Monday, September 1, 2014

Love Jihad And The Perils Of Interfaith Marriage


           ‘Love Jihad’ is one of the contemporary trending topics in certain sections of Indian media. Love jihad is an interfaith marriage arguably with a deeper intent and consequent ramifications.

            Wikipedia defines Love Jihad as, “…also called Romeo Jihad, is an alleged activity under which young Muslim boys and men reportedly target young girls belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love. The term has been used to describe the activity in India, while similar activities have been reported in places like the United Kingdom.”1

            Love jihad in its context of use by the India media seems to incriminate Muslim boys. But aren’t there are two players in this game – a Muslim boy and a non-Muslim girl? If it takes two to tango, then incriminating the Muslim boy, and absolving the non-Muslim girl seems unjustified and irresponsible.

            The non-Muslim girl is an active party to this wedlock, so she should be held equally responsible. If force remains unemployed in this so-called coercing relationship, the non-Muslim girl becomes a willful participant to this interfaith marriage. If she is a willful participant, then she is equally responsible, if not more, for the act of marriage. 

            It’s plausible that a girl be attracted to a charitable, loving, kind, handsome, well educated or an affluent boy and be married to him. The boy could be attracted to a girl for the same reasons. So attraction is aided by a particular trait or a combination of traits inherent in the individuals.

            As much as religion is an identity, it’s also a personal trait, for religion is a serious lifestyle of an individual. But it is implausible that a girl marry a boy merely for the sake of his religion and not for any of his other personal traits.

            Religion could be a secondary or tertiary appealing trait that attracts a girl to a boy or vice versa, certainly not the primary. The primary trait that attracts a girl to a boy, I maintain, cannot be religion, but one or more traits such as good looks, affluence, benevolence, education, vocation etc.

            Elaborating briefly, in quite a few occasions, a boy and girl would silently observe each other or at least one would silently observe the other before making the first move to initiate a verbal conversation. I contend that, during this phase of silent observation, the girl gets attracted to the boy, not for the sake of his religiosity, but for the sake of his personal charms.

            In the first few silent interactions (or observations) between a boy and a girl, the individual’s personal charms achieves the task of attracting the opposite sex.  This is the preliminary attraction. Since words are not spoken during this phase, the religious identity need not be established for the attraction to mature.

            If we concede that the boy may have malicious intent in coercing the girl towards marriage for religious purposes, then we contend that the girl succumbs to the boy’s play not for the sake of his religion, but for one or the other personal trait that she finds attractive in him.

            If the girl discards her faith to marry the boy and his faith, then this is purely the decision of the girl, barring any act of explicit coercion (e.g. threat). After all, in the absence of any direct and explicit coercion for the sake of religion, the girl merely bites the attractive ‘carrot’ the boy dangles. While the boy merely dangles the carrot, it is the girl who bites the carrot. Hence the girl, through her act of accepting the boy and his faith, becomes an active and a responsible partner in the act of marriage. 

            If love jihad were to be factual, the non-Muslim girl becomes an active and an equal partner if the relationship were to culminate in a marriage. Therefore, it is unfair to entirely blame the Muslim boy and absolve the non-Muslim girl of any responsibility, or shall we say irresponsibility.

            Steering away from love jihad, let’s for a moment discuss the deep concerns that could plague an interfaith marriage. Yes, I presuppose that an interfaith marriage is a recipe for disaster.

            However, we should concede that if the husband and wife in the interfaith marriage are not passionate (the word ‘passionate’ is employed in a very deep sense here) about their respective religion, then the interfaith marriage would remain healthy from a worldly perspective. Such a marriage is a purely a marriage of convenience.

            On the other hand, if one partner of the marriage covenant is passionate about his/her religion, then he/she will encounter stumbling blocks that could potentially ruin their marriage.

            First, religious tolerance within the marriage is a fallacy, for it states that ‘you-practice-your-religion-and-I-will-practice-mine.’ The essence of religious tolerance is ‘you-do-what-you-like-and-I-will-do-what-I-like.’

            Imagine a wife as a stickler for ethics and the husband expressing his desire to rob a bank. Wouldn’t the wife, if she is a true stickler for ethics, prevent her husband from robbing the bank? But if the wife tolerates or does not oppose or prevent her husband’s desire to rob the bank, would we not say that the wife’s passion for ethics is a convenient lie? 

            Second, to affirm religious passion and at the same time training their children in both religions is fallacious as well. To allow their children to dabble with both religions in order to choose one is akin to endorsing the child to indulge in both religions.

            Endorsing the child to practice both religions, as if both were fundamentally same, either reveals the poverty of religious knowledge in the parent or is a serious blot on the factor of religious passion. No sane parent would endorse their child to both study and simultaneously indulge in lazing or gaming or being a cybernaut. These are highly destructive and distractive activities preventing the child from studying.  

            Therefore, not being passionate about their religion is to remain religiously unobtrusive (pun intended) in the marriage partnership. To be passionate about their religion and at the same time being religiously unobtrusive is to betray the true meaning behind the religious passion.

            So far, I have presented two reasons from the perspective of ‘religious tolerance’ and ‘parenting’ to assert that an interfaith marriage is a recipe for disaster for those who are passionate about their religion.  

            The third reason is based on the ‘exclusivity of religions.’ As the term suggests, all religions are highly exclusive and contradictory to each other.

            Allow me to explain through examples. What would be the state of a marriage between a conservative girl (being holy and prude) and a hedonistic (pleasure seeking) boy? It does not take an astrophysicist to answer that this marriage would be disastrous, unless one party gives in to the other’s ideologies, although they are mutually exclusive, totally unacceptable and thoroughly unfathomable.

