Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Opinion vs Truth
We are all familiar with the saying: "You have the right to your own opinion, and I have mine. We are all entitled to our individual points of view." My question is: "How Christian is that?" Should Christians accept such practices wholeheartedly and see it as a 'way of life?' In a marketplace of ideas and pluralistic thoughts, all kinds of opinions are justified under the umbrella of free-speech, and the sacred right to self-expression. Touch this freedom of speech and one will be roasted alive. Freedom to speak is important, but truthful speaking is even more important. Extreme freedom-of-speech fighters puts rights before responsibilities. They are vocal. They are assertive, and sometimes they can justify the sanctity of such rights through aggressive demonstrations. Such freedom-of-speech is largely one to two dimensional. The first dimension is the concern for self-speech. The second dimension is that of speaking out on behalf of others fearing otherwise, their first dimensional self-right will be threatened.

Truth-speaking on the other hand goes beyond the first two dimensions to incorporate speaking the truth at the right time, to the right person, at the right moment, at the right circumstances, with a right attitude, a right motive of the heart and the right manner of speaking it in love. That's a tall order indeed. Practically impossible, some may say. That is why those who can practice truth-speaking cannot boast that it is due to their own personal efforts. The Spirit of God has to guide them toward truth speaking.

The Opinion-Trap
The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking him about his 'opinion' about paying taxes to Caesar, or not. (Matthew 22:17) Jesus knew that any answer of yes or no automatically traps him. If Jesus said 'yes' to Caesar, the religious Jews will be offended. If Jesus said 'no,' the political Romans will be furious. Either way, Jesus is presented with a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't scenario. It is a no-win situation. Yet Jesus gave one of the most classic answers which teaches us the beauty of speaking the truth in love.
Mt 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?
Mt 22:19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius,
Mt 22:20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
Mt 22:21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Mt 22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away
Jesus contemplates this one-dimensional opinion test, and produces a multi-dimensional answer which had all cylinders firing at the same time. His answer respects Roman law, yet does not contradict Jewish acceptable conduct at that time. Yet it honours God. The choice as to what is the best opinion becomes re-aligned with where the individual persons are coming from. This is one of the most brilliant answers I learn from Jesus.

There is another aspect about opinions that I am concerned about. While it is good to gather a variety of different points of view, when it comes to deciding which is best, how to we choose? Do we choose on the basis of who speaks louder? Or on the basic of rational judgment? Or do we choose on the basis of what makes most sense at that time? Without an adequate guide of what truth is, every individual's opinion gets measured according to self-truth. That is a problem. How then do we decide which opinion is best?

An Anecdote from Marva
Opinions and the ideas of opinions have taken a life of its own, and the right to one's opinions is increasingly becoming enshrined in the altars of individual hearts. People walk off arguments with a blanket declaration: "Well that's only your opinion." Hey. Opinions should not be left to their own devices. Like fire, uncontrolled views burn and destroy weak hearts and minds. It has to be reined in under the straps of truth in love. That is how opinions can be sifted to separate the wheats of truth from the weeds of falsehood. Marva Dawn shares her response to a young lady at a youth convention. Responding to the young lass's statement of, "Well, I just wanted to know your opinion," Dawn shocked her with this curt remark.
That wasn't my opinion. If I had given you my opinion, it would have been the opposite because I really would like to escape these biblical truths and say what pleases everybody. I tried to tell you as faithfully as I could what all my studies have discerned God is saying. That's much more sound, more reliable, more eternally true than my measly opinion.[Marva Dawn, Talking The Walk, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005, 83]
Wow. If I was that young lady, I too will be blown away by the sharpness of Marva's conviction. Let this example not misrepresent Dr Marva Dawn in anyway. She may speak with conviction, but she does so with a compassionate heart for truth and love for people.

