Part 2: The Malaysian Church and Peter Young

Reading Tan Jin Huat’s book—The Revd Peter John Young – Pioneer, Pastor and Pal—I realized that Peter’s ministry in Malaysia began just a couple of years before I was born. And so the Malaysian Church as I knew it is the Malaysian Church with Peter Young.

Jin Huat took pains to tell us that Peter’s “training at Ridley Hall provided him with a conservative evangelical foundation that focuses on the supreme authority of Scripture in matters of faith and life, the centrality of the Gospel and the atoning work of Christ at the cross for the salvation of the world.”

From conversations with M. Selveindran and Phua Seng Tiong, I got the impression that the conservative evangelical foundation of the Malaysian Church was the key area of focus in the 60s, especially in the context of their experiences in the university.

Scripture Union (SU) and the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) were organizations that promote the place of Scripture in a Christian’s life and the primacy of evangelism in a Christian’s response to his community. Peter’s involvement in SU and association with FES meant that he was used by God to help lay this important foundation of the Malaysian Church.

By the time I entered the university, Bible reading, Quiet Time, Bible study and Evangelism were well accepted and taught in the churches.

In the 70s the Charismatic Movement began to influence the Malaysian Church. Even in my small town church experiences of speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing and the accompanying teaching on these experiences had a divisive effect.

Jin Huat has a chapter talking about Peter’s experience of being “filled with the Holy Spirit”. This was something as by then Peter was a well-respected leader in the Christian community. It was a very positive development personally for Peter, but the community’s response was divided. However, Jin Huat noted that “Peter brought to the Charismatic movement a balance of the Word and the Spirit that criticisms about this experience of baptism of the Holy Spirit was somewhat deflected. With Peter being a highly respected Christian leader, it was difficult to level the criticism that he was influenced by the devil. Further, neither his life nor deeds warranted any such criticism. Rather, it created openness to this experience across the denominations, especially among young people and young adults.”

At the end of that chapter, Jin Huat observed, “The first wave of the Charismatic movement paved the way to prepare the soil of the Malaysian churches for a greater receptivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in the next wave. Out of this first move, many talented young leaders were scattered like seeds among the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches to be pastors and lay leaders. In short, Peter’s influence was like that of a stone thrown into a pond with the resultant ripple effect across the country.”

Peter’s next move, setting up Malaysian Care was no less pivotal for the Malaysian Church. Evangelical imperatives had become deeply entrenched in the Church to the extent that often the primary call to share the Gospel obscures the equally important call to “love thy neighbour” in terms of helping to meet the needs of the poor and helpless.

Jin Huat writes, “The leadership of Peter in CARE provided it with a sense of credibility, acceptance and respect among Evangelical circles. His leadership and teaching helped to overcome some initial resistance from churches which regarded the emphasis on social work as distracting the Church from its evangelistic task. At that time, some churches regarded the promotion of social work as tantamount to preaching a social gospel. Further, there were other negative responses to the work of Malaysian CARE such as the youthfulness of those involved in the ministry, their inexperience, and the heavy financial cost of social work with little tangible returns.”

As the Church grew in it’s relationship with the community through evangelism and then through humanitarian aid there remained one more area to be opened: social justice. In a very real sense the Malaysian Church largely stayed out of socio-politico issues. Jin Huat tells us that as an individual, Peter got involved.

From an account by Bob Teoh, recounted by Jin Huat, “Peter was already a gentleman social activist when he quietly took part in the nation-wide campaign organised by the National Union of Journalists at Selangor Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) just before Operation Lallang occurred in October 1987. The protest was against the amendments which were to be tabled at Parliament to the already draconian Official Secrets Acts.”

And, “During Operation Lallang, Peter felt he had to stand in solidarity with those who had been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). As such, he was one among those who quietly stood in the candle light vigil for the ISA detainees. The arbitrary enforcement of the ISA greatly offended his moral sensibilities.”