            Holiness and hedonism cannot coexist. A conservative girl is by definition not pleasure seeking and a hedonist is never holy. Such opposites could never coexist. Similarly every religion opposes the other in every essential doctrine, so two different religions cannot coexist in a marriage covenant.

            An interfaith marriage would suffer irrevocably even in the most common aspect of dispensing with the household’s finances. Just as how a passionate supporter of a particular political party would never financially support the opposing political party, a passionate religionist would rather give his money to a project of his own religion than to an endeavor of another religion. (This does not imply that a Muslim / Hindu / Christian would not be charitable to a desperately needy person from another religion.)

            Therefore when all religions are mutually exclusive, partnership between two individuals passionate about their respective religions, would not be successful, unless one subscribes to the other or dilutes his/her own stand.  

            Does the Bible endorse interfaith marriages?

            The Bible does not teach anywhere that a Christian can marry a non-Christian and live happily to glorify God.

            The responsibility of every Christian is to glorify the only true and the living God of the Bible (1 Chronicles 16:25-29; 1 Corinthians 10: 31, Colossians 3: 17 et al.). Therefore, living with a spouse who practices another religion is synonymous to agreeing with the truthfulness of that religion or denying the truthfulness of Christianity, which consequently does not glorify the God of the Bible.

            The bible does not encourage or endorse a Christian towards interfaith marriage (Cf. 2 Corinthians 6: 14-17; 1 Corinthians 15: 33). The 1 Corinthians 7: 12-14 passage is at times referred to endorse an interfaith marriage. But this passage refers to a non-Christian who converts to Christianity while being married to an unbelieving spouse. This passage does not refer to a Christian marrying an unbeliever. 1 Peter 3:1 is another similar passage that suggests a marriage between a Christian wife and a non-Christian husband, where the conversion of the wife into Christianity happened during the marriage.

            But don’t these passages suggest a happy marriage between a Christian married to an unbeliever?

            While these passages do not refer to a happy married life, they merely suggest that the commitment to the institution of marriage be honored. However, if the unbeliever desires to exit from the marriage covenant, the Bible teaches that the Christian spouse should not prevent the unbeliever’s exit (1 Corinthians 7: 15). 

            Therefore, my conclusion is two-fold:

            (1) I personally do not subscribe to jihad of any form or size. However, within the context of love jihad, the non-Muslim girl exercises her freewill to marry and convert to Islam. Hence, the non-Muslim girl is equally responsible, and it is unjust to ascribe blame purely on the Muslim boy.

            (2) Interfaith marriage is a recipe for disaster provided one or both spouses are passionate about their religion.

            May God bless us all. Amen.  


           

Endnotes:


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Jihad

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Do Good Things Happen To Bad People?


Introduction

            Some leading thoughts from the more commonly asked question “why do bad things happen to good people?” would serve as an introduction.

            The question “why do bad things happen to good people?” is often asked with a motive to label God as malevolent or powerless. This question presupposes that good people deserve good things, not bad things, because they haven’t done anything wrong, at least comparatively.

            However, when bad things happen to good people, the governance of our world seems bizarre. Consequently, this situation seemingly lends credence to God being either evil or powerless.

            This question apparently defends the cause of ‘good people,’ hence seems noble, in its essence. Moreover, since bad things do happen to good people, this question gains legitimacy whether its intent is to understand or undermine God.

            This question, in many instances asked by a skeptic, naturalist or a postmodern, is intended to undermine or denigrate God through the presupposition and the subsequent challenge of God’s goodness and power. But would they, with similar seriousness and intensity, ask, “why do good things happen to bad people?”

Thoughts On “Why Good Things Happen To Bad People?”

            Reasonable individuals ought to consider both sides of the coin. If we question the reality of bad things happening to good people, then the reality of good things happening to bad people need also be questioned.

            If God is considered the author of bad things happening to good people, then God should be the author of good things happening to bad people. So it is obligatory to keep God in the equation when we question good things happening to bad people.

            In its essence, the question “why do good things happen to bad people” investigates God’s love, grace and justice. In other words, only a loving and gracious God can possibly offer good things to bad people, especially when justice demands that bad people deserve bad things.

            Because the questioner exports an ardent anticipation of the justified consequence of punishment to bad people, he/she disputes the reality of good things happening to bad people as inherently unjustified. Therefore, this question, in its essence, gains ignobility.  

            Outside the theoretical deliberations of the academic domain, this question is often raised by the righteous who are suffering. Because it is unfair that the righteous suffer and the evil prosper.

            The Bible deals with prosperity of the wicked in Jeremiah 12:1-5, Psalm 37, 73, and Habakkuk. Before we move further, let us affirm the following:

            (1) All good people do not suffer. There are many good people in the world who do not undergo terrible suffering. For instance, although most of Christ’s disciples suffered gory deaths, tradition affirms that apostle John died rather peacefully. (While traditions affirm that apostle John was boiled in boiling oil, some traditions maintain that he did not suffer while being boiled. Consequently, all who witnessed this miracle were presumably converted to Christianity.)

            (2) All bad people do not prosper. There are many bad people languishing in the prisons or dead and gone.

            (3) If all good people suffer and all bad people prosper, then God’s purpose for life could be in serious jeopardy.  

            (4) So only some good people suffer and some bad people prosper.

            (5) Because not all good people suffer and not all bad people prosper, it’s reasonable to infer that God is not evil per se (intrinsically).

            (6) Because not all good people suffer and not all bad people prosper, it’s reasonable to infer that God should have a definite purpose in allowing suffering and prosperity upon certain individuals.