Truth in Thought, In Word and in Deed
A couple of weeks ago, I was the host for Marva Dawn at the Regent-College Pastor's Conference. She was one of the keynote speakers. My responsibilities is to help her get to the conference on time, and to help her get back to her hotel to rest. Though she walks slowly with a walking aid, I am impressed how alert her mind is, despite her external frail movements. People at the conference flocked to her in droves and I saw firsthand how compassionate she is with people around. It is not uncommon to see teary-eyed people during the conference, breaking down in her arms. Despite her weaknesses, her life is a sparkle of hope, a glimmers of strength that no other healthier and brawny adult can match. I said to myself, "Marva is indeed scholarly in thought but pastoral at heart." That is what I felt called to emulate. That is what I know I am called to be. To teach truthfully, to study the Scriptures diligently, to serve faithfully, and to love people compassionately. Thanks Marva for the rich lessons.

"You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32)


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Science: "A Convenient Reality" or "An Inconvenient Truth"

My thought today centers around science and the cultural advancement called technology. In a nutshell, I am thinking that "Science informs and absolute science misinforms one absolutely." This sums up my thesis with regards to people placing undue emphasis by putting all their eggs of hope into one basket of science. Too much faith on technology will most likely deceive us, misinform us about its intended purpose. I have seen advertisements that promote their latest LCD television technology, that a baby looks so real that it seems to be enough for the mother just to look and hug the monitor. Other ads show a cat jumping at the fish tank on the TV to show that the cat can be fooled into thinking there is a fish waiting to be eaten inside the TV. Indeed, flipping the remote control to see what we want to see is a convenient way to virtualize our lives. Advertisers are masters of manipulating unsuspecting viewers to buy what they do not necessarily require, or to transform a want to a need.

Putting our whole life of hope upon an assumption is risky. I am not talking negatively about science or technology. What I am concerned about is the uncritical trust that science and technology can solve everything, under the false notion of "With technology, man can do anything." Nay, for technology cannot create happiness, although it can virtualize it. Modern science cannot even find a foolproof cure for the common cold, or even to heal cancer which plagues a huge number of people every year. Science cannot turn back time, and neither can it predict the future. Almost every conceivable film or story about time machines are self-contradictory, as they fail to correlate how changing the past can link forward to a future that makes sense, without adequate knowledge of how going back to the past can change the present. The best course of action in those movies is to let life make its own natural conclusion.

An Inconvenient Truth
While it is true that human progress in terms of science and technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, it is also true that man's self-inflicted harm on the environment has grown at exponential levels in the recent few decades. In Al Gore's remarkable documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," the statistics are alarming.
  • The arctic ice cap have been reduced by 40% in 40 years, increasing both risk of flash floods worldwide as well as increasing global warming;
  • The amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) released. What took 650,000 years then to approach 300 parts per million now take only a few decades to exceed it;
  • The 10 hottest years on the planet earth occurred within the past 14 years;
  • The past few years have seen unprecedented storms, hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons. Remember the tsunami of 2004, hurricane Katrina of 2005, and the Cyclone at Myanmar in 2008?
  • Polar bears are said to be found drowned, due to a shrinking ice mass! In fact, according to a CNN report, scientists were saying that two-thirds of the world's polar bears will disappear in 50 years time. Sad...
  • "We’re putting more pressure on the Earth. Most of it’s in the poorer nations of the world. It puts pressure on food demand. It puts pressure on water demand. It puts pressure on vulnerable natural resources, and this pressure is one of the reasons we have seen such devastation of the forest, not only tropical but elsewhere. It is a political issue." (Al Gore)
Al Gore's first priority in addressing this issue of global warming is to persuade governments to take charge and allocate sufficient resources to walk their talk. This is important. There is another more important aspect. The society themselves have to be educated on the need to care for the environment. Christians need to revisit (if they have not) the first mandate of creation: To care for all of creation placed under our care and charge. This has never been rescinded. Indeed, we must be careful not to admire the products of science so much, that we ignore the consequences of the process of producing them. We must avoid supporting non-environmental friendly producers in the name of 'low cost.' We must support environmental conscious activities even though it may cost us a few more cents. Global warming is one consequence of man's unrelenting pursuit of using technology to achieve their perception of happiness. Possession of knowledge about science/technology can unwittingly become an obsession with science/technology.

