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When God becomes just another joking matter

 

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will reap.—Galatians 6:7

 

Rarely do I give myself the chance to write about my faith even though I would like to think of myself as a Christian. Yes, I am Christian of the Calvinist persuasion. I am, however, way too fastidious to be the saintly kind, much too volatile and impatient to join the ranks of the holy.

As a writer, there’s really no telling where my vanity ends and where my faith begins.

But since President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent tirades against the Catholic Church (which I am not a member of) and, some say, against God Himself, had reached viral proportions, I feel it’s only proper to write a thing or two about it as I gaze into the looking glass of Scripture.

Without the risk of sounding like a Puritan out of sync with the times, let me begin with an apology: I am not writing this to preach. I will just be sharing some observations with the hope of, perhaps, understanding a thing or two about faith, God, and how, as Christians, we must approach any and all hints of insult to our faith.

To begin, I am an avid student of history—Church history, to be exact. It had fascinated me as a young man and continues to fascinate me today. Two of the books that had strongly influenced me were the first edition of “Christianity through the Centuries” by Earle E. Cairns and the Christian classic “Fox’s Book of Martyrs.”

While other books which dealt with the same topics exist (and I have read most of them), especially those dealing with the Reformation, these two opened my eyes to the one reality that had marked the Christian faith all throughout its existence: persecution.

Persecution is too big a word to apprehend that easily. Its modern-day equivalents include harassment, maltreatment, oppression, discrimination, subjection. These, I think, we can understand in the context of authoritarian governments. We don’t have to go too far to see that Philippine history itself had been marked by numerous instances of discrimination and oppression, more so during the era of the colonials and martial law.

Prominent to the story of our faith is our being outcasts. In the days of the ancients, Christianity was primarily a rejected religion. Paganism, then, was in vogue. After Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and the apostle Paul was instructed by the Lord to preach the gospel, he immediately brought the message to the Greeks, and then later, to Rome. To his surprise, he faced a multiplicity of “gods” the likes of which were no more different from men.

Consider the Book of Acts as a historical account of the life of believers during the first century. Here was Paul, a former murderer of Christians, a fierce scholar of the Jewish religion, telling everyone he saw Christ on the road to Damascus. It helped little to alleviate their fears.

To us now, that would’ve been no different from Duterte joining a band of suspected addicts or tambays, and saying he was there to help. That would’ve forced everyone to run for cover.

The ancients had it worse than us. Back then, there was a blurring of lines between religion and state functions. Emperors and kings hardly functioned as republican Presidents. Democracy, or the Bill of Rights, was yet to be realized. Emperors and kings were worshipped as gods, hence their power over life and death. To bring a message of redemption in the name of another deity merited the charge of treason and possible public execution.

Christ Himself faced that same threat during his ministry. Israel was under the imperial clutches of the powerful Roman empire. To say you are ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life” was to raise a fist against the ruling power. By all accounts, it was apparent that Christ was considered a subversive.

In fact, this allegation against Christ and his followers proved more real in the eyes of Rome and the Jewish Sanhedrin during His entry into Jerusalem—what we call Palm Sunday. It was rumored among the people that Jesus was the long-awaited “messiah,” a term which most Hebrews believed was associated with the return of King David, the leader who’d release them from the clutches of Rome.

Christ was hardly thought of as the savior of mankind during the early days of his ministry. To the Hebrews, he was their revolutionary leader, their renegade champion. To make matters worse, pockets of rebellion staged by the Zealots had already spread, and Christ was slowly being associated with the uprising against imperial Rome.

It was, therefore, only expected for the followers of Christ, more so Paul and the other apostles, to suffer the same hostility from the ruling powers. Christianity was seen as an affront to the rule of imperialism, thus meriting persecution, and in many cases, death.

Regardless of this serious threat, first century Christians went on to live lives of piety and faith. In the Book of Romans, the 13th chapter, Paul even encouraged believers to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

The context for which Paul wrote this can be found in the Book of Proverbs, the 24th chapter: “Fear the Lord and the king, and do not associate with the rebellious.”

An earlier chapter in the same book said, “By me kings reign and rulers enact just laws.” This begs the question: from whence comes unjust laws? Surely not God.

Christians, and especially ruling powers, have always associated these verses of Scripture to justify blind loyalty to government even if such is guilty of oppression.

They likewise quote heavily from Book of Romans, without realizing that the documents from which they lift these passages were themselves seen as subversive at the time. Christianity was an outlawed faith all because it ran contrary—and quite treasonously—to the idea of the worship of the emperor.

If Paul had followed his own advice for Christians to subject themselves to the ruling powers, then all Christians should’ve left the Christian faith. The laws back then were clear: you can worship any god for as long as you worship the emperor. This ran contrary to the biblical injunction that says “You shall not have other gods before me.”

In fact, Jesus himself was a sort of a rebel in his own right, refusing to bow to the religious leaders and elders of His day. While he said that we must give to Caesar what is due to Caesar, its context only revolved in the issue of taxes. In short, not everything is due to Caesar.

The centuries following Paul’s ministry saw Christian missionary after Christian missionary bringing the gospel to the farthest ends of the globe—from conflict areas to totalitarian governments where Christians were persecuted, harassed, jailed, tortured, and eventually put to death. Japan, China, Russia and other modern-day dictatorships saw the murder of believers in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet, these believers soldiered on, smuggling Bibles and Christian documents into places where these were considered serious crimes. They held worship services and readings clandestinely, breaking very clear laws against such things. They evangelized across places where the same could land them in the gallows. They refused to bow to the ruling power only because they serve a far higher one.

Through all the hardships and ordeals of bringing their message of love and salvation, believers through the centuries have done what they were instructed by God to do: get the message out into all the world—regardless of hostility and whatever the cost. To them the words of Christ ring true: “You will be hated by everyone on account of my name.”

This is true today as it was yesterday. When Duterte was quoted by media as saying that “God is stupid,” believers began raising their objection. Fiercely, and in some ways, rightly so.

Feeling offended, however, is universes apart from wishing that God smite Duterte for his blasphemy. My understanding of the Scriptures is that it is not in the purview of believers to condemn, all the more, defend God as if he was some weak old man in crutches.

God is not a joking matter, that is certain, and blasphemy is unacceptable; but neither would He turn a blind eye from one who self-righteously condemns.

This brings me to my humble counsel, if you don’t mind, and I am addressing this to believers:

Friends, if you’re a true believer, and your faith rests in a God who is transcendent, all-powerful, then you cannot, even in the face of overwhelming hostility against your beliefs, treat God like a wounded little creature.

God needs no defense. Not from his children, not from anyone. God is no stranger to blasphemy or criticism, or claims that he doesn’t exist, or hate. God has been called the shield and the fortress, the stronghold and defender.

The Rock.

God is not some lost kitten somewhere begging to be fed or saved. If a believer must speak out, then speak of Christ’s unconditional love, his sacrifice, his story.

When it comes to God and what we actually believe as part of our faith, Christians are activists and rebels of an extremely different kind.

Don’t let the likes of Duterte trap you into a vortex of hate or the seeking of justice for his blasphemous statements. Emperors used to feed believers to lions, their children, garbed in sheep’s wool, to wolves. They sung praises to God while authorities burned them at the stake.

Our own Savior was beaten and nailed to the cross, his followers beheaded, stoned to death, murdered. No one filed a single complaint. And why is that? The hope of a new heaven and a new earth.

Defending God is just as unthinkable as thinking he is “stupid.” God is not called El-Gibhor—the Almighty—for nothing. There, I said it.  G

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