Peter took pains to act as an individual, disassociated from the organizations he had been involved with, but he carried his convictions to the churches that invited him to preach, and he organized Dignity and Services, and United Voice to lend voice to the disenfranchised. And of course he was a founding member of The Micah Mandate.

Today we see Christians involved in the public sphere as politicians, social activists and civil servants. Churches are much more aware of socio-political matters and much more open to encourage involvement.

Reading Jin Huat’s book on Peter, I could see how in many ways his personal journey mirrored the development of the Malaysian Church. As a key leader of the Church many of his personal developments influenced the direction of the Church. But for me, perhaps his greatest contribution to the Church was the fact that whatever he was involved with, he brought in, trained, promoted and gave opportunities to so many Malaysian Christians to become leaders in their own right.

THE REVD PETER JOHN YOUNG: PIONEER, PASTOR AND PAL

by Tan Jin Huat

Published by: Persaudaraan Asian Beacon Malaysia

Available at: Canaanland, Asian Beacon office, Malaysian Care or from the author himself.

Gentle and considerate; angry, frustrated, impatient, grieved …

(Eulogy delivered at the wake of Rev. PETER YOUNG)

The Reverend PETER YOUNG was indeed gentle and considerate as many here would testify. But he was not just gentle but ANGRY, frustrated, impatient, grieved. There is of course nothing wrong with that. The SAVIOUR he served was at times angry and frustrated. CHRIST had and spoke angry words to those who exploited their ‘religious’ position to exploit common people. CHRIST overturned the tables of the merchants in front of the Temple. Peter’s CHRIST called Scribes and Pharisees of His day, “… whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” CHRIST told them, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23.27,28) PETER YOUNG was angry along these lines. He wept as his JESUS wept. His English Language was of course pristine, elegant and learned but, at times in life and service, he did call a spade, a spade. But anger, frustration, impatience and tears brought on initiative, creativity, and inventiveness. Numerous times when I had been with him, I could literally sense and feel that thoughts and ideas were formulating in his mind and heart! PETER YOUNG did not just keep ideas and inspirations in his head; he did something with them! He served in many ministries and also help put in place numerous avenues of service to GOD and human beings – New Village ministry, school, church, Grady Wilson Evangelistic Campaign at Stadium Negara, Scripture Union, Christian Federation of Malaysia, Malaysian Care, Dignity & Services, United Voice, The Micah Mandate – all of which was testimony to the fact that his anger, frustration, impatience and tears, blending with his grace, gentleness, kindness and very big compassionate heart, opened many doors and took the GOSPEL OF CHRIST to countless others outside of the church walls. PETER YOUNG asked what must be done for the weak, poor and marginalised in society and was unfazed about what it would take to get it done. He ate like a bird (that was the one thing where he was not truly Malaysian) but then he also like the bird soared high and wide, way up into the sky with his ideas and deeds leaving us lesser mortals earth-bound and rooted to the ground. That was PETER YOUNG’s vision and mission! As big and comprehensive and far as it could humanly possibly get.