Faith and Hope in Technology?

Sci-Fi movies such as "The Matrix," the "Terminator" series and "Battlestar Galactica" have portrayed the consequences of a future that puts too much faith in machines, allowing them to eventually take over the world. While I will not venture to paint technology and science on such a pessimistic note, I will caution anyone who aims to rely solely on science to dictate their worldview. Egbert Schuurman's "Faith and Hope in Technology" is a succinct critique on technology playing the role of a redemptive force. He argues that such beliefs will degrade, deform and degenerate whatever human values we have in society. Arguing for a 'responsible' way to develop science and technology, Schuurman equates the 'technological culture' with that of a 'secularised culture.' He attacks the underlying assumption which declares 'truth is by nature scientific.' Rather than allowing science to straitjacket us on how to live, Schuurman advocates faith in God as the way to regulate any thinking on science and technology. I agree. Technology can be used to send a man to the moon. The same technology can also send nuclear missiles to terminate lives. Man as 'lord and master' should not see created earth as a place to exploit and take advantage of. Instead, he should be the gardener who cares for the earth, and at the right time, harvest the fruits of his labour in a responsible and ethical manner. He should develop technologies to help human beings appreciate one another's humanity better, rather than to compete and aggressively use people as a means to their ends. Like Schuurman, I feel that man's desire to 'control and conquer' lies in his utter unwillingness to subject himself to the king and creator. An enthroned self cannot adequately care for his own. He needs to let Christ be enthroned in his heart. Anyone claiming to be 'autonomous' is living in fantasy. No one on earth is autonomous, as everybody need one another, whether directly or indirectly. Schuurman warns us that:
"In our Western culture science, technology, and the economy have become allies. Human autonomy first attaches itself to the possibilities of technology and subsequently shapes the character of science and economics which in turn fortifies technology. In short, the complex of science, technology, and economics is controlled and characterized by a scientific-technical ideal of control and a materialistic passion for consumption. Via this ideal of control people claim to solve all problems, old and new, and they guarantee the increase of material prosperity and the maximum provision of conveniences to consumers. So far as this is concerned, one could also say that the ideal of control held by scientists and engineers found a complement in the utilitarian ideal of the consumer. [Egbert Schuurman, "Faith and Hope in Technology", Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2003, 206-7]"

I like the image of a garden. God started creation and place Adam and Eve to take care of the garden, and to be fruitful and multiply. Rather than to see this 'multiply' mandate as merely producing more offsprings, I feel that multiply has a double meaning: to be fruitful in what we do, for the beauty of creation. In other words, to be fruitful and to multiply are to be seen as one whole rather than two discrete acts. Another observation comes through comparing Genesis 1:28 (command to man) and that of Genesis 1:22 (command to other creatures). In contrast to Elohim (God) being mentioned in Gen 1:22, in the command to man in v28, Elohim is mentioned TWICE. It seems to be that God is taking a personal interest in his version to the mandate given to man. Whenever God is mentioned in Scriptures, our spiritual light-bulbs should turn on.

With regards to Al Gore's documentary, while scientists may continue to dispute the numbers, I think we should take heed of his main message: "Global Warming is a real threat to human survival." I will venture to suggest that if Christians have been more active in proclaiming the need to care for the earth, there will be greater progress is spreading environmental awareness. Many Christians see the present earth more like a "This World is Not My Home" mindset that they are overly concerned with future heavens without much earthly good. We must participate in educating the Christian people and the public at large, that caring for the earth is very much a Christian activity. Otherwise, soon we may have no earth to take care of. The age-old saying that Prevention is better than cure is true for the environment too.