            (7) Moreover, because God is sovereign and because the suffering of the good and prosperity of the bad is not universal, we could legitimately infer that God chooses some good people to suffer and some bad people to proper.

            Therefore, the question “why do good things happen to bad people” should question both the purpose (why does God allow prosperity) and the choice (why God chooses ‘A’ over ‘B’) behind this existential reality.

Choice & Purpose In The Prosperity Of The Wicked

            Broadly, and not considering the moral status of people as to whether they are good or bad, we ask why God chooses some to suffer and others to prosper? Similarly, we could ask why God chose Matthew as a disciple and not another tax collector.  

            To the best of my knowledge, the Bible does not explicitly offer an answer as to why God chose Matthew and not another tax collector or why God chose Paul and not another student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Because the Bible does not reveal the reasons behind God’s choice always, we rest the case of God’s choice on the impeccable justice, goodness and love of a sovereign God (Cf. Romans 9: 9-18).

            To rest the choice of people enjoying or suffering under various situations of good and gory on the almighty God’s sovereignty is much better than to dump this very painful existential question to randomness or its queer ramifications.

            Passages such as 1 Samuel 2: 6-7 explicitly teach that God authors poverty and prosperity. This binds precisely with God’s sovereignty, for only a sovereign or a maximally great being is supposed to and expected to author every event of life. Therefore, God’s overwhelming presence in poverty and prosperity is never in question.

            Is the sovereign God expected to inform people of every choice HE makes? In other words, should God be accountable to people? A maximally great being need not be accountable to HIS creation. Contrarily, it’s the creation that’s accountable to its creator.

            In an academic setting, the professor offers relevant knowledge to the students. In a two-year academic course, the professor, whose knowledge exceeds that of the student, offers the student relevant knowledge during the first year of the student’s academic pursuit. Then the professor offers greater knowledge to the student in the second year.

            In any case, the professor is not obligated to offer a greater knowledge than what’s expected of him and what’s expected of the student. This is analogous to God’s relationship with people.

            God is neither necessitated nor obligated to reveal or enlighten his choice(s), unless HE so determines a need to reveal in accordance with HIS omniscience. Therefore, we don’t necessarily need to know why God chooses certain people to enjoy and suffer the good and the gory, respectively.

            What’s God’s purpose in allowing good things upon bad people?

            But why shouldn’t God allow good things upon bad people? A sovereign God can do what HE desires (Romans 9: 15). The Bible teaches that the sovereign God is good, gracious, compassionate, merciful and loving. Therefore, when good things happen to bad people, it purely displays God’s grace upon the undeserving.

            Let’s think from another vantage point. If God is merely obligated to serve justice by means of meting out good to those who are good, and bad to those who are bad, then it seems to me that a well programmed robot can achieve this functionality to perfection. But a maximally great being exists to not perform the meager functions of a robot.

            In certain instances and for specific reasons, good things could be delayed to those who are good and bad things could be delayed to those who are bad. What may these specific reasons be? Let’s just, for the sake of convenience, say that the reasons are for ‘greater good’ (the greatest good being salvation).

            Consider this example from the Bible. The one who owed the king ten thousand talents was forgiven of his entire debt (Matthew 18: 23-35). This was a good thing to happen to this wicked man. The greater good, in this instance, was to teach this wicked man the art of grace and forgiveness. But this wicked man failed to learn from the goodness rendered to him, and finally received the judgment that he deserved.

            So one reason why good things happen to bad people may well be that God, by virtue of HIS graciousness, is delaying HIS judgment upon them so that they come to know, believe and love HIM.

Conclusion: Our Response

            When we ask “why do bad things happen to good people,” the questioner seems noble and God seems ignoble. Contrarily, when we ask “why do good things happen to bad people,” the role reverses, for in this instance, the questioner seems ignoble (arguing for the punishment of the wicked) and God seems noble (being favorable to the wicked).

            Because God does not change, our question neither confers nobility or ignobility upon God. The immutable reality is that God is always good.

            Since God will always be good, gracious and loving, it’s only appropriate that bad people get good things from HIM. So this question, instead of exposing an apparent aberration in God’s governance, cements HIS unconditional love for people.

            I believe in the Bible, so I see myself as a sinner or a bad person, hence this question applies to me as well. I am grateful that though I am a sinner, God’s blessings are abundant in my life. This rich experience of God’s grace motivates me to be gracious with people who hate me.  


            We also pray that those unworthy of God’s blessings would realize their unworthiness and draw closer to the life giving presence of the living God. Thus they will partake in the life giving sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ through belief in Christ, which is the ultimate good for all people. Amen. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Should Persecuted Christians Fight Back?


            The social media was rampant with gory details of persecutions of Christians in Iraq by the ISIS and the savagery of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Thus it’s merely reasonable to think about the rightful response to these persecutions by the persecuted.

            Notwithstanding a reasonable thought, an article by Michael L. Brown, an eminent Messianic Jewish scholar, recently asked the same question – should persecuted Christians fight back? He provides the pros and cons for retaliating.

            Here is a summary from his article (please refer his article for his exposition).1 Dr. Brown’s reasons against retaliation are:

            “1) Jesus went to the cross willingly and instructed His followers not to fight for Him (John 18:36). We are to follow in His footsteps (Matthew 16:21-26).

            2) None of the apostles resisted persecution.

            3) Jesus taught against fighting back (Matthew 26:51-54).

            4) The entire testimony of the New Testament is against us violently fighting against our persecutors. We are called to pray for them (Matthew 5:43-48), we are the lambs going to the slaughter (Romans 8:35-39; 1 Peter 2:21-23), we are promised persecution (2 Timothy 2:3; John 15:18-20), and only those who suffer with Jesus will reign with Him (Romans 8:16-18), and great is their reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12).