PETER was certainly not sedentary or laid back. He did function from home in his later years (and many of us here could picture him in his arm chair at home). But in earlier years, he was very much a hands-on operator. As SU general secretary, when I was finishing university he invited me to consider joining SU as the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF) staff worker. But the plan was to allow me to go on to teaching for a few years to gain experience which was agreeable to me. When I was only in my second year at Anglo-Chinese School Sitiawan (and second year in my marriage with Grace) – happy beyond description with my students and fellow teachers – one fine morning I was sent for by the headmaster! Upon entering the principal’s office, sitting with his legendary straight back posture was Peter Young! He had driven all the way to Sitiawan to deliver the message that I was immediately needed by SU! Daphne Roberts, OMF missionary from Australia, the ISCF staff worker had had her visa extension turned down by the Malaysian authorities. That afternoon, Peter even showed up at the Sitiawan Club tennis courts just to catch Moses Tay, Malaysia’s best tennis player and senior assistant at ACS Sitiawan, to convey the news that I would have to move away from Sitiawan because I had a prior commitment with SU! On that occasion, he got me into a lot of trouble with my headmaster, senior assistant, teachers and students and plunged my pleasant life into very serious turmoil! (Subsequent discussions permitted me to stay but only till the end of that school year.) Many more years later, when my Methodist bishop, Bishop Denis Dutton, requested my application to be the first CFM (Christian Federation of Malaysia) executive secretary, I appeared before the interview panel and there was Peter Young! He spoke first and said to me, “So Keat Peng, we have no other candidate!”, when in actual fact I was the last of nine candidates every one of whom I had shaken hands and spoken with when we waited to appear before the panel (and each one of them my senior and far more experienced and much better known in ecumenical circle than me!). Whereupon, the bishop stood up and shook my hands in welcome! My point here is that PETER YOUNG did not only serve his CHRIST himself but he identified and provided impetus, encouragement and avenues of CHRISTian service to a great number of us. Because of the kind of person and missionary he was, many of us were brought into CHRISTian service and learned the hard way often under his tutelage to become CHRIST’s servants too in a variety of ministries.

Regardless of what I actually thought of his methods and views at the material time, I had PETER YOUNG to thank for the path my life had taken in CHRISTian service – for better or worse. In our long walk together, we had times of much laughter but also times when we disagreed vehemently, argued heartily and fought each other fiercely, as was inevitable, since he was many many years ahead in ministry and I was of course but a L-licence driver! But like his dogs he loved so much, PETER was as faithful to us who served with him and were guided by him – in agreement or disagreement. He really cared for us and earnestly prayed for us and those he served. Because PETER YOUNG’s entire person and being was oriented to the cause and ministry of CHRIST’s GOSPEL. And he made the way for others of us to be involved. The ministries he helped found and served in opened up numerous avenues whereby those outside of the church had the opportunity to know the Grace of CHRIST. I think of our dear PETER YOUNG’s life of life-long ministry as an example of what it meant and caused to fulfil the words of our Lord JESUS: “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10.16) PETER’s life was also in accord with what the Apostle Paul said and lived: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 1:21-26) PETER’s life of ministry became the social conscience for many of us and many churches.

I myself don’t quite know yet what life will now be like without PETER YOUNG. Although we were seldom physically together these past several years, he was frequently messaging me from his not-so-smart phone. He took the trouble keying in each letter to make a long message. NOW you and I shan’t have him: no more questions from him; no more promptings from him; no more nudging from him. JO (his daughter), you and your family shall miss him terribly. But this one thing we know: your dearest father, PETER YOUNG, belongs where he is now – IN THE ARMS of his LORD JESUS CHRIST and the HEAVENLY FATHER in Whose House “there are many rooms…” And I can just picture him – hand-in-hand with your mom, his dearest BETTY. THEY belong together. And we must let them be reunited for all eternity.

THANK YOU, FATHER for taking BETTY & PETER into YOUR ETERNAL HOME and there to never suffer or ever be troubled again. In fact, BETTY & PETER are now in the midst of the heavenly chorus as described in Revelation 7.9-12: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues (how PETER will love that!), standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”

Henceforth, this will be how I picture my boss, my guide, my friend PETER YOUNG. And – in my own mind and my own imagination – I am sure our LORD GOD will let him stand in his trademark batik shirt (though it must now be a white-coloured one!) in the midst of the heavenly congregation unceasingly worshipping the LORD! Amen.

A gentle giant passes

By Amar-Singh HSS, Lim Swee Im

June 30, 2014

On the 28th of June 2014, quietly and with little fanfare, one of the greatest of Malaysians has died. He has now gone on to be with God for all eternity, receiving a reward far beyond what many of us can ever hope to receive.

Rev Peter Young was a gentle giant. A truly great Englishman who swapped his British citizenship for a Malaysian passport to serve the underprivileged here. He was a rare man amongst men, one whose heart of compassion was far bigger than any tiny ego he may have had. He never clung to power or fame, thus remaining unrecognised and unacknowledged for his great service to our people, whom he adopted and loved as his own.