With regards to Schuurman's work, we should beware of the subtle temptation to turn science and technology into a god. Using the FIFO (First In First Out) analogy, technology is also a GIGO: Garbage In Garbage Out. We cannot become so infatuated with the promises of technology that we become blind to the problems and consequences resulting from the use of these tools. If the heart of man is not first made right with God, he can become a harsh taskmaster, able to exploit the earth with a simple command to divide and conquer, that leads to the sad demise of many. It is easy to simply separate faith from technology details, just like how many countries in the world to separate Church and State. Secular countries appear to have hit the right formula focusing on what works rather than ethical behaviour and human meaning. Many continue to favour the separation of faith and science. The problem is many of the implementation decisions require a solid grasp of ethics. Science cannot tell us what is right and wrong. Nuclear technology can be used for both good as well as for evil. Without faith, science and technology is like a car without brakes. Thus, Schuurman's book gives us an apt reminder to ensure that Christians in an increasingly technologically-crazed culture speak deep into the hearts of people who needs to make ethical decisions frequently. Below are seven implications:

  1. EDIFICATION: People in general needs to be reminded that technology is not the end, but merely a tool. They need to ask: "How does my use of technology shape my relationship positively with other people?"
  2. EDUCATION: Science and Technology departments at University need to have a beefed up curriculum on ethics and a greater emphasis on the humanities.
  3. EMERGENT: Any new technologies have to be consistently looked at with a critical eye, not only on its benefits but also the underlying consequences of using them.
  4. EMPOWERMENT: Use technology as a way to convey hope, rather than to blindly feed on the razzle-dazzle of technology which continues to be outperformed by newer technologies. The latest and the greatest is not necessarily the best.
  5. ENOUGH: The best way to manage ourselves is to recognize our own limits. While it has been said that technology can extend our limits, recognize that many things in life are limited, like 24 hours a day, number of effective friends we can have, etc. Learning to recognize our own limits will not only protect us from an obsession with things technological, it helps us maintain our own humanness.
  6. ENVIRONMENT: Be aware that every technological product comes with a cost, paid for by someone else. Cheap products often meant someone else have paid a heavy price elsewhere.
  7. EXPECTATION: If we interact too much with technology, we may become so used to the speed and versatility that we unconsciously impose a similar and unrealistic expectation of fellow human persons. Take time to switch off, and connect without the use of technology/science.
May these seven tips help us bring some sanity into a society that increasingly idolize technology into a god, blatantly breaking the first commandment. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Two un-Natural Disasters

On May 12th, 2008, the city at Sichuan in South-Western China suffered a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. Said to be one of the biggest quakes in the past century, at last count, the death toll has exceeded 13000, with thousands still buried in the rubble. In contrast, the Myanmar's 190kmph cyclone disaster (5th May 2008), the Chinese government actually requested foreign aid. This is gratifying, as saving lives should be placed above politics and economics. Myanmar's disaster statistics appear even more horrific. According to Foxnews, 22000 people perished and more than 41000 are still unaccounted for. The numbers are staggering.

Forbes gave a report entitled: "A Tale of Two Disasters." Indeed, contrasting the two cities disaster is one thing. Comparing the way the two respective governments are handling the situation is another. How they handle the situation reveals much about their philosophy of saving lives. One remains tightly closed to foreign aid in favour of self-preservation, and fear of external interference. The other openly welcomes foreign aid, putting human lives above all other things. In some ways, the reputation of China is at greater stake than that of the Myanmar's junta. China, being the host of the Summer Olympics this year, wants to portray an attitude that is more acceptable to the international community.

