. A single truth can eliminate a thousand lies however a thousand lies can not point towards a single truth. The scientific method is not a reasonable method for social reform. For it assumes nothingness in the beginning, it will lead to nothingness in the end.

What then, can be the solution? Should we just settle for things just as they are? By no means. I said, in a naturalistic framework, it is self defeating. Not in the theistic framework. In theistic framework, social reform is possible. However, it is not evolution. For one, unlike evolution, it has definite goal. It is reformation rather than evolution. I told you that I wrote a story. Go read that if you haven’t.

Read it? No? Go read that. I’ll wait.

Waiting…

At this time, we do not need to figure out the thousands of ways in which the civilization can fall. We need one way where it can stand. Since the theories like the one that I have just discussed makes it crystal clear that we do not know which way we should be going, it’s obvious that we should take advice from someone who does know.

Did you notice the description of the stranger in that story? A stranger that fell from the sky an instant before! Someone who knew the way and was willing enough to help him. Someone who cared enough to come down to earth to help him.

Well that story never ever took place, however something similar took place in our world. Check your history books. About 2000 years ago, you will find a figure in history that has changed the whole world. His legacy is unparalleled. In 3 and a half years of public ministry, he turned all the philosophies of the world upside down. He showed us a model to live by. Philosophers searched for truth. He claimed to be the truth. The atheistic thinkers of the 21st century talk about a world constantly changing, evolving in God knows what! But for past 2000 years, his figure, his message and his impact has stayed constant.

Only in what he says, I see hope for our world. Only in him I see the remedy for our society. Only in his teachings I see a way to change our corrupt nation. Let the darkness be pierced by the shining light of his glory. Let the nation be conquered by his love. Let his body prepare for the coming battle. Let the church arise!

Roots of Leadership

From 12th to 15th November, I had the privilege to attend ICPF leadership camp. It was a great time of blessings. There were many sessions taken on the topics like of leadership and especially on what it means to be a christian leader. And in each of the talk there were many contrasting elements between a christian leader and a secular leader. However, nobody talked about why there was such an contrast, and that for a good reason. It was obvious. It was because one was christian and other was not. However, as G K Chesterton once said, “The things that we see everyday are the things that we never see at all.” And because of this reason, I would like to discuss the obvious.

While we are at it, I’d like to call my imaginary friend Jack to help me in this discussion.

Jack: Hmmm, I heard that you were at a leadership camp a few days ago…

Me: Yea, it was a pretty good time. So, good to have a break from everyday normal life and everyday worries…

Jack: I know what you mean. In these holidays, I was also at a conference.

Me: Oh yeah? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have come with you…

Jack: Well you couldn’t.

Me: What you mean I can’t. (What the heck? Jack doesn’t want to talk about leadership.)

Jack: It was only for imaginary people. It was called how to make REAL friends and be influenced by them.

Me: Seriously? So you guys even have conferences?

Jack: Yes. It was in Semaputa this year…

Me: So, it’s held every year?

Jack: Yes.

Me: Where is this semaputa?

Jack: It’s an imaginary place.

Me: Oh I see. It’s your idea of saying that I can’t come there…

Jack: It’s true that you can’t come there, but you also didn’t invite me to your camp. What’s up with that?

Me: Well, you couldn’t have come there… It was for special people only.

Jack: Special?

Me: Yes. Also, it had registration fees and they don’t take imaginary currency…

Jack: Hmm…

Me: Well, you weren’t able to attend the camp but it doesn’t mean that we can’t discuss the topic of the camp right now…

Jack: hmmm… so what was the topic?

Me: Leadership.

Jack: Leadership?

Me: Yes. I told you it was for special people. Not everyone could come. The reason was that they wanted to do a national level camp only for leaders.

Jack: Hmm.. I see. So, how was it.

Me: It was pretty good. We had a scientist and a professor as main resource persons. Other than that, we also had a few people who took different sessions. Also, people from all the different places like around the country came.

Jack: I see. So, what did you learn?

Me: Well, to be honest, there weren’t much new concepts or ideas that I learned. But it’s good to be reminded of these things time to time. However, as a result, I found myself more interested in other people’s experiences and stories that they told. And there were a few of them. Particularly, one piqued my interest. It was a question of “How to raise new leaders?” What do you say?

Jack: Well, train them, guide them…. help them when they are in trouble.. things like that. After some time, give them their own area to lead.

