Thursday, October 26, 2006

Spotlight on Klang assemblyman

The Selangor Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah expresses displeasure at the controversy surrounding Port Klang assemblyman Datuk Zakaria Md Deros’ palatial new home, and demands to meet up. As everyone in Malaysia knows –thanks to The Sun’s expose – Datuk Zakaria not only built a four-storey mansion without appropriate approval, reports have surfaced that he is apparently the owner of an illegal satay stall as well. Klang residents who questioned the haste over the demolishing of a rival satay stall owned by a licensed owner (for a minor bylaw infringement) are understandably incredulous. Should not the Datuk’s ‘illegal’ construction be torn down too?

So what next? Abuse and disregard for the law by politicians and their appointees are so commonplace the cynical public is not holding its breath. But comments like this from a close friend of Datuk Zakaria reveal the extent of muddled thinking prevalent in some quarters:

Your newspaper should stop writing about the house or even the council post. Abang worked hard to come up from a railway gatekeeper, restaurant waiter and an office boy to what he is today and now you reporters are going to destroy him.”

The Sun has seen it's circulation numbers go up in the last year and it is stories like this that has contibuted to its enormous appeal. The public-spirited free paper ought to be applauded for the good work it is doing. Press liberty is thin ice in the country, but The Sun has been taking brave steps forward and I for one am a hearty supporter. You can read the paper for free online if you can't find one at a 7 Eleven or petrol station nearby.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Countering hurt with forgiveness

The tragic Amish schoolhouse shooting provides us an interesting contrast and lesson. The attacker who was not Amish left behind a suicide note describing bitterness at events and loss suffered 20 years ago and an enduring anger at God. Yet as the close-knit Amish community drew together to grieve over the horrors visited upon their community – 5 young girls died - one cannot help but be touched by their gentleness.

There’s a kind of otherworldliness in their response that is increasingly scarce in times like ours. Besides the usual soul-searching and painful fist shaking, the media reported that one thing that stood out in stark contrast was how the Amish families talked “only in terms of forgiveness.” In another report, a researcher on Amish society noted that while the hurt was great, “they don’t balance hurt with hate.”

If forgiveness is sometimes not so easily asked (even for the contrite), it is even harder to offer especially to those who have done us violence. More so when it is inexcusable violence. The example of the Amish brings to mind the recent murder of Sister Leonella on the outset of Pope Benedict’s contentious remarks. The Italian nun who was shot to death outside a hospital in Somalia where she had served for 40 years whispered, “I forgive, I forgive,” before she died.

Forgiveness is not a peripheral virtue reserved only for the saintly. Neither is it the reponse of the timid or fearful who have no recourse. It stands at the very center of Christian faith personified by Jesus who on the cross said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” His teachings to forgive those who sinned against us ‘seventy times seven’ (Luke 17:3,4) is a reminder that one ought continue to forgive as often as necessary in the same way that God Himself forgives the repentant. In our thin-skinned age, this same Jesus invites his followers to walk in his steps however personally grievous the circumstances may be. In fact the Bible carries grave warning against an unforgiving spirit, as those who do not forgive as God has forgiven them do so at the risk of their soul.

Missionary Gladys Staines whose husband and two sons were burnt to death by a Hindu mob in 1999 displayed extraordinary restraint when she told the world she forgave their killers. I remember being moved to tears reading the news then. Mrs Staines returned to Orissa to continue her late husband's work among lepers and was recently awarded for distinguished services by the government of India. As all these remarkable individuals have shown, the way of Jesus is unequivocally the way of the cross.

John Piper’s sermon on forgiveness, among other things, asked: when should one forgive another? He quoted Puritan Thomas Watson (Body of Divinity), “When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.”

When you or a loved one has suffered offense or if someone has become your enemy in spite of all possible conciliatory efforts, the Bible sets out the following attitudes to adopt:
  1. Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord."
  2. Don't seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 5:15, "See that no one repays another with evil for evil."
  3. Wish them well: Luke 6:28 "Bless those who curse you."
  4. Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles."
  5. Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."
  6. Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
  7. Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him."

Piper is also careful to add that forgiveness is not the absence of anger at sin and neither is it feeling good about what was bad. It also does not mean the absence of serious consequences for sin. We merely leave the final judgment to God of whom the Bible records as saying, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:25). Finally, forgiveness must come from the heart as Jesus said in Matthew 18:35—"unless you forgive your brother from your heart" – or else it means nothing.