Six Degrees of Separation
It is easy to observe the attitude of the governments. It is not so easy, when we try to empathize with the victims and their families. At the first level, we may be a distant observer, when we do not have anyone we know living in either Myanmar or the Sichuan province. At the second level, we may have friends who know someone affected, and we do so on the basis of with the ones we know. At the third level, we may know certain friends/acquaintances personally, and deepens our ability to offer condolences. At the fourth level, we may know of family member outside our immediate family circle, drawing us closer to the epicenter of tears. At the fifth level, the most heartbreaking of them all, is to know about death of a beloved family person. Each level carries a different depth of concern. On the one hand, we are physically unable to weep for each and every loss. It will wear us down pretty quickly. Yet, we cannot simply be nonchalant about people dying. It will harden our hearts to numb any compassion we might have. I trust that many of us, will at least be indirectly related to someone there. I do not know about Myanmar, but I am sure that overseas Chinese will have one or more distant relatives in China. According to the theory of "Six Degrees of Separation," every human being on average will be within six steps away from one another. Any two individuals will be connected within at most five acquaintances. Though this is still a theory, it does communicate a sense of nearness that we are closer to one another than we think. Anthropologically, we are all homo sapiens, or human beings. Biblically, we are all descendants of Adam/Eve. Thus it is only 'natural' that we are concerned for one another, despite the distance, the nationalities, the ethnicity, held religious beliefs, or any human derivatives that attempts to distinguish one from another.

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?
A question that commonly pops up in times like these is the age-old question: "Why bad things happen to good people?" Put it another way, one can ask: "If there is a God, and if he is good, why did he allow such natural evil to take place?" Tough questions. These have been debated through the centuries by various philosophers, theologians, thinkers and lay persons. Stoics will think that evil can be kept in check by reserving them only within the realm of imaginations. Thus, they will adopt a strict 'stiff' upper-lip and stern view of life, that treads through life that seems to ignore the emotions that comes with sufferings. Those who believe that the world tomorrow will be even better, tend to look forward to a future solution at the risk of avoiding the present pain and suffering. No solution can answer the above questions absolutely. All contain glimpses of possible explanations. However, explanations do not resurrect lost souls. It might make one feel better. I dare say that in times like this, theologizing or trying to explain things should be avoided as much as possible. Any such rationalizing should be done at other times.

Suffering is not something to be pooh-poohed away, but to be acknowledged and recognized as a horrible reality. Such things cannot be solved as if one can easily piece together parts of a complex jigsaw puzzle. It cannot be ignored and neither can it be simply dismissed. The best we can do (perhaps the only thing!), is to walk alongside the living, to hold their hands, to alleviate their suffering, to weep with them, or to simply share a hug. It is moments like this that dissolves all human differences to its lowest common denominator, that we are all made of human flesh and blood. In times like these, what else can we do? Like Philip Yancey, I recommend prayer. One advantage is that it forces one not to allow the head to move faster than the heart, or the hands/feet to rush headlong onto rash steps of goodwill without adequate consideration any negative consequences they may bring. We need to be wise with our good works too, and prayer is wisdom on our knees. Interestingly, in his question to Christians in Myanmar and China who were suffering persecution, when he asked them what can the Western Church do to help them. The reply was: "You can pray. Please tell the church to pray for us." You might think the same thing like me. "Is there any tangible thing that we can do for you? Did not the Bible teach us to love not in words but in actions?" Well, according to Oswald Chambers: "Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work." FB Meyer says it most poignantly: "The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer." William Shakespeare, in the play entitled "Richard III," makes a careful balance of self-control amid the whirlwind of confusion and despair: "Earth gapes, hell burns, fiends roar, saints pray..."

At this point, I invite you to pray with me the following, inspired by a prayer shared with Philip Yancey by a person named Isaac from Singapore, after the 2004 Asian tsunami.
God, we cry for the victims in the Myanmar Cyclone disasters and the China Sichuan earthquake which occurred this month, even more for those who have not come to know you. Have mercy on us all. Surely, it pains our hearts to see people suffer greatly in these catastrophe. Sometimes, we wonder whether you truly care at all. We know you did not punish us this way due to our sins, for you came to save sinners like us. We know you love us, for you came to die on our behalf that we may be saved. But why do you keep silent now? Why was the world made imperfect with so many vulnerabilities and fault lines that crumble at the slightest winds and movements. Why didn't you blow the winds elsewhere, or allow the quake to happen at some secluded area? Doesn't it bother you that many lives are lost, families separated and young lives taken and wasted?