Peter was an exemplary person. He has done a great service for Malaysians. He is an inspiration to many of us, as his life speaks louder than his words. Many people have probably never heard of him, as he is not one to ‘blow his own trumpet’. Allow us to share some of his life and contributions to our country.

We first met Peter when he was with Malaysian CARE in 1980. He happened to live near our home and we became friends through mutual interests and beliefs. He was appointed the first Executive Director of ‘Malaysian CARE’ in January 1980, a Christian organisation aimed at showing God’s love by action in the community. Through the inspiration and leadership of Peter, his wife Betty and others involved with Malaysian CARE, many different segments of the marginalised population of Malaysians were reached and supported. At this time the social services by the government was in its infancy and most NGOs were doing ‘charity work’. Peter tried to move our hearts and minds from a ‘charity model’ to a ‘social and rights model’. In this, his vision was very far ahead of most of us. He worked by setting up model services that others could see and pattern after. Pioneer work was started with Rumah Care, a home for children whose parents were patients and residents of the Sungai Buloh Leprosarium. Soon after, work and sheltered homes were set up for those mentally ill, prisoners, drug dependents and disabled persons.

In this Peter was a landmark and watershed in the history of social work in Malaysia. Without his work and example we would have been much slower in developing services as well as poorer at focusing our energy on the right areas and right approach.

Our contact with Peter continued and he was instrumental in encouraging our hearts, and the hearts of many, to turn to look at the needs of the poor, disabled, disadvantaged, marginalised and outcast in Malaysia. In this his heart was truly after God’s. Peter was never one to cling on to his past achievements. I remember vividly at one Asia-Pacific Paediatric Conference in 1993 where everyone was talking about the physically disabled, Peter instead presented a paper on the needs of children with intellectual and learning problems. Another paradigm shift for many of us. This area is now recognised as an enormous need in the country

Peter never needed to cling on to power or have fame and recognition. I still remember clearly what he said when I met him at Malaysian CARE during its early days, and when I was still a young and immature doctor. He expressly stated his intent was to build up Malaysian CARE and then to hand over the organisation to a local born Malaysian when its foundations had become firm and stable. True to his original intent, after many hard decades of labour down the road, he stepped down and handed over the leadership completely, without further interference or intervention, to a local born Malaysian. He did all the hard work when the organisation was unknown, and gave it all away to another person just when the organisation had become a recognised and well known force for social service. He was content to just fade away and remain forgotten by younger generations.

As said, after many years, he left Malaysian CARE in capable hands and started ‘Dignity and Services’ — an advocacy group to promote the needs and champion the cause of persons with learning disabilities. Dignity and Services gave birth to United Voice which is the first and only registered self-advocacy group for members with learning disabilities in the country. He also helped to start ‘The Micah Mandate’, a Christian-based public interest advocacy ministry that seeks a transformation of Malaysia through justice, mercy and humility.

Peter has spoken and shared at many meetings and through books and writings over many years. He speaks simply but with passion and conviction. He is by nature a quiet and reserved man but has a great sense of humour. Spending an hour with him is to be with a true VIP, a servant of God. In Malaysia, those who most deserve awards, are often least likely to get them. Many get awards just for occupying a position without doing much work. Peter deserves awards many times over for the depth and scope of his work.

In memory of Peter we ask that we jointly “Make the Right Real” (Incheon Disability Strategy). We know what is needed in our country to heal our social problems, let’s work together to make this really happen. We have lost our focus as a nation and are fascinated with grandeur, twin towers and feeding the rich. Too little of government expenditure, tax payers ringgit, are spent on supporting those in need. Our social services (Welfare Department) are poorly funded and very poorly staffed. Few of the staff in the Welfare Department are trained social workers. Peter, as a true Malaysian, would be delighted if we rose to the occasion and grew significantly the services for the poor and disabled, disadvantaged, marginalised and outcast.

