Thursday, November 03, 2005

Autumn in Princeton

For Serene.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 57:11

As Saint Frances prayed, "It is in giving that we recieve, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

To those with ears to hear and eyes to see, there will be very great release from unbearable burdens in the language of autumn trees, for example, when they dress most gloriously in preparation for death. The red of the leaves is the sign of the cross.

Winter follows, when snow closes everything in frozen silence. The trees then are skeletons, but wonders are being performed under the surface of things. Spring comes, and the hidden wonders burst out all at once - tiny shoots, swelling buds, touches of green and red where all seemed hopeless the day before.

If the leaves had not been let go to fall and wither, if the tree had not consented to be skeleton for many months, there would be no new life rising, no bud, no flower, no fruit, no seed, no new generation.
Elisabeth Elliot in 'Passion and Purity'

The earth spins and the moon goes round
The green comes from the frozen ground
And everything will be made new again
like freedom in spring
'Golden' by Switchfoot

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Liberalism, the Gospel and the Truth II

I had intended to do a series of posts chronicling the 15-day long birthday fete (Cherfy's declaration was very prophetic indeed) but I only managed 5 days. I find myself desperately short of time. In conclusion: much fun and too much cake was had. Janice bought a very yummy ice-cream cake (the 4th one!) - thank you Janice!

I am ever so thankful for all my wonderful friends.

This is a post that I'd written earlier and had intended to post but I somehow forgot, so here it is now.

I had thought that it was pretty clear in my Wednesday Oct 19 entry about Liberalism, Christianity and competing truth-claims that I was not advocating the overthrow of the liberal state. But on further consideration and conversation with the ever-thoughtful Cherfy, I see how I might have been mistaken. I have no wish to forcibly foist my views onto anyone, like I said I fully respect your right to your beliefs, and I do apologise if you felt offended by the entry. I was of course simply expressing my views on the matter in a personal capacity, in the hope that it would open up meaningful dialogue. And so to that end, I seek here to clarify my stance.

My previous entry was primarily about the hypocrisy of liberalism on the issue of intolerance and the nature of competing truth claims. It was not an all-out attack on the liberal state. I did state categorically that I believed in the separation of church and state, democracy and the right to individual choice. If that does not give you a liberal democracy, I really don't know what does.

Further more, liberal democracy is itself is built on a lot of Christian principles - the fallibility of men and the moral equality of all. C.S. Lewis claimed that the best argument for democracy is not that men are good enough to govern themselves, but that men are so bad none can be trusted with absolute power. In his "I Have A Dream" speech, Martin Luther King powerfully proclaimed, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children."

A liberal democracy, while not perfect, is the least worst of all available options.

Also, I do not advocate political revolution as such, because as I have said, I do not think that that is what fundamentally addresses our deepest problems. The darkness that sits within each of our hearts can only be dealt with by personal acceptance of the gospel.

The gospel is not a system of morality that can be externally imposed by any secular power. It is not a set of laws that can be enforced. It is not something that anyone else, or any governmental organisation, can make you do. God uses people to reach other people, that is why it is so important to share the gospel, sensitively, respectfully and lovingly. (Of course this is not how it always is because we are all fallen, but this is the way it should be.) Ultimately, believing the gospel is something that is entirely between you and God.

In the beautiful words of Martin Luther King (again), "Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities."

The gospel is an individual understanding of what God has done for you. I am broken and self-absorbed. I do not love the one who created me and gave me every good thing, in fact, most of the time I do not acknowledge him and I live my life the way I please. I do not love my neighbour as myself. I am part of the reason why the world is the way it is. I am why I find it hard to read the news every morning because there is always something new that's wrong with the world.

But I have a certain hope, that this is not all there is, that our brokennes is not all there is to this world. Because there is one who has traversed every inch of the distance between the way things are and the way they should be. The infinite distance between our brokenness and the perfect beauty of God. Jesus descended to the depths in our place, on our behalves, that we might be lifted up and reconciled to God.

I am affirmed because God loved me enough to save me when I was least deserving. And I am humbled because there is nothing I can do to save myself. It isn't because I am cleverer, because I have read extensively and thought deeply, that I have come to believe what I believe. God found me. He came knocking at my door. And so even if you disagree with me, I do not look at you with eyes of pity, and wonder why you are so blind. We are all blind. But God, in his infinite love and mercy, reached out to us and showed us the way. It is not for anything that I have done, there is no pride, but for everything that he has done for me.

When I see how broken I am, yet how beautiful God is, when I see how far I was from God and how far he came to find me, this changes everything.

And this is why I believe in a liberal democracy because this is the only system under which there is freedom of belief, freedom to commune with God (or not to) as individuals exercising our God-given free will. I have no wish to forcibly impose my views on you. I suppose this is where I part company with the fundamentalist Christian right. My feeling is that though important, our biggest problem is not whether they teach evolution in schools, and that time and resources can probably be better spent in other ways, rather than brandishing our rights against others in political combat, but of course this is just me. All I ask for is open, respectful dialogue.

Individual faith worked out in community with others should be a thing of great beauty. My prayer is that we as Christians are so radically transformed by the saving grace of God that we pour out our lives into service, that we seek first to give instead of to gain at the expense of others, that we love as God loved - sacrificially, without pride and with no prejudice (I loved that book by the way), and that we become the revolution. Not a political revolution, but a gospel revolution, so that others may see the beauty of God in our lives and so be attracted and enticed to find out more about its true source.

For force is fleeting and temporal, but beauty transforms, and beauty is eternal.