            5) Jesus told His disciples that if they were persecuted in one city, they should flee to another (Matthew 10:22-25). He could have given military alternatives as well, but He did not.”

            Dr. Brown apparently suggests reasons for Christians to retaliate…

            “1) From a humanitarian perspective, a how would a father of three young daughters offer them to the persecutors for rape, torture and sex slavery, would he not fight for their lives?

            2) What do we do when we can’t flee?

            3) Today persecution is a geo-political issue. Should not Christians take up arms to defend themselves just as anyone else in their shoes would fight against an invading army?

            4) It is the proper role of government to use the sword to fight against evil and uphold good (see Romans 13:1-4). Some terrorist groups, like Boko Haram, are in complete violation of their country’s laws, so for Christians to fight against them is no different than a Christian homeowner using physical force to stop a dangerous intruder.

            5) The Scriptures call us to rescue those who are perishing (Proverbs 24:11-12). So why not fight those who are beheading Christian children and slaughter others in the most gruesome ways?

            6) Luke 22:35-38 suggests that swords could be used for self-defense…”

            The reasons to fight and not to fight sounds compelling, but is it more compelling to fight back or not to? Here is my personal take on this situation.

            If the persecutors force themselves to violate the sanctity of my children or any other member of my family, then I would do all that it takes to defend my family. I would rather give up my life in defending my family than not. Only the creator and the Father God has the right to take life off this earth (Cf. 1 Samuel 2: 6-7; Job 1: 21). Loving our neighbor entails protection.

            If the persecutors are in the business of slaughtering Christians for their faith in Christ, then I would most willingly offer my life for the sake of Christ. In other words, I would not recant my faith in Christ to live a few more miserable years. A profitable reminder from history is the martyrdom of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey). 2

            From a nation’s standpoint, the ruling authority should do all that it takes to protect the basic human rights of all its citizens. The world should intervene during persecutions to protect those being persecuted.

            But what if persecutions are engineered by the ruling authorities? A typical case in point would be the persecutions organized by Hitler or Mao Zedong.

            If Christians are being persecuted by the governing authorities, then the Bible does not offer any tangible reason to fight back the governing authorities by means of violence. Fleeing is an option, but if fleeing is not possible, then persecution should be endured. Christians cannot take up arms to fight or rebel against the governing authorities.

            There could be persecutions at the workplace. Especially if we are ardent in our faith in Christ, then the ardent believer(s) of other worldviews may innovate methods to jeopardize our presence at the workplace. In such situations, our primary response should be to allow our work ethics and proficiency to strengthen our presence at our workplace.      

            There is never a good reason to fight our persecutors at our workplace. Therefore, when the going gets tough, then we, as tough Christians, should increase our work efficiency at our workplace to let our work defend our presence.

            If persecutions at work go out of hand, and there are good instances where it can get harsh on us, then it may even be a viable option to consider moving out. But in any case, we should love our persecutors. We should never hate or retaliate against them. We can never repay evil for evil (Romans 12: 17).

            In some instances, our own family members would persecute us (Matthew 10: 21, 35-36; Luke 21: 16). They, like the other persecutors, may say all kinds of evil things against us (Matthew 5: 11) or use our own words against us (Matthew 22: 15; Luke 11: 53-54) or raise false accusations (Matthew 26: 59-61; 2 Timothy 2: 8-9) or crucify our character (Luke 7: 34; John 7: 12, 9: 24) or simply term us as the devil (Matthew 9: 34).

            While we suffer these persecutions, we ought to seriously consider if we are on the side of the truth or not. If we are not for Christ, then we are against HIM (Matthew 12: 30; Luke 11: 23).

            The objective for every Christian is to be in Christ and in HIS truth always. If we are in Christ, then our persecutions would be for HIS sake. The greater reward, according to the Bible, is only to those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ (Matthew 5: 10; 2 Timothy 3: 12).

            HoweverTherefore, if we are persecuted by our own, then we should endure it and not retaliate against them. 

            Retaliation is never an option for a Christian or a group of Christians. Retaliation against the governing authorities, through formation of rebel outfits, is out of question for Christians.  

            In HIS own mysterious yet marvelous ways, God will help those being persecuted (Psalm 46: 1). These verses summarize the state of the believers being persecuted, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-11, NASB, Emphasis Mine).

            To God be the glory (Jude 1: 25). Amen.



Postscript:
The discussion whether to retaliate or not does not imply that a nation not defend itself when it’s under attack (persecution). When a nation is under an unjust aggression, it does possess all reasonable rights to defend itself. Failure to defend, I believe, is a gross injustice to its citizens.

Endnotes:

1 Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2014/08/should-persecuted-christians-defend-themselves/#4CKOjUCC26DAb3hg.99

 2 “One of the most stirring martyrdoms recorded in church history is Polycarp's. When the venerable bishop of Smyrna (modern-day Izmir, in Turkey) heard the Romans were planning to arrest him, he heeded his friends' advice and withdrew to a small estate outside of town. But while in prayer there, he had a vision. "I must be burned alive," he told his friends. When the soldiers arrived, his friends once more urged him to run, but Polycarp answered, "God's will be done."

After being escorted to the proconsul, Polycarp carried on a witty dialogue with his questioner, who flew into a rage and threatened Polycarp with death by fire. "The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little," Polycarp answered; "for you do not know the fire of coming judgment, and everlasting punishment, that is laid up for the impious. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will."