Peter has gone Home, one of Malaysia’s greatest humanitarians, a wonderful man of God.

But Peter remains in our hearts.

Peter remains in the work that he has started, sustained, flourished and multiplied.

We bless you Peter and your beloved wife Betty, who stood alongside you in your hard years of labour, for your inspiration, dedication and loyalty to Malaysia and Malaysians.

Malaysia is so much poorer without your physical and spiritual presence.

We are glad you are with the God whom you love with your entire being.

(This article was originally published in the Malay Mail Online)

Peter Young: A gentle soul who walked this land

By Soo Ewe Jin

Peter Young devoted his whole life to the marginalised citizens of this country he calls his own.

HE was always in a batik shirt. Even at home. This tall Mat Salleh was a familiar sight in Section 5, Petaling Jaya, where he would take his two dogs out for a walk every evening. He was a simple man who lived a simple life.

Born in Cheltenham, England, on March 11 1926, he first set foot in this part of the world in 1954, when he arrived by ship in Singapore as a missionary, and immediately moved on to Perak to work in the new villages.

He loved the country so much he decided to stay. In 1958, he became a teacher at St Gabriel’s School after leaving the mission organisation. He taught for 10 years, and eventually became the headmaster.

But it was the setting up of Malaysian Care in 1979, with a small group of like-minded individuals, that would spark off the catalyst of change in how social work developed in this country.

His work with Malaysian Care, as its first executive director, and subsequently with United Voice and then Dignity and Services (two advocacy groups for people with learning disabilities) paved the way for many others to reach out to the marginalised.

He had already taken up Malaysian citizenship by then and though his work required him to interact with many people, he always shied away from any kind of publicity. He was a man of few words, but his deeds spoke volumes.

Many of his friends have felt that he, more than many others, deserved some form of award for his service to the community. He frowned upon such awards.

I remember how one time, despite his protestations, I was asked to submit his name for an award to recognise people in Malaysia doing humanitarian work.

The entry form required me to describe him in 100 words.

This was what I wrote: “Peter Young is more Malaysian than many Malaysians. He has devoted his whole life to the betterment of the marginalised citizens of this country he calls his own.

He does so in his quiet, humble way, mindful not to develop a cult personality to the greater cause he is pushing for.

“The paucity of articles about him in the mainstream press testifies to his approach in making sure the cause is always in the forefront. The attached material is a microcosm of how well regarded Peter is, the lives he has touched, and why he deserves the Lifetime Humanitarian award.”

Well, he did not win. And in a strange way, he was glad. I knew how uncomfortable he was just to attend the awards ceremony where the VIPs were out in full force.

I had already filed my article for this column when, early yesterday morning, I got a call that Peter had passed away, quietly, without any fanfare, as he would prefer.

I had been visiting him almost daily in this past week. He was frail but his wonderful smile, and last minute words of advice to me, were precious.

This is the man who always had time for me, no matter the situation. Peter and his dear wife Betty, who passed away five years ago, were the couple my wife and I turned to for good and Godly counsel.

He served the nation in his quiet, gentle and humble way. As a friend, and a mentor, he taught me to “live simply, so that others may simply live.”

He understood the value of speaking out for those who cannot speak out for themselves, but would gently remind me that our voice must never become more important than the cause.

He loved this country and the many friends of all races and religions, especially among the marginalised who called him Uncle Peter, are testimony to the legacy he has left behind. If he were alive, I know he would not approve of me writing about him.

I write this from the heart not to glorify him, but to put on the record that for a good 60 years, a man named Peter Young walked this land and touched many lives. Rest in peace, my friend.