We know that you are the potter and we are the clay, and we have no right to question you. You are the way, the truth and the life, but we find it difficult to reconcile this disaster with your words of love. How can a God of love allow people to perish in such horrible ways? Forgive us for even questioning your love. We ask these because that is our degree of understanding what love is, and perhaps that is imperfect love, but that is what we have now. Not to be frank about our feelings betrays our desire to be honest with you. We know that many of our questions will remain unanswered on this earth, but we plead with you to continue to keep our faith alive and growing in you. Teach us to trust you in times like these, to see your loving hands hold the suffering, to hear your words of comfort among the grieving families. Above all, let your Spirit move the governments and powers of this world to do what they can to minimize the suffering and to bring about the love and care for one another. Help us all not to allow any of our doubts to degenerate into non-belief, but to strengthen our faith to move to hope, and for hope to become love, through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.
The next time we come across Sichuan cuisine, or anything Sichuan or Chinese, say a prayer for those living or related to Sichuan in anyway. Let me end with this Franciscan Benediction:
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.


I call upon all to pray before, during and after any action or desire to help.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Book- "the five people you meet in heaven"

Mitch Albom's "the five people you meet in heaven" is a small novel that is pretty quick and easy to read. It is an interpretation of how heaven looks like through the eyes of the main character Eddie. On the basis of five different encounters, Eddie learns the lessons of life, sacrifice, anger, love and forgiveness. The book begins with the end, a popular literary novelty. After detailing the last moments of Eddie's death, Albom then lists out how heaven looks like through Eddie's conversations with five persons: Captain, Ruby, his father, Marguerite (his wife) and a little girl by the name of Tala. From each of these characters, Eddie learned something in his death what he could not have understood in life.

1) BLUE MAN: The general lesson is that any one story can be viewed from two different angles. For example, stories can be viewed either from a sad or happy angle.
"No life is a waste. The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone." (Blue Man, 50)

2) CAPTAIN: That's what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays. This is reflection. Eddie learned that the Captain sacrificed his life to save Eddie and the other men.
"Sacrifice is a part of life. It's supposed to be. It's not something to regret. It's something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. A mother works so her son can go to school. A daughter moves home to take care of her sick father." (Captain, 93)

"Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you're not really losing it. You're just simply passing it on to someone else." (Captain, 94)

3) RUBY: In his conversation with Ruby, Eddie was urged to forgive his dad. "No one is born with anger. And when we die, the soul is freed of it. But now, here, in order to move on, you must understand why you felt what you did, and why you no longer need to feel it." While in life, Eddie felt that his dad is the reason for his "loss of freedom, loss of career, the loss of hope." (142)
Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from the inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.

4) MARGUERITE: Eddie learned that his wife died while trying to make up to him, after feeling guilty about her unkind words to Eddie who was at the races at that time. Unfortunately, Eddie only found out the circumstances surrounding her accident only in heaven.
"Love, like rain, can nourish from above, drenching couples with a soaking joy. But sometimes, under the angry heat of life, love dries on the surface and must nourish from below, tending to its roots, keeping itself alive." (164)

"Lost love is still love, Eddie. It takes a different form, that's all. You can't see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.........Life has to end, love doesn't."

5) TALA: Eddie learned that his actions during the war in the Philippines, has inflicted serious burns inflicted on this innocent girl. If forgiveness is difficult for Eddie, it comes naturally to this girl. The contrast in willingness to forgive is dramatic and stark. Little did Eddie know that this is the same girl he tried to save just before his death at the amusement park Freddy's Free Fall ride. Only then, does Eddie eventually goes 'home.'

