I don’t know if I can make it through this post because my flu and my fever is really killing my brain cells. I don’t have many to start with, and a lot of them got demolished by activity and spending variances this morning. Anyway, I went for service yesterday. We did Daniel 4 for Easter service! Like I said I do not believe yet, neither am I pretending to believe, but I am learning to believe.
The talk titled ‘the violence of grace’. I think one of the reasons why I don’t believe completely is that it is difficult to understand that the rules in the Bible are a 100% correct and it comes from an ultimate source of wisdom, and it might feel that I am just binding myself to a bunch of random sayings. For non-believers, it is difficult to understand how the Bible came about, unless they attend church for a few months and then realise that there is an overarching storyline. But until they try to learn, whatever God does can seem senseless and violent.
In Daniel 4, we’re still stuck with King N who had a lot of pride in himself and the Babylon that he created. And so God sent a dream to King N. to warn him that he was disobeying his creator and that he was an ungrateful king. Daniel interpreted the dream for the king.
It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.
So the question was, why would God want to warn King N, instead of judging him according to his deeds right away? After all, as God, he had all the right and ability. The explanation is that God is a combination of both sovereignty and pure grace, and this combination gives us hope, because when God warns us, it always involves opening our eyes to see who we really are and who we really are dealing with. It is not an immediate lightning and thunder situation where we are struck dead by the weight of our gluttony and our disobedience, but He tries to move us towards a better us because of His grace.
In the daily Singaporean life, with our material comforts, it is difficult to recognize things as coming to us by grace. We are proud and comfortable in thinking that we control our futures and that everything we have done, it is through our own hard work and a bit of luck. There is frankly not much difference between me and King N, because I have a tendency to be arrogant in my belief that I am intelligent, and that my intelligence will stay with me forever because I have always felt this way.
In many parables in the Bible, we are shown that it is human and natural that we are unwilling to obey. It is like the situation in Adam and Eve. Eve was tempted to eat the fruit because she wanted to gain not just wisdom, for she was already safe from harm within the garden, but independent wisdom. Knowing that God is the ultimate source of wisdom, she wanted to be more than what He made her to be. The parables in the Bible is pretty nice of God, because he could have written scripture that was about how he would choose only a few select people to go to His kingdom, and everyone else was relegated to the squeezy backstage of nothingness. But instead He gave us scripture that emphasized on morals like honesty, caring for the weak, being humble, and acknowledging that as humans we all have so much to work towards.
And the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”
King N. paid the price for his words immediately.
Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
Pastor T. said that seven periods might mean seven years. Which is a long time to be reduced to an animal, with indigestion and talons. But God’s grace does not always come in a comfortable form, or even a countable and easily identifiable form. Perhaps it is the hardship in life that drives us not only up the wall, but acts as grace in our lives.
In Exodus, when He gave the ten commandments. The first commandment is
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
And the second commandment,
You shall have no other gods before me.
The first is the most important commandment because only when you obey the first will you obey the rest. There is a phrase in the Lord’s prayer, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done’. That is surrender. Surrendering to whatever God might have in store for us, understanding that as a human we control nothing, not even the beating of our hearts.
The thing is, such surrendering doesn’t always make sense. It might seem logical like okay, do whatever you want, as long as I receive salvation three years from now. The question isn’t just theoretical. If you know that there is an end to your pain then, fine. You have a deadline to look forward to, your pain has meaning, you accept it. But what if your hardship stretches over ten years, or twenty, or your whole life. What if your fiancé gets killed by a drunk driver, and then you realized that the life you so badly wanted to build is now gone, and the God, if he existed, he couldn’t have done that. That is pain.
In our pain we find solace because it is easier to be in pain and shut ourselves off than to admit that maybe, maybe this is for the better, because you cannot imagine the reasons why it could possibly be better. Take anyone but him. Take me instead, although I am the one left behind. I don’t know how people work through their pain and I think a part of the reason why I don’t want to enter a relationship is because of all that emotions and the fact that he is as just likely to die as I am, with unfulfilled hopes and career plans and family loyalties and then someone named God comes along and tells me that it was meant to shape my life? I would say a huge fuck you. Because who gave Him the right to run my life and to decide on the things that I have to bear? I hate it when babies die. And yet we are told that He has all the right, and all the plans, He does not see time as linear but everything is already played out in His hands.