First published in The Star

Editor’s Note: Although this was already published in TMM in 2014 we have decided to include it in this Remembrance Issue

A Word from The Micah Mandate

THE MICAH MANDATE was started when four friends were honoured by the agreement of a much wiser, experienced, enthusiastic and much better known man – The Reverend Peter Young – to join them in their venture. If the team thought that he was just lending his important name to their venture, they very soon found out that he intended to be and indeed was their major partner! He was in fact their primary writer – promptly submitting his postings without fail – and constantly calling them on the phone to ask about the progress of each and every issue, even convening meetings to have face-to-face meetings. He was an inspiration and catalyst and of course the team learned much from him in many more ways than the scope of TMM. It was a bonanza for each of us, a learning by seeing, hearing and feeling his passion for his country, for truth, for the civic education of the people at large, his advocacy for the poor and marginalised, his love for his LORD.

Such learning from such a man of GOD has furthered and enhanced the convictions of those of us privileged and blessed by his presence, tutelage and example. Each of us had continued the other roles and responsibilities which we were already committed to even before the start of TMM. In addition, each of us has since assumed various other responsibilities in more recent times. We will now formally retire this TMM website after readers have posted their comments. For this purpose, TMM site will remain open till 31 July 2017 and your ideas and advice will be dutifully noted. Thank you.

God and natural disasters

On my first visit to Nepal in 1989, I was appalled at the grinding poverty in which the vast majority of its citizens lived. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the rich world came to trek, climb the Himalayas or seek some variation of private nirvana. None of this tourist wealth “trickled down” to the poverty-stricken masses huddled on the river banks in Kathmandu or in the remote villages which had neither roads nor healthcare facilities. The Hindu caste-system was strongly entrenched, and conversion to Christianity forbidden. Yet an “underground” Church flourished, comprising mostly very poor folk; and foreign Christian doctors, nurses and agrarian researchers helped build a functioning infrastructure while corrupt politicians and business elites pocketed the wealth flowing from tourism.

Most of the “tourist paradises” of the Majority World – from the Caribbean islands (playgrounds of the rich and famous) to Bali, tell the same story. The poor are invisible not only to the hotel and tourist industry, but to the global media, until disasters in the form of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis strike. But the recent tragedy in Nepal illustrates the close nexus between corruption, oppressive religious and cultural systems, and the betrayal of citizens by their own governments.

When the Indian Ocean nations were devastated by the tsunami of 26 December 2004, I raised the question: why is it that when hurricanes and earthquakes hit places like Florida or Japan, the loss of life is minimal; but that when the same disasters occur in Central America or South Asia, the devastation is mind-boggling? The answer is simple and straightforward: poverty. Or poverty combined with corruption and incompetence on the part of government officials. In South Asia, annual warnings about floods and cyclones are routinely ignored when the technology needed to save lives and property is readily available. Coral reefs and mangrove swamps (that absorb much of the impact of tropical storms and ocean surges) have virtually disappeared from our coastal belts. Building contractors frequently violate safety standards, even when building in earthquake-prone areas.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, even animal predation, and other natural events are not aspects of the Fall, as has been understood in much of the Christian tradition, but rather the way God has chosen to bring about ecological changes and biodiversity on the planet. The awesome Himalayan ranges themselves were produced by earthquakes. The “fallenness” of the human condition is expressed in our increased vulnerability to such events. It is sinful human actions (including wrong priorities) that result in the heavy loss of life, much of which is preventable. Poverty and economic inequalities on the scale seen in our world cannot be blamed on God. They represent a violation of God’s will for humanity.

God has chosen to create us humans as part of a material world. So, as material beings, we share in the unpredictability and vulnerability of the rest of the created order. Our solidarity as a human species is what leads to our rejoicing in the joy of others and weeping over the pain of others. To only receive through the good that others do, but not to suffer the consequences of what others do, would be a denial of our inter-dependent creatureliness. Natural events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are a painful reminder of our fragility, our interconnectedness with and dependence upon nature.

