the substance of things

“I still believe he will come out spotless from all this — he’s a man of God and we believe in him.”

I’m extremely mild by all accounts, but I was this close to flaring up when my colleague (a large, boorish NSF with a great rapport with and limited to the regulars whom he works under) clapped at the TV screen to news of the City Harvest arrests. “God will punish them!” the Buddhist exulted before leaving the office to change and leave for home. It’s always irritating when someone from another faith exerts moral superiority over yours, but it’s positively infuriating when you realise they’ve perfect reason to do so. People of the same religion are necessarily tarred with the same brush; a defeat for a religion’s leaders is reasonably a defeat for all. (It also explains why atheism is indomitable – standing for nothing except the mortality of men, they’re justified in personal failures and unaffected by successes.)

No, it’s quotes like the one above – assured blogposts and defiant tweets – that really scare me. The unshakeable belief in Kong Hee despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t matter that much at this point in time whether he’s innocent or not; it does matter that so many would bank their faith in him without close reference to the facts. It strikes me that these trusting Christians might be getting it as wrong as the scoffing non-Christians.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.” Psalm 146:3

This is an absolute favourite for me despite having gone through the entire Bible once, now. It’s great when I’m feeling hermitic or when I’m trying to wean myself off the approval of others (ahem certain JC teachers who seemed bound to warn my prospective unis about me). It’s not the kind of verse that would anchor a sermon but I think it’s absolutely vital to the faith. Something repeated so often in the Bible (Isaiah 2:22, Psalm 118:8-9) can’t be unimportant. Any other religion (to my knowledge), centered or at least built in part on good works, can be shattered by a similar scandal; the City Harvest scandal merely confirms the doctrinal truth that men are irrevocably screwed up. Jesus’ best (favourite?) apostle Peter denied him thrice in a day. Paul was plagued by a thorn in the flesh to his death that reminded him profoundly of his weakness. And who of the Old Testament “dream team” (Heb 11) was without scandal? Abraham pretty much gave his wife away to a foreign king to save his own ass, twice. Samson lost his strength to appease a woman. Moses killed a dude and buried him in the sand. None of them were listed in Hebrews for their sterling moral fiber. They didn’t become known as “Heroes of Good and Charitable Works”. All of them were justified by faith, a quality that probably wouldn’t merit anything more than sympathetic derision. After all, faith is nothing more than glorified emotional dependence, sickeningly un-macho – not only are you not actively doing anything to help yourself because you’ve given up on your own nature and capability, you’re completely entrusting the task of salvation to someone conveniently “Higher”. Everything hinges on something that you have no control over; what can be any less satisfying?

Except it’s actually the most satisfying thing to me. It helps me understand when I see leaders of the faith getting hauled up or arrested. It confirms Christianity alone, because it alone delights in reminding us that even the staunchest of us will fall, but that we don’t have to bank our entire belief on their integrity because our faith doesn’t see its fulfillment in men. Our moral character was never an indicator of our salvation – it’s at most a token of our gratitude for it. It’s sad, yes, if our leaders slip up, but it’s sadder if our belief depended on their maintaining a clean record.

Jesus Reinstates Peter

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

– John 21:15-17

Sorry if I’m being ultra-didactic but I think this is a beautiful end to the Gospels. Not a single reference to Peter’s denials – no “Well Pete you really screwed up there but I’ll let it slide since I’m nice and all”. Only a command to take care of his sheep. Even the “best” of us won’t see scandalised leaders in the same way ever again. I’m super super judgmental myself, so I find it really hard to believe that anyone could let wrongs go as easily as Jesus did. But I know that he did and he does, and because I do I find it impossible to stay surprised or disappointed by the world.


3 thoughts on “the substance of things

  1. Pingback: The plank « Watching You, Watching Over Me.

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