At the execution scene the soldiers began to secure him to the stake, but Polycarp stopped them: "Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails." He prayed and the fire was lit. The second-century chronicler of this martyrdom said it was "not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace." The martyrdom, he added, was remembered by "everyone"—"he is even spoken of by the heathen in every place."” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1997/may19/7t6016.html) 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Who Is A Spiritual Christian?


            First, the term “spiritual christian,” as I employ, does not refer to a sect of Russian orthodoxy.

            Second, broadly there are two types of Christians –genuine and false. Genuine Christians are described as, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10: 9-10, NASB). A false Christian neither confesses nor believes in the historic Christ, and denies HIM. Therefore, a false Christian will not be saved.

            Third, within the spectrum of genuine Christianity, there could be spiritual and unspiritual (carnal) Christians. This is a complex subject, so I wish not to stand in judgment over anyone.

            Here’s an illustration of the complexity I am referring to. Consider a Christian soldier who, due to his work exigencies, cannot spend time positively communing with God. Would we term this Christian soldier spiritual or unspiritual? I’d rather not stand in judgment over this person or anyone in similar situations.

            However, let’s come to the topic on hand.

            The local church is an outstanding setting to observe the spiritual branding of Christians. For example, the pastor or a member of the Church board / committee or a preacher will be considered to be more spiritual because of his/her spiritual profile. Elsewhere, a Christian who speaks in tongues or prophesies would be considered more spiritual than those who lack these gifts. Is this how Christians should be branded as spiritual or not?

            Matthew 7: 22-23 categorically rules out a universal branding based on spiritual gifts. Therefore, possessing spiritual gifts need not be the criteria for spirituality.

            Spirituality is not about positions as well. Matthew 23 is a case in point. Christ condemned those who held high positions for their hypocrisy. 

            What about the learned and the scholarly? Is intellectuality a case for spirituality? The scribes and pharisees were learned; Matthew 23 negates spirituality based on intellectuality. Moreover, Satan knows the Scriptures well enough, for he quoted Scriptures to the Lord. So knowing the Scriptures need not be the criteria for spirituality.

            What about those who fervently pray in the public? Are they to be considered more spiritual than the others? Verses such as Matthew 6:5, 23: 14** and Luke 18: 11 negate a universal application of prayer as criteria for spirituality.

            What about those regularly attending their local church? If spirituality is determined by a diligent regularity to the worship in the local church, then this statement gains validity, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.” A Christian gains nothing out of his church attendance, if his body is inside and his mind outside the church.

            Sacrificial giving does not attest to spirituality. Sacrificial giving amounts to nothing if the intention behind the giving violates God’s commands (Cf. Malachi 1: 6-14; Luke 18: 9-14, 18-27).  

            To sum up, a Christian need not necessarily be spiritual due to:

            (1) His high position in the local church or in God’s Kingdom (e.g. head of a Christian organization).

            (2) Spiritual gifts (speaking in tongues, prophesying etc).

            (3) Knowledge of Scriptures and intellectuality.

            (4) Articulate prayers.

            (5) Regular attendances to the local church.

            (6) Sacrificial giving.

            Who then is a spiritual Christian?

            First, a spiritual Christian lives in and for the truth (Joshua 24: 14; 2 Kings 20: 3; Psalm 15: 2 et al.). His private and public life should consistently testify to his truthful lifestyle, primarily to God and consequentially to man.  This is not to say that he would be sinless, for none are sinless.

            He does not willingly venture into sinful deeds for hedonistic or narcissistic intent, but he will quickly repent and relent of his sinfulness. God would be his primary focus and he would sincerely attempt to view and interpret the world and his life from Christ’s perspective a.k.a. “what would Christ want me to do…[in every situation].” He would not intentionally violate God’s commands.

            Living in truth mandates the exposure of lies that strives to destroy a Christian’s faith in Christ. Because Satan masquerades as an angel of light, the spiritual Christian will always fight the good fight against all dark and evil forces and their entailments with the armor of God (2 Corinthians 10: 5, 11: 14; Ephesians 6: 10-20).

            Second, humility would be the spiritual Christian’s hallmark with Christ’s humility as his benchmark. He would intentionally strive to be lesser while Christ becomes greater in and through his life. He would do nothing to glorify himself. Even if he unintentionally does, he would consciously strive to purge those unintentional self-glorification deeds from his life.

            Third, a spiritual Christian would love and yearn for more of God and for the continuous anointing of the precious Holy Spirit. His first love is God. His life would be lovingly dedicated for God’s glory.

            A spiritual Christian would ‘love’ [God and] man in the words of 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a (PHILLIPS):  

            “This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.

            Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.

            Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”

            Very significantly, a spiritual Christian would travel the extra mile to love that one needy person over and above the many. Contemporary Christianity is adept at ignoring the one person over the many. This is much unlike Christ who left the ninety-nine out in the open to care for the one lost sheep (Matthew 18: 12-14; Luke 15: 3-7)

            In other words, quite a number of contemporary Christian leaders love to serve the needs of the many and not the one. That one needy person is deemed insignificant. This is the bane of contemporary Christianity, which is scrupulously unchristlike and consequently unspiritual.

            Fourth and finally, the spiritual Christian would demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a growing measure from his life. So he/she would:

            …love the unlovable (Matthew 5: 39-42; 1 John 3: 18)

            …be joyous in pain (Job 6: 10)

            …as much as possible be at peace with everyone (Romans 12: 18; Hebrews 12: 14)

            …be patient with God and man in pain and suffering (2 Corinthians 1: 6)

            …be kind (Romans 11: 22)

            …be good (3 John 11)

            …be faithful when faith in Christ is threatened (Romans 1: 17; 1 Corinthians 4: 2; Cf. Isaiah 5: 20)

            …be gentle (Matthew 5: 5; Philippians 4: 5)

            …be self controlled amidst temptations (Titus 2: 11-12; 2 Peter 1: 5-7)

            These attributes or the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in a Christian’s life when he/she remains in the Lord (John 15: 5). Apart from Christ we cannot bear fruit.