My Comments
Albom's view of heaven is existentialist in nature. He teaches a form of appreciating what we have in life, and to learn to see with eyes of love, forgiveness and sacrifice. In order to be truly 'home,' one will need to traverse the journeys of life, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. He claims that the secrets of heaven is a form of "each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one." In terms of helping us to put together broken lives, this idea is redemptive, in the sense that there is ultimate meaning in life. I will make three general observations about Albom's interpretation of heaven and the purpose of life. Firstly, Albom believes that there is a way that people can connect broken pieces of their lives together into one integrated meaning. This is optimistic, but like the Blue Man, it can also turn the other way. I question what is actually its fundamental premise for such a presupposition. Secondly, heaven is more like a resolution of questions rather than anything else. It will tend to paint heaven like a giant encyclopedia of "1001 answers to all the questions you ever have." That makes heaven too encyclopedic for my comfort. Thirdly, the book is more 'moral' in nature rather than 'spiritual.' There is nothing wrong with it, except that it treats heaven more like a moral device than a place for eternal living. In the Bible, the idea of heaven is more than simply resolving questions. It is more than simply a place of bliss and angelic songs. It is essentially a place where God is, and in the presence of God, nothing else truly matters. Hebrews 4 gives us a glimpse of such a condition.

"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." (Heb 4:9-10)

If Christians want to learn about heaven, the Scriptures must be one source they should never exclude. Heaven is that eternal sabbatical rest, not alone but with God in his kingdom of beings declared righteous in Christ. Otherwise, without Scripture as an anchor, there is a tendency described by John Milton, the 17th century English poet as:
"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven."

"Top 100 Public Intellectuals" according to FP

Foreign Policy is a magazine founded by Samuel Huntington (well known for his Clash of Civilizations treatise) and Warren Demian Manshel. The magazine is part of their efforts to "draw on the world’s leading journalists, thinkers, and professionals to analyze the most significant international trends and events of our times, without regard to ideology or political bias." In the latest publication, they list the Top 100 public intellectuals of our time. Interestingly, I do not find a known evangelical in the list. The only significant religious leader I find is the Pope Benedict. Instead, we see people like the atheist, Richard Dawkins, on the list. That makes me wonder what is their criteria in forming their list. Looking at the listing, it seems that only 4% are religious leaders, while a whopping 44% are political scientists and economists. The regions where these people were drawn from is largely skewed toward North America and Europe. If you want to know a little more about these 100 persons, click here. Interestingly, one of the four persons from Asia in the list is Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore.

In some sense, it is sad that not many evangelicals (if any) make the list. Could it be due to the 'separatist' behaviour that evangelicals practice, in order to avoid becoming contaminated by the world and worldly values? Or is it due to their overly committed involvement in their religious endeavors that they do not have time to engage the world? I suspect there are elements of truth in each of them, regarding evangelicalism's struggle between becoming light on the one hand, and yet to remain pure and committed to the Lord on the other hand by being separated from the world. That struggle is sometimes practiced dualistically, which pits one against the other. A dualistic mind separates the secular from the sacred, and make a clear distinction between godly and ungodly stuff. Extreme dualists will render all things material as evil and all things spiritual as good. This is biblically wrong. As early as Genesis 1, when God created heaven and earth, he called his creation 'good.' How can we, in the 21st century, turn around and dualistically call created things 'bad?'

What is Truth?
Even sadder is the observation that the world has dominated the church, more than the church has influenced the world. We may dispute the criteria used in the FP report, but first impressions often leave lasting memories. 'Apparent' observations become equated with practical reality and soon get replaced as a synonym for 'truth.' Jacques Ellul in "The Humiliation of the Word" makes a distinction between reality and truth. Reality is in many ways interpreted visually, but truth contains both visible and invisible. One of Ellul's underlying philosophy is that truth spread through propaganda becomes a lie. Propaganda hides a selfish motive. Reviewing David Lovekin's work on Jacques Ellul, Erik Nordenhaug of Emory University summarises: "Truth printed on a Hallmark card is no longer the truth, but an empty cliche designed to relieve the consumer of the burden of working out the truth. But this insight, too, is on the verge of becoming a cliche in the sound-bite culture." This is so insightful. Anything that is called 'truth' when placed in the hands of people lesser than the truth can easily turn truth in to a lie.