No, I am not angry, I am just saying things aloud. Up till last week I never questioned why pastors had such a strong belief. Pastor C. was talking about King N’s furnace, which he heated up seven times hotter to burn Abednego and friends. He asked if we had experienced being burned before. None of us had. But when he was young, he lived in West Malaysia, and at that time the old houses were built with thin metal bars for windows. And there was a fire that killed a whole family, 12 members in total. No one could help them because the front doors were burning too badly for anyone to go in, they could not come out, and they could not prise open the bars on the second storey to escape. He said that for years he could hear their screams in his dreams.
In church when people say things like- “for when people are desperate and lonely and in pain, that is when they realise that the things near them and the things they wanted, will not bring them happiness. You spend half your career paying for a house and an SUV, but neither the house nor the SUV will bring you meaning and happiness.” And you think, yah, that makes sense. Now what am I supposed to do, how are my current burdens shaping me? How do I surrender what I have now? I don’t know too.
I have TCM every 1-2 weeks, and the last acupuncture session left five scars on my upper arms, which is why I have been wearing long-sleeved shirts all the while. I hate having rashes because they keep you up at night, and then they bleed and scab even when you cut your fingernails and file them to the shortest length possible, and some of them break open even without me scratching in my sleep. And when they heal, with copious amounts of Vaseline, they leave a sort of purple scar behind that takes months to heal. When I leave air-conditioned areas, I am aware of how mottled and disgusting my skin looks, compared to what it looked like a year ago.
I don’t know about ‘bigger’ hardships like pornography or drug abuse or idolizing my career (also because no one is giving me opportunities to prostitute or murder or abuse drugs), but I do know that my health is my biggest issue, and it has been my biggest issue since I was in JC. But the thing is, how do I surrender? How do I leave everything up to God, is this payment for all the nasty and evil thoughts I have about, I don’t know, the neighbour’s dog? I can’t do anything about my hardship, I can only accept that there is meaning in this. I am unable to understand what is perfectly holy and I do not understand his plans for me, or for anyone in my life.
Pastor T said, “it is hard to imagine hardship. But it is effective.” I admit that when you are sick and alone, you are forced to acknowledge how pitiful your existence has been so far. I look at what I have- a bed, a fan, an air-conditioner, a bunch of books memorized in my head. Is this all? I also have friends, I have emotions, I have a nose that can smell the sweet scent of grass after a rain storm. I have skin, however ugly, that can feel the warmth of sunshine. I have the ability to experience life and every time I yell at myself internally for being so wretched, at the back of my mind I know that life is a gift that I have been given. Use it well.
King N then said, after he was healed,
at the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me.
He learned his lesson well, and in time. He praised God and
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?
Some of us will not learn our lessons in this lifetime. In fact, majority of my friends are not Christians. Am I concerned? Not really, because I think there’s a plan that I am not privy to. I will never force my beliefs on someone else, especially not when I am just starting out. Some people have no knowledge of scripture but they acknowledge God as God, and who are we to say that they are not pleasing to God? Some people have the bible memorized from cover to cover but they are still angry, anxious, jealous cows. (I apologise to the cow family for using so many of their names.) Some people, like me, only come to try to believe after existing for 20 or 30 odd years. But he said,
What is impossible with man is possible with God.
The connection to Easter is that God combines both sovereignty and grace, to achieve what man cannot achieve for himself. He sees everything inside our hearts and he controls even the tiniest flick of the sparrow’s tail. But we undergo hardship because we are so much unlike him, and we need that suffering to be made into His image.
He sent Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Christ was a king, just like King N., but the difference was that he was humble and he did not proclaim any of the miracles that he did to be of his own works. He gave praise to God and prayed frequently, but he was still sacrificed on our behalf. It is through understanding His story and the reasons for His existence that we understand why we are receiving the grace that we have now.
For God is not vengeful, or petty, and if only we are able to see what he is doing in our lives, then can we appreciate him properly. Hardship brings us to places where we never intended to go, to produce changes in our personalities that we cannot achieve on our own.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.