            Therefore, truth, humility, love and the fruit of the Spirit are mandatory to the spirituality of a Christian. He achieves this by continuously yielding himself to the control of the Holy Spirit. Everything else (position, spiritual gifts, knowledge of Scriptures, articulate prayers, regular church attendance, and sacrificial giving) is a mere postscript to true spirituality.

            This, I believe, is God’s will for those in Christ Jesus – being truthful, humble, loving, and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit at all times by virtue of a loving and a surrendered life in Christ. Amen.

Endnotes:


** - Matthew 23: 14 would not be found in certain translations because the verse was not found in some early manuscripts. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sex, Abuse & Murder for Revenge; Who Takes Revenge?


            I was motivated to dwell on the subject of vengeance this week after coming across the following media reports:

            (1) In an act of vengeance, a Kenyan HIV positive undergraduate student, it seems, has thus far infected 324 men and plans to infect 2000 more through unprotected sexual intercourse.1

            (2) A video of a maid physically abusing an infant. YouTube has several videos of such abuses, each of them demonstrating an utter depravity of the mind through maximal rage.

            The act of the HIV positive Kenyan student infecting a multitude of men through unprotected sexual intercourse could be a deliberate act of vengeance. The physical abuse of infants by maids, who are meant to care and protect, reveals possible vengeance, but a very certain mindless rage.

            The Kenyan student wasn’t the only one who went on a venomous vengeful sexual rampage; there are other documented instances of a similar nature - Darnell “Boss Man” McGee and Pamela Wiser, to name a few.2 

            It is evil to avenge one person, but isn’t it a sinister mind that avenges many? Why would anyone resort to revenge? What would possibly cause a person to operate with venomous vengeance?

            Let’s consider some scientific conclusions for probable causes.

            Social psychologist Dr. Ian McKee links vengeful tendencies to social attitudes such as right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance. He concluded that "people who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status…They don't want to lose face." Such people, he adds, are those that "tend to be less forgiving, less benevolent and less focused on universal-connectedness-type values."  Professor of Psychology, Dr. Michele Gelfand offers a cultural dimension and concludes that anger fuels revenge in individualistic cultures, and shame in collectivistic cultures.3 

            Some scientists attribute revenge to catharsis3 (evacuation of emotional tensions or emotional release). Although revenge in such situations should bless the avenger, for in avenging, the pent up emotional tensions are evacuated and the avenger remains at peace. But scientists conclude that revenge as an act of emotional catharsis fails to evacuate emotional tensions, instead damages the individual seeking revenge by keeping the wounds fresh.3&4

            Some avengers consider revenge to be sweet and satisfying. Some psychologists conclude that another cause for revenge is reestablishment of justice.4

            However, studies into these causes to avenge conclude that avengers have much to agonize, for in various instances a revenge meant to be satisfying may not satisfy the avenger, and revenge meant to reestablish justice need not be successful.4

            Therefore, if we summarize these scientific conclusions, we arrive at the following significant and possible reasons for revenge:

            (1) Right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance.

            (2) Anger and shame.

            (3) Catharsis (evacuation of emotional tensions or emotional release).

            (4) Satisfaction.

            (5) Reestablishment of justice.

            To reiterate, scientists have observed that these reasons for revenge need not necessarily heal or placate the avenger. Instead, the act of revenge significantly damages the avenger. Therefore, the avenger remains in the very pitiful state that initially motivated him/her towards revenge. In other words, even in the eyes of secularists, revenge wrecks the avenger greatly.

            Let’s consider the Bible now.

            Doesn’t the Bible, Old Testament specifically, advocate revenge through its ordinance ‘eye for eye’ (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21)?

            ‘Eye for eye’ was purely in the context of unbiased justice (neither too strict nor too gentle) within a judicial system, wherein a judge impartially judges an offense. God does not motivate his people to avenge through the ordinance of ‘eye for eye.’5

            Alternatively, the Bible categorically teaches that revenge should never be a part of a Christian life, in the realm of personal relationships. There are simply no excuses for revenge in a Christian, for God said, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Leviticus 19: 18, NASB). The Bible mandates its believers to overcome evil with good (Matthew 5: 38-48; Romans 12: 9-21) and to love each other as the Lord loves us (John 13: 34, 15: 12).

            From time to time we may observe Christians avenging in personal relationships. If the Bible mandates love instead of revenge, how could a Christian desire revenge instead of love? If a Christian avenges, then should his Christianity be questioned?

            Christians who exact revenge may be immature or ungodly. Then again, an immature Christian cannot be a serial avenger, because serial revenge is a gross violation of the Scripture. Hence serial revenge is ungodly and unchristian. On the other hand, if a Christian persists in serial vengeance, then there is a good possibility of mental sickness as well.

             A genuine Christian could exact revenge in a fit of rage. Thereafter, he/she would comply with the promptings of the Holy Spirit to repent and relent from vengeance. Then again, this person would not serially repent and relent. Serial sin cannot be a character of a genuine Christian. 

            Let’s for a moment consider atheists, for they reject God. Hence, would atheists be consistently vengeful?

            Atheists can, in quite a few instances, relegate genuine Christians to shame through their extreme kindness, grace, love and charity. Vengeance may not even be in the life’s dictionary of these atheists.