If all this seems idealistic, it is. C.S Lewis himself declared that everyone agrees forgiveness is a lovely thing - until we actually have to practice it. As Bruce Wayne found out much to his chagrin in Batman Begins, we are all defined by what we do - and not merely by what we know. Or think. Thankfully, Scripture also promises that God’s grace will equip us to go where human frailty causes us to falter. And that is good enough.

Link: Terry Mattingly - Amish have answers to violence

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Living as God's People

I had a very good time hearing Dr Chris Wright deliver three expository messages from Deuteronomy last week. Organised by KL Christian Conference & Evangel Book Center, I’m pleased to report that this annual Bible exposition continues to draw the crowds. The theme “Living as God’s People for the sake of God’s World” is appropriate in addressing the way churches tend to congregate in holy huddles, forgetting the larger context of their place in the world. Take for instance this church-goer who, a little puzzled, asked regarding Lina Joy’s legal battles: “What has it got to do with us? It doesn’t affect us, what?”

This unfortunate trend is inimical to the counsel of Scripture and it was good to be reminded why it was so. The Christian has a responsibility in God's world and it is not merely in the realm of the faith and our own faith community. Elsewhere Dr Wright has put it this way:
"Old Testament ethics is going to be a social affair. It is not simply a compendium of moral teaching to enable the individuals to lead privately upright lives before God. Now, of course, this is not to deny that the Old Testament is deeply interested in the moral choices and behaviour of the individual. Many Old Testament laws, including the Ten Commandments, are framed in the second person singular, addressing the individual. But they are addressed to the individual as part of the community, and their purpose is not just individual uprightness but the moral and spiritual health of that whole community. For God's purpose, as we have seen, was not to invent a production line for righteous individuals, but to create a new community of people who in their social life would embody those qualities of righteousness, peace, justice and love which reflect God's own character and were God's original purpose for humanity.

"The relevance of our ‘social angle', then, is that when we seek to interpret the Old Testament text ethically we must not stop short at the question, 'what does this text say to me?' In fact we should not even start with that question. We must study the passage within its own social context in Old Testament Israel, asking how this text contributes to our understanding of the social and ethical life of Israel. What is its place in the total shape of that society? Then we might move on at a later stage to ask what it has to say within the present community of God's people, and then, further, what social implications it may have in human society at large. If we have energy left, then we will be faced with the challenge, 'so what kind of person must I be, and what kind of behaviour is required of me, if my life is to be shaped by, and consistent with, such a vision of God's purposes?' "[More]
So the question of how to live as God’s people remains timely. It must be said however the ethical considerations of the OT are just as relevant for New Testament Christians because God's moral laws do not change with time. Where in the past God’s people referred to the Jews, in the present, it is God’s universal Church that is now tasked with proclaiming His redemptive purpose in word and deed. Having recently completed writing some assigned devotional readings from the first 12 chapters of Deuteronomy, I couldn’t help but mentally compare notes with the themes in Dr Wright’s messages. Back when I was writing, it was Raymond Brown’s commentary on Deuteronomy Not By Bread Alone that I turned to -which really covered similar ground.

Anyway, back to Deuteronomy. It also must be said that Christianity does not seek to impose OT laws or further a new kind of theocracy. As Jesus himself declared, his kingdom is not of this world. The OT emphasis on land especially takes on a different turn for Christians today. However, the intimate connection between identity and mission is not lessened and the Church needs to examine and reclaim it afresh.

Dr Wright’s earlier book God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land and Property in the Old Testament stressed how the Church is heir to names and privileges of Israel as her ‘organic’ continuation. Except that now we live as a Messianic community – redeemed and transformed by Christ – placed in a different historical context, living out our ethical responsibilities beyond Israel’s ritualistic or cultic practices, yet bearing the same missional imperative. I like the fact that within the context of the Church, Dr Wright admits the centrality of the family – and particularly the father – as one OT focus that remains unchanged for our time.

Talking about books, I couldn’t help but pick up Dr Wright’s considerably revised Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. RM70 – that’s a bargain for a book by one of the foremost OT scholars of our day. Worth it, don't you think?