Pastoral Perspectives

A Zeal That Gives Life

It was not that long ago that some New Zealanders were grieving over the tragic loss of their loved ones to a lone gunman who went on a murderous shooting spree in Christchurch. Even before those tears could dry up, we now hear of suicide bombers blowing themselves up on Easter Sunday in various locations across Sri Lanka, leaving behind them a trail of more than 300 deaths and about 500 wounded. Without a doubt, all these premeditated slaughtering serve as reminder that hatred motivated by religious animus continues to be a threat to all of humanity.

But lest anyone hastily conclude that religious fervour is the problem, it would be more fair-minded to ask what kind of religious zeal would incite such hostility and hatred? Even when some of those barbaric acts appear to feed a certain narrative of one religion pitting itself against another, does it necessarily mean that deeply religious people are prone to being intolerant of others? For Christian minorities in different parts of the world who are subjected to real and sustained violence for the profession of their faith, should their persecutors be wary that one day the tables may be turned on them by some transnational extremist groups fighting on behalf of their “brethren”?

Judging from the prayer requests of Ajith Fernando, teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, I think it is safe to say that fervent and faithful followers of Christ are most unlikely to place their hope in the sword. In the face of so many innocent deaths, we hear Ajith urging the Christians to pray that “the church would act with maturity, reflecting the holy-love of God: on the one hand, insisting that the authorities will carry out a thoroughgoing investigation and will punish the wrongdoers; and on the other hand, personally and corporately showing love to all, including our enemies. We cannot afford to let hatred blunt our witness. God will judge the wicked, and he will do that often through government institutions. Our belief in the doctrine of judgment takes away our bitterness over gross sinfulness like this. On our part, we do what we can do, and that is to love our enemies.”

In addition, Fernando exhorted the Sri Lankan Christians to “faithfully carry out its calling to be an agent of healing in broken situations” as well as to “act as moderating agents because, while we may be enraged by what happened, we are freed from bitterness as we know that a just God who controls history is greater than the problems”.

One of the reasons why Fernando along with Christians throughout history is able to respond to tragedies with such a life-giving posture has to do with what Christians believe about God. In the conclusion of his prayer request, Fernando explained that Christians “look at everything in life through the lens of our belief in a God who is holy-love… We know that God loves the world and that we are called to be agents of that love. This drives us to action… We know that God is building his kingdom, culminating in the return of Christ, and that our actions are building blocks in this process.”

Without a doubt, theology matters. In fact, it is of such importance that on occasions like this recent Sri Lankan bombing, it can be a matter of life and death, the difference between enduring peace or continuous strife. Imagine if Christian leaders like Fernando and others have a totally different understanding of God and how Christians are to live. Imagine if in all their sincerity and religious piety, they have forgotten the reason behind Christ’s sacrificial and humiliating death on the cross. Or in the midst of their lament and yearning for justice, they find no comfort or hope in a Risen Saviour who reigns in righteousness and perfect peace. Indeed, what will become of Sri Lanka or for that matter every country, if the Christian message that is proclaimed is devoid of the cross and empty tomb?

Theology matters because Christians understand that our lives cannot be governed by feelings alone but has to be aligned with God’s truth. While we may not be able to know everything about God, we believe that God has revealed himself clearly and sufficiently through the Bible and in Jesus Christ. In this way, Christians can truly know God and humbly live for him and in so doing glorify God. Indeed, the goal of having sound theology must go beyond acquiring information and learning interesting facts to how our thoughts and way of life is being transformed by a true and biblical knowledge of God. This also means that whenever our hearts tempt us to go in a certain direction, a faithful follower of Christ will learn to apply Gospel principles in the way we conduct ourselves and relate to others.

Even as the Sri Lankan Christians will be in a season of mourning, it is heartening to know that they will not be mourning as people without hope. Let us pray that as the Christians gather again on the Lord’s Day, they will be encouraged by the unshakable truth that evil and violence can never quench the power of God’s love as demonstrated through the life and death of Christ. Although many have mistakenly blamed religious zeal as the cause of conflict and deaths, may we who worship a Risen Saviour be known as those who zealously desire to give Life unto others, even when it may mean losing ours for their sakes.

Rev Edwin Wong

April 28, 2019