In contrast, when we read the gospels, we notice so frequently that the message Christ preached is always referred back to God the Father. Even when he declares himself to be the way, the truth and the life, his ultimate goal is to be with the Father. When Pilate asks the famous question "What is Truth?", he was looking at all the wrong places about what truth means. He was looking at philosophies and methods, ideas and visual signs and all this while, he fails to appreciate or have the slightest inkling that truth is incarnated in the PERSON OF CHRIST. Simon Peter, for all his clumsiness, got at least one thing right when he was asked to declare who Jesus is. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" is a statement of faith that Jesus is firstly and lastly a person. Look at how the world have distilled and reduced every 100 names into labels like 'economists,' 'philosophers,' 'scientists,' and even 'religious leaders.' You mean to say that a person can be neatly straitjacketed into their lines of fame? It does not give us any deeper insight into the 100 persons. It treats as if these people are mere instruments of their famed works or thoughts. I believe that as long as we do not take seriously the person of Christ, to recognize Christ first and foremost as the way, the truth and the life, we risk seeing fellow human people as things rather than humans; means to an end rather than above means-ends; and in the process add fuel to one another in our never ending spiral of impersonal relationships.

That is why the world's definition of truth being reality is so different from the Christian's view of truth in Christ. the purposes of truth is not simply to conjure up ideas and techniques. It is also not to usher people into a reality-themed framework of life which allows people to simulate reality as if they are there. Such 'realities' are nowhere near truth. It is like riding a bicycle, where one cannot simply simulate oneself into riding the two-wheeler. It has to be done with our whole selves involved. Engaging the world and living life to the full is not only the calling of every evangelical, it is a calling for humankind. Didn't God on the sixth day, when he created humans, he called his creation: "Very good?" A being that can engage himself with all other preceding 'good' creation is indeed very good!

The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard claims that "truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being in the truth. (emphasis mine)" His work is worth quoting:
Christ compares truth to food and appropriating it to eating it (John 6:48-51). Just as food is appropriated (assimilated) and thereby becomes the sustenance of life, so also spiritually, truth is both the giver and the sustenance of life. It is life. Therefore one can see what a monstrous mistake it is to impart or represent Christianity by lecturing. The truth is lived before it is understood. It must be fought for, tested, and appropriated. Truth is the way. And when the truth is the way, then the way cannot be shortened or drop out unless the truth itself is distorted or drops out. Is this not too difficult to understand? Anyone will easily understand it if he just gives himself to it ["The Road is How" in Provocations, Farmington: Plough Publishing, 2002, 53-54]
So, what can we make of the list? I offer three observations. Firstly, it is a list that represents contributions and votes from various readers of Foreign Policy publications. Obviously, it does not include the ordinary farmers, or lay persons on the street, busy trying to make a living. Secondly, the list of names can easily be dislodged when a new name is inserted and garners more votes. Like American idol, good and reputed persons can easily be 'outvoted' regardless of his/her own merit. This makes the list a popularity instrument, and results will thus be untenable over the long run. Thirdly, while the serious lack of Christians in the list is of some concern, it could be a good thing, especially if the absence is an intentional part of the Christian community at large. It is never a good thing to put Christianity on the popularity stage. If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, popularity disrupts the gospel focus and absolute popularity disrupts the gospel intention most completely.

My friends. Refrain from these three things. First, the unwitting acceptance of the world's criteria of life, of fame and any overarching championing of material achievements over human meaningfulness. Second, do not separated oneself totally until one does not possess any earthly good to care for creation at large. Third, run away from the temptation of popularity. Jesus did all three. He rejects the world in the three temptations of power and worldly glory. He engages the world with himself as the way, the truth and the life, and of course becoming the sacrificial lamb to bring all mankind to God. Third, he rejects popularity, choosing the cross out of love. Based on the reasons as given, I am not disturbed by who is on the Top 100 list. Turn it the other way, if we were to come up with the Bottom 100 list, how will it look like?


Latest Posts