Me: Well, I also thought so, but this one came as a surprise. He told it like this: Suppose a great leader is like a tree and there are smaller younger trees/plants growing under this great tree’s shadow. They would be young leaders. What would be the best way to let these young plants grow? Our answer would be that uproot these plants and plant them in another place. But that’s not right. What we should be actually doing is to remove the great tree from above it…

Jack: Hmm, that’s very interesting.

Me: Yes, I know. But since this was something new, I pondered upon it. and it really makes sense. Because, when you uproot a small plant, it’s possible that the plant will loose some of it’s roots and be damaged. And when you plant it in another place, in a completely new environment, it doesn’t know where to look for resources to sustain it. It starts to be desperate and makes a few mistakes. Depending on the gravity of these mistakes, their future hangs. If they are too great, it’s possible that the plant will die. But if they are kept in the same place, they don’t have to do these things. Furthermore, the resources that the great tree was taking to sustain itself also becomes free. So, they have plenty of resources to grow. And the roof removed from their heads helps them to see the sun clearly, but it also encourages them to be the roof above someone else’s head….

Jack: Oh… you are starting to become poetic again..

Me: Ha ha ha… oh yes. Let me come back to the reality (says the guy talking to an imaginary friend) and let’s translate that in the terms of leadership. When a great leader goes away, the young ones always have more than they can chew. That will happen in both cases. Whether the young leader is assigned to a new place or the great leader has moved to another place. However, if the young leader is left in the same place instead of being assigned to a new and different place, the earth under his feet does not move so to speak. Which will happen literally, in the latter case. The young leader still knows where to go look for help or who is the person for a certain job. Because he know the area, he will know where to look for new resources. His attempts will be guided by his knowledge of the area. But if he’s moved to another place, the attempts will be guided only by desperate need.

Jack: Hmm, the theory does seem to hold water…

Me: Yes it does. It holds plenty of water. It has to… trees can’t grow without water…

(both laugh)

Me: Well, that was the beginning. Did you notice how that whole metaphor mainly depended on the ability of the roots to find resources and support itself?

Jack: Yes. Now you mention it, it does depend largely upon it.

Me: well since I didn’t have much else to do in the camp, I found myself tracing the same idea over and over again. The idea of roots. And the metaphor of tree is true about leaders in more ways than the one that we just discussed. In the remaining days of the camp, I was thinking about the same things over and over again. To me, most of the camp (especially the discussions) seemed like we were comparing two trees with different features. One called secular leadership and one called christian leadership. They both have different features. One is not like the other. However, unlike the real world trees, these particular trees can turn into each other. Nothing keeps a secular leader from being a christian leader. Nothing but himself. Nothing except his beliefs.

Jack: Beliefs? What has beliefs got to do with it?

Me: I know it’s difficult to make a connection from leadership to beliefs. However, I had time so I thought about what made them different. That was the easy part. Because it was obvious. One was Christian, other was not. However, how exactly the beliefs influenced the style of leadership was a bit more difficult to figure out.

Jack: Uh huh?

Me: The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me as if our beliefs are our roots. We establish ourselves in our beliefs. If your beliefs are weak, your character will be weak. If your beliefs are shaken, you become vulnerable. If your beliefs are changed, you will change.

Jack: Hmm… that does seem to be true. When people change, that change is almost always accompanied by the change of beliefs.

Me: Exactly! And if you have come so far in understanding this, what do you think would be the next step in figuring out the cause of difference between the two paradigm?

Jack: We must examine their beliefs.

Me: Absolutely right! We just need to examine the beliefs. “Secular” comes from the Latin word “saecularis” which means “worldly” or “temporal”. So, it follows that it would center around the worldly things. Worldly man seeks after the things of this world. A worldly leaders seeks after the things of this world by using the people he leads. Whatever he does, he does it for his own self. He is the end that all of his schemes serve. He is the God of himself. And as long as it is just one person, it might not be ideal but it might be bearable and sustainable. However, the problem starts to arise when everyone becomes like that. Everyone wants to be the topmost stone of the pyramid. And the problem is, every stone of this peculiar pyramid is alive and all have only one desire. To be on the top. So whenever, somewhere, somehow, against all odds, a triangle forms, after a while the two who were supporting the base leaves to try and form their own triangle with themselves on the top. This bizarre exercises takes place on all the different levels of our hypothetical pyramid and the pyramid takes on strange and unimaginable shapes reflecting the disarray and conflict going inside the hearts and minds of each individual. The fallen man desperately desires to rise.

