Tuesday, April 29, 2008


You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16)
I received my Master of Divinity last night at a convocation ceremony held at Broadway Church. The whole church was packed with the Regent community, friends, relatives and of course the graduands of 2008. If there was a time where the question: "What's next?" was asked, yesterday was the single most number of times that question was asked from nearly everyone. My standard answer was: "I just want to take a short break first, to pray and discern." For the closer ones, I will let them know about my doctoral pursuits beginning this June 2008.

The subject of 'calling' has been very much in my mind in my four years in Regent College. We are trained not to hastily or carelessly answer that question. In my first year, I felt powerfully called to the ministry upon graduation. In the second year, the question becomes: "Why are you so sure?" In the third year, the question becomes: "Are you sure?" Finally, the question becomes: "What exactly is your calling?" This is not to be interpreted as an elevation of doubt, but a prompting to continually recognize our primary call to Christ, and to count the cost constantly as we follow Christ. Today, that question takes a dramatic twist. "You are already called. You need to listen in order to obey."

John 15 is known as the vineyard passage. It calls us to remember that it is Jesus who is the vineyard and we are the branches. The branches cannot take initiatives on their own. They must be led by the vine. God calls, and we as his disciples obey. The moment we tend to see a 'calling' as something we have to grapple with, we are already starting on the wrong track. We are already called. the question is "How best are we to express that calling?" In other words, I am already called the day I state my profession to follow Christ. I am called to love one another. I am called to be faithful in my present tasks. I am called to honour my wife and called to take care of my family. I am called to teach the Word of God. All of these callings stem from the single most important beginning: "God has chosen first." It is not we who choose at the onset, but it is Christ.

There is a theological divide here, pertaining to choices. The Augustinian camp will argue that man does not have the power to choose salvation, and in many ways, they are utterly helpless and dependent on the grace of God. Hence the verse above speaks powerfully, that all of creation, especially human beings need God. God is the first mover and the initiator of any act of salvation. This is the core belief of Calvinists and many Reformed believers. On the other hand, the existentialists, Pelagius (even Semi-Pelagians like Methodists) will argue that men in many ways have the power to choose. Otherwise, why give a commandment for people to obey in the first place? People must be given the chance to choose, otherwise, giving commandments are meaningless. The Danish existentialist, Soren Kierkeggaard presumes the need of a person to choose. He writes:
"The ultimate blessing is to choose rightly....it is the pearl of great price. Each person must choose between God and the world, God and mammon."
Kierkegaard is perhaps appealing in terms of rationalistic arguments rather than a theological argument. In order to be consistent with John 15:16, his statements is essentially an extended discourse of a theological decision made previously. Yet, Kierkegaard's writings strongly suggest a humanistic power to choose. This is very appealing to modern minds, as freedom of choice becomes a more treasured and protected possession. He shifts from the existence of making choices to the dangers of not making a choice.
There is a tremendous danger in which we find ourselves by being human, a danger that consists in the fact that we are placed between two tremendous powers. The choice is left to us. We must either love or hate, and not to love is to hate. So hostile are these two powers that the slightest inclination towards the one side becomes absolute opposition to the other. Let us not forget this tremendous danger in which we exist. To forget is to have made your choice.
(Soren Kierkegaard, To Will One Thing) Such an attitude, I feel, tends to over exalt the power of choice of a human person. It makes one the sole ruler of the salvific act. Do you mean to say that one's power of choice can deny God? Does it make sense that one can defy God simply by one's tweaking of the mental faculty of denial?

For a Christian, choosing salvation is never a human act. God is the only one capable of doing that. The decision to recognize is however, within the jurisdiction of human choosing. For example, a child may feel very angry because his father did not buy him a car on his 21st birthday. He cannot simply turn to the father and announce: "You are not my father anymore." This is absurd. how can a child deny his 21 years of history? How can he simply decide to terminate a father-son relationship on the basis of a statement. Whether he likes it or not, he is still bonded and bounded to admit that he has a father. Whether he RECOGNIZE this at that time is another matter altogether.

Back to calling and choices, sometimes we find ourselves in a complicated mass of options that we claim we have a choice. We need to remind ourselves that we are already a chosen people of God. We are already called of God to be witnesses to the world in any role we play. We must not be paralyzed by the multiple options we have before us, and spend hours and years trying to decide which one. We must move to the position that says: "It does not matter." Whichever happens, I will still honour God. Thus, it is more important to move to an emotional readiness to fit the person to the task, rather than to force the task into the person. For a Christian, there is the need to understand the context of one's call. Choosing what to do next may be artificially challenging. Deep down in the hearts of every Christian, they already know that they are called to witness and be a light for Christ. Do not be distracted by the potpourri of choices. Ask in the manner of which path helps us grow closer to God, and to help others draw closer to God. That is the Christian calling. God has chosen us. We only need to recognize his closeness to us. Amazingly, verse 16 of John 15 ends in a comforting note. "The Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." Wow! I will ask for a deeper and closer walk with Christ. I will request for a higher experience with Christ. I will pray for a wider expression of my faith in Christ. I will ponder on greater truths revealed in his Word. I will wonder in admiration his kingdom come and the kingdom that is to come. Maranatha! Praise be to God who first chose us.


No comments:

Latest Posts