When tragedies strike, the first thing to do is to express our human solidarity, not to forget that these are our fellow men and women, creatures like us who are in the image of God and for whom Christ died. Our Christian response is well summed up by the theologian Jon Sobrino: “To let ourselves be affected, to feel pain over lives cut short or endangered, to feel indignation over the injustice behind the tragedy, to feel shame over the way we have ruined this planet, that we have not undone the damage and are not planning to do so, all this is important. It motivates compassion and immediate emergency assistance, but more importantly it sheds light on the most effective way to help in the tragedy.”

There will always follow the clamouring existential questions and our feeble, stuttering human answers. But more importantly, what we experience is a sense of indignation that “the same thing” always happens and “the same people” always suffer; and a yearning for things to be different some day.

Finally, every protest against innocent suffering, as well as every free embrace of others’ suffering, are both alike reflections of God’s own response to suffering – as seen supremely in God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. In Christian thought, God is inherently relational: a three-fold movement of ceaseless giving and responsive love. So, in answer to the oft-asked question, “Where was God in these tragedies”, we can say, humbly yet boldly, that the Triune God of sacrificial love was present in the pain and terror of the victims, in the grief of the survivors, in the heroism of people who risked their lives to save others, and in the anger and protest expressed against the vulnerability of the poor in a technologically rich world.

Trinity Sunday: mysterium Christi and harmony

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday in the church calendar, a menu of teachings for every day, including many “feast days.”

Calendared feasts serve to nourish our beings. On feast days the task of the worship leader and preacher is to spread out a feast of what God has revealed. In a book first published in 1959, Ernest Koenker summarized the preacher’s task in relation to the church calendar:

“As the seasons of the church year make their annual circuit, the preacher has no other task than to unfold the mysterium Christi, the mystery of Christ. He makes it known in all its splendour, with a sense of awe and wonder and with all its meaning for the faltering lives of Christ’s little ones.”

In Christian usage the meaning of the word “mystery” is different from normal usage. In normal usage a mystery is something which is yet to be explained, e.g. the disappearance of flight MH370. In Christian usage a mystery is often something which is being exposed. A Bible dictionary says:

“In the New Testament (NT) mysterion signifies a secret which is being, or even has been, revealed, which is also divine in scope, and needs to be made known by God to men through his Spirit. In this way the term comes very close to the NT word apokalypsis, ‘revelation.’ Mysterionis a temporary secret, which once revealed is known and understood – a secret no longer.”

Christians use the word Trinity to signify the great mystery there is in the Godhead – a mystery which it is beyond us to explain, but a mystery which we need to understand as individuals and in groups in order to establish right relationship with one another.

In every Lutheran service the leader pronounces “This service is conducted in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The pronouncement reminds us all: we approach with words the unapproachable God whose mysteries we cannot fully explain; we desire to approach in unity the greatest unity of all; we strive to be united as the Triune God is united.

Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote of the Trinity: “This is a divine riddle, where one makes three, and three makes one. Our narrow thoughts can no more comprehend the Trinity in Unity, than a nut-shell will hold all the water in the sea.”

Martin Luther (1483-1546) produced a Catechism, a set of Questions and Answers, which set out the Christian faith according to his understanding. He designed it to be used by all families. The Catechism has this to say about the Holy Trinity:

Question 19: Who is the only true God?

Answer: The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being (the Holy Trinity).

Scriptures cited:

Numbers 6:24-26. The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Matthew 28:19. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 8: 4. There is no God but one.

2 Corinthians 13:14. The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Those who attend church services regularly will immediately recognize that the first and last of the scriptures in the above list are used in every service. The sentences are repeated as “the benediction,” the blessing.

A benediction is almost inevitably spoken at the end of each service. A Chinese pastor once told me that the older generation of Chinese will leave a service only after they hear the pronouncement of the benediction by the pastor (priest).

The first blessing makes it clear that there is only One God, the LORD, YHWH, whose name is so awesome that in the writing of it the Jews would not use vowels.

The last blessing is post-revelation of the mysterion of the Holy Trinity in numerous ways. These include the coming of the Holy Spirit “as a dove” upon the Son, accompanied by a voice from Heaven (the Father) when the Son was baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17); the Messiah’s promise to send the Spirit (John 14) – fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); the admonition in Matthew’s gospel to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, cited above).