            So the absence of vengeance in the absence of God is an interesting feature. How do we reconcile this situation?

            In other words, when Christians take revenge, especially serial revenge, we conclude that they must be ungodly / unchristian or mentally sick. Alternatively, they were not Christians to begin with. (Mental sickness is another can of worms, so we shall keep it aside.)

            But should not an atheist, who rejects God, be actively prone to vengeance? In other words, if not God, then what causes an atheist to choose love over vengeance? Because we do observe that in the absence of God, some choose to be vengeful and others not (some succumb to their desire for revenge and the others overcome that very desire).

            What then causes the ungodly to not be vengeful? The Bible teaches that, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…” (Romans 2: 14-15, NASB, Emphasis mine). The ungodly do know what it is to be right and wrong, and they choose to be right than wrong, for they too are under the absolute sovereignty of God.

            But those who rebel to be serially sinful have set their minds on not what is right or on not what God wants HIS people to do. In fact, they rebel against the Biblical teaching, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3: 2, NASB). Therefore, the ungodly, by rejecting God, set their minds on the things of the earth, when they choose to be serially vengeful.

            Christians would at times feel the need to avenge especially when they are victimized for what they reckon as no fault of theirs. What should be done in these situations?

            Sinful desires to avenge should be sacrificed at the altar of God’s justice, and Christians should emulate David’s kindness to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24: 12, NASB; Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). But this is easier said than done, so how do we emulate David?

            Christian life ought to be intentionally lived in God’s presence. We need to intentionally live so not to be vengeful. Therefore, we are called to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things… practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4: 6-9, NASB).

            We are to intensify our prayer to God in times of sinful desires. We are to intentionally dwell on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. If we pray intensely and intentionally remain in Christ by virtue of thinking that which is godly, then the God of peace would rule our hearts and we will refrain from being vengeful. Amen.

Endnotes:
1 http://elitedaily.com/news/world/woman-kenya-infects-300-men-hiv-part-revenge-act-plans-infecting-2000/ & http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/kenyan-hiv-positive-woman-i-infected-324-men-1439152

2 http://www.snopes.com/horrors/madmen/aidsmary.asp

3 http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/06/revenge.aspx

4 http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/october-11/the-complicated-psychology-of-revenge.html


5 http://www.gotquestions.org/eye-for-an-eye.html 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Israel-Hamas War, Flight Crashes, Four Blood Moons & End Times (Inevitability of Violence &War And Necessity of Death)



            Another Israel-Hamas conflict that could escalate into full-blown bloodshed; three flight crashes in a week – Malaysian Airlines MH17, Taiwanese GE222, and Air Algérie AH5017 that amounted to around 450 fatalities. Is the four blood moons prophecy coming true?

            The four blood moons prophecy (which had prophesied disaster upon Israel) did not persuade me to affirm Pastor Hagee and Pastor Blitz’s prophecies. This was stated in my earlier article.1 However, with conflicts and calamities abounding, do we need to rethink and affirm the four blood moons prophecy?

            Let’s consider Israel-Hamas conflict, especially the rocket and mortar attacks on Israel.2 Wikipedia reports 3000+ rocket and mortar attacks in 2008. Subsequently there’s been a decrease in the attacks through 2009, 2010 and 2011 - 858, 365, and 680 respectively. But 2012 witnessed a huge increase - 234% & 2000+ attacks. Thus far 2014 has recorded 700+ attacks; a 1500% increase since last year.

            There’s been an enormous increase (2415++) in the rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in the month of July 2014.3 The recent mid-June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens (suspected work of Hamas militants) witnessed escalation of violence in the Gaza strip with the deadliest military operation since the Gaza war of 2008-09 by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) code named “Operation Protective Edge.”4

            This is indeed a cause for alarm.

            However, the rocket attacks since 22nd July have relatively decreased. This could primarily be due to ceasefire agreement and the extraordinary offensive of the IDF.5

            Statistics cannot facilitate accurate forecasting, but they could reveal a probable future. If 2008 and 2012 elapsed without larger conflicts, then we could anticipate a similar 2014. Therefore, if 2014 and 2015 would slip away as 2008 and 2012, then the four blood moons prophecy would remain unfulfilled.

            Furthermore, only the insane would hope and pray for a bloodier conflict anywhere in the world, let alone Israel and Palestine. None in their right mind would pray for war and violence.

            If our prayer and hope is for peace to reign in the Middle East, then we are praying against the four blood moon prophecy. If peace were to reign in the Middle East, specifically in Israel and Palestine, then four blood moons prophecy would remain unfulfilled.

            Yet the fourth blood moon will be on 28th September 2015. So, nothing definitive can be said about the fulfillment or the nonfulfillment of the prophecy.

            Three plane crashes in a week is agonizing to fathom. Is this a sign of an imminent doomsday (end of the world)?

            151, 600 people die every day6 – some peacefully and some not so. The 450+ deaths due to three plane crashes this week seems insignificant in comparison to the number of deaths in a day.

            An average person fears death and considers death as a great evil. The great Greek philosopher Plato, who lived much before the Lord Jesus, ridiculed mankind’s fear of death, “No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.7

            Christians fearing death flaunt an impoverished insight into the Bible’s teachings. The most famous Psalm 23 urges its believers not to fear death, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me…” (Psalm 23: 4, NASB). Having been seated at the heavenly realms already (Ephesians 2: 6), the believers of Christ should eagerly await their death, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”(Philippians 3: 20-21, NIV).

            Christians condemning death demonstrate their acute paucity of Biblical knowledge. Violence should be abhorred; not death. Everyone dies at the precise time ordained by God. No one will ever die before their time. This is the entailment of God’s sovereignty and justice.