Jack: Wow! That’s some description…

Me: Oh yes! You just have to look at all the different political systems have been tried in this world. Monarchy, aristocracy, autocracy, democracy… to name just a few. Each with a different shape, size and structure. Each has different operating structure. Each with their own unique beliefs. Each a different philosophy. Why do you think that there are so many?

Jack: Because people’s beliefs are different. Great intellects of the past have created these systems after their own beliefs.

Me: Yes. Yes. However, you know what a system is, right? A system in political sense is a set of ideas, theories or guideline to govern a city or a nation. It’s kind of a call to action. Instructions for doing something. All different political systems have different guidelines. What do we learn from them? We learn that if we start out with different set of beliefs we will perform different set of actions to achieve the same goal. That is really revealing. It teaches us something about ourselves. It is our beliefs that determine our motives and in the end our actions. That’s the reason why when someone’s beliefs change, their character and their behavior also change. So, it’s the beliefs that influence the actions. Not the other way around. However, we only know about someone’s beliefs by looking at their actions.

Jack: Hmm… that is interesting. But how does that connect christian leadership?

Me: Well, it connects. It connects to everything we do. Not just christian leadership or leadership in general for that matter. Our beliefs determine our actions. That is the singular truth of everything that we do. Not only for leaders, but for everyone.

Jack: That makes sense…

Me: So, we have established one thing. The actions of a person are determined by their beliefs. That also goes for leaders. The reason that the methods of a secular leader and a christian leader are different is that their beliefs are different. We have already taken a brief look at the beliefs and consequences of that beliefs in the world. Let’s do the same for the christian. How are the Christian’s beliefs different than that of the secularist?

Jack: Well, he believes in God. In Jesus Christ.

Me: Exactly. Not just in him, but in his teachings too. And regarding leadership, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be the first, he must be the very last and servant of all.” What a paradox! If the paradigm of worldly leadership is a pyramid with the leader on top, the modal for christian leadership must be an upside down pyramid, with leader at the bottom of all. The servant of all.

Jack: Hmm… interesting.

Me: Yes. That’s very interesting. However, it’s not a concept that can be easily grasped. Especially not when all the towering philosophies of our materialistic world says, “Being a leader means dominating your subordinates and having them do slave-work.” How can a man come to believe in such a contradictory paradigm when all he has learned in the whole world tells him otherwise? That becomes the real challenge for a young christian leader. That’s where the battle lies and that’s where the battle will be decided.

Jack: How so?

Me: You know, like most of the things in this world, you can analyze and learn pretty much everything about a topic. It’s like a story I read somewhere… Mathilda’s aunt baked a cake. This cake was presented to all the leading scientists of the time and they analyzed it. They figured out everything about the cake. It’s weight, shape, the things in it. The whole recipe and everything. However, they couldn’t figure out the most important thing about the cake. It’s purpose. Supposedly, it was Mathilda’s birthday cake. They knew everything except it’s reason for existence. Everything except the one thing that gave it its value. Sometimes we become like that… For most part of the camp it seemed to me as if we were just discussing the features of a tree called Christian leadership. Talking about its shape and size. But there were a few sessions that did talk about how to become that tree…

Jack: So what was it? How do you become that tree?

Me: Well, there were a few things like integrity, love and sacrifice. However, I’d like to go to the root of all. I’d like to go to the root from which those values come. Why should one hold onto his integrity? It can’t be because it’s advantageous. Because if that’s the reason for holding onto integrity, then it might be right to let go of it when it’s not advantageous. So, what is it?

Jack: Well you said it. Beliefs.

Me: Absolutely right. Beliefs. It’s a battle of beliefs. The battle of values upon which a person will build his life. So how can a young leader win this battle? Against the continual onslaught of the cerebral nonsense of our postmodern world, how can a christian youth march onwards and upwards? The question does include our conduct and actions but it is not essentially of it. One must work on the foundations. The roots must be deep. Otherwise, just as the tree with shallow roots falls with a sudden gush of wind, he will also fall. However, when the foundation is rightly laid, then it is easy to build upon it. The growth won’t be hindered. What happens above the ground always depends upon what’s underground. How does one strengthen their beliefs? Well, I have written about it earlier, dealing particularly with doubt. However, I think the same principle can be applied here too.

Jack: Hmm… that was interesting.

Me: It is vital that we understand this. Otherwise we are put in the danger of becoming legalistic hypocrites. Which reminds me of a quote by T S Elliot. “The Last Temptation is the greatest treason; to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” It is vital that we never forget the right reason. The reason of our existence. Christ.