            Moreover, because God is sovereign, loving, good and just, no one would miss out on their salvation because of death. A just God ensures fair opportunities for every person to either accept or reject Christ. Christians should understand this truth. Failure to understand this truth would lead a Christian into a faulty and a more damaging outlook of life.

            Death materializes variously – at the hospital bed, plane crash, fatality in a war or a violent situation, or a peaceful death in the presence of the loved ones etc.. Whatever the case may be, death is inevitable and necessary for mankind.

            But that’s not it.

            As long as this world exists evil will exist, and as long as evil exists violence and gory deaths will exist. Violence, hence, is not merely the work of evil, but also necessary for the elimination of evil.

            Let’s now draw a distinction between aggression and defense. The initiator of gratuitous or unjustified hostility is the evil aggressor. The one who guards against assault is the defender. The world needs not a gratuitous aggressor. A morally conscientious entity would seldom be the unjustified aggressor. The evil entity would always be the gratuitous aggressor.

            However, the realization of an opportune time to eliminate evil is the state in which a morally conscientious entity becomes a justified aggressor (Romans 13: 4 Cf. Proverbs 25: 26; 1 Timothy 5: 8). Elimination of evil favors the world. The Bible proclaims a permanent elimination of evil when the Lord returns in all HIS glory to judge the world.

            As much as death is a necessity, violence is inevitable when evil should be eliminated. Violence includes gory scenes. As much as we do not desire violence, and as much as we hate it, and as much as we speak against it, let us be assured of the prevalence of violence as long as evil exists. Violence is inevitable to eliminate evil.

            We could argue endlessly about the goodness or the evilness of Israel or Hamas, but the fact remains that one is good and the other evil. God alone knows perfectly as to who is good and evil.

            Being right or wrong in our opinion or judgment is insignificant unless we possess an active and substantial role to usher peace. But the existence of evil entails violence and war. Let’s be prepared for this eventuality.

            The aspect of violence and war becomes complicated in perceptions. Violence and war are the entailments of perceptions. Let’s consider Hamas-Israel conflict.

            Israel and Hamas perceive themselves as virtuous. Moreover, Israel perceives Hamas as the agent of destruction and Hamas requires Israel’s eviction from what it considers as a forcible occupation of Palestine. In this context, both parties focus on eliminating their evil enemy, and hence they justify violence and war.

            But the fact remains that both cannot be right at the same time. Either Hamas or Israel is right, certainly not both. How then would good sense prevail in Israel and Hamas?

            It’s only through Christ crucified and the cross. It’s at the cross where the Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed his life to save mankind of their sins. Therefore, either Israel or Hamas should necessarily sacrifice their desire and earnestly work towards peace. This is the voluntary or autonomous or a free-willed solution.

            Regrettably, both Israel and Hamas reject Christ. So Christ as a voluntary solution to terminate this conflict may not be a valid proposition. This is reality.          

            The other rational solution is to force one or both parties to submit. But with the world polarized as it is now, this too seems farfetched.

            What then should we do? We could pray for those in pain that they would experience the satisfying, comforting and encouraging blessings of the Lord Almighty during their pain and need. We could pray that God would, in ways that only HE could, put an end to this conflict.

            Outside of prayer, we could materially and financially bless the needy. But the dilemma is that we may never know who the recipients would be, whether those suffering or those perpetrating evil.

            We are living in the last days. The Bible teaches that wars between nations are inevitable in the last days (Matthew 24: 6b). When the Bible teaches wars are inevitable, there would be wars, whether we pray for or against them. This is an existential reality we should learn to live in.

            We will wail with everyone who is in pain, especially gruesome pain. This is reality. But a world without war and violence will not be a reality.

            Habakkuk pleaded with God about God’s apparent inactivity when wickedness, strife and oppression were rampant in Judah. When God assured him of the eventual destruction of evil, Habakkuk rested in God’s sovereign will and waited for God’s perfect and pleasing will to be done. As Habakkuk hoped and patiently waited on God, may we hope and patiently wait on God to deliver everyone from evil:

“Fig trees may not grow figs,
    and there may be no grapes on the vines.
There may be no olives growing
    and no food growing in the fields.
There may be no sheep in the pens
    and no cattle in the barns.

But I will still be glad in the Lord;
    I will rejoice in God my Savior.
The Lord God is my strength.
    He makes me like a deer that does not stumble
    so I can walk on the steep mountains.” (Habakkuk 3: 17-19, NCV)

            Come Lord Jesus, come soon and deliver us from evil. Amen.

Endnotes:      
1 My earlier article on four blood moons: http://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.in/2014/03/four-blood-moons-in-2014-15-christs.html

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_rocket_attacks_on_Israel

3 There were 181 rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from January to June, 2014. But there were 2415++ rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in July. This data is as of 26th July 2014. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_rocket_attacks_on_Israel,_2014)

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Israel%E2%80%93Gaza_conflict

5 The extraordinary offensive of the IDF has rendered fatalities of 1000 and injuries to 6000 Palestinians. “According to OCHA, as of 26 July 2014 in the Gaza Strip, over 200,000 Palestinians have been displaced and 165,548 are taking shelter in 92 UNRWA schools. 1.2 million people have no access or very limited access to water or sanitation, 120 schools and 18 health facilities have been damaged, 3,333 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged rendering them uninhabitable, 3,380 housing units have been damaged but are still inhabitable and 80% of people only receive 4 hours of electricity per day.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Israel%E2%80%93Gaza_conflict)

6 http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/


7 Written by Plato in his work “Apology,” (universally known as Plato’s ‘Apology’ of Socrates), p27.