Why has God revealed Himself as the Triune God?

The Trinitarian understanding of God should keep us humble when we explain and recommend our faith: there is a limit to what we can explain; we can only lead people to the threshold of God; God alone can lead them in.

The Trinitarian understanding of God is not esoteric, i.e. to be understood only by a few; rather, it is public, i.e. meant for all; it is practical: the Father’s love sent the Son on a mission to save the world; the Son’s obedience completed the mission; the Spirit leads us into the Kingdom, and guides and empowers us as we live in the world as disciples of Christ.

The Matthew passage, one of the set readings for yesterday, reminds us of the Messiah’s last words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

A disciple is “one who embraces and assists in the teachings of another.”

On Trinity Sunday, I receive the Trinitarian blessing and leave pondering “Am I a disciple?” Do I know what it means to have a mystery entrusted to me, to live according to that mystery and to proclaim that mystery by my actions and my words? Do I strive for harmony and oppose disharmony because I have been apprehended by the Triune God?

3 surprising things about Good Friday

1 – Today is Good Friday. To Christians, it’s the most holy day of the religious calendar. But ‘holy’ not in the Golden Lounge sense where there are first-class dudes and everyone else sits in crammed seats. ‘Holy’ not in the Spock sense where only ‘we’ are super-smart and know all the answers. Neither is it the Parliamentary Speaker sense in which ‘we’ have the right to tell everyone how wrong they are and the world has the right to shut up, obey or remain sinful – now wouldn’t that be convenient?

Instead, to be holy means to be set apart to serve; it’s about being called to be a blessing to others as a vocation. Christians are meant to major in compassion and minor in condemnation. Good Friday is about enduring agonising pain for crazy people who will never be good enough.

Give RM50 for orphans? Sure. Give the flesh off my back so the most corrupted UMNO crony can experience a new kind of life? Insane. But that’s what Good Friday is, well, ‘about’. One perfect person suffering out of love for other highly imperfect persons who couldn’t give a damn. One loving person giving himself up so there can be a surprising outcome for a world which has given up on surprises.

2 – Today is Good Friday. It’s the reason why no parent names their son ‘Judas’. But it wasn’t simply a matter of betrayal, no matter what Lady Gaga says. Judas’ problem, much like ours, was about being obsessed with an idea.

Judas was crazy about the kind of victory he believed the Messiah was supposed to bring; he fully believed that God would ‘rescue His people’ but he refused to accept that the divine plan involved humiliatation, suffering and death. No, Judas believed that only a VIOLENT overthrow of the Roman and the ‘false’ Jewish leaders would restore the Jews to their rightful place assigned by God.

And how best to incite such violence, if not by ‘provoking’ an arrest of someone so loved by the rakyat? What better way to spur the trigger-happy revolutionaries to action than by getting the people’s Messiah – welcomed with waving palm branches and cries of joy – handcuffed and roughed up by guards from a despised establishment?

The sad surprise is that Judas, our famous ‘traitor’, never intended to betray anybody. In fact, his agenda was to rejoin the ‘good guys’ once the revolution was won. This is why he kissed the one he betrayed – wouldn’t it have been easier to simply point? This is also why, after Judas realised his plan has gone terribly wrong (and that the Messiah had a VERY different understanding of how God saves the world), he threw away his blood-money in disgust and sorrow.

3 – Today is Good Friday. If you ask me what’s so ‘good’ about it, I’ll say it’s the day that this Jewish guy threw himself on the primed grenades that threatened to blow up the world. It was the day that someone who said (and acted like) he was God in some strange but exact sense, walked onto the Omaha Beach of life, letting himelf be gunned down (again and again and again) so we wouldn’t have to.

You know the funny thing? It was actually the religious and political leaders who took this person down. Not sure why they hated him so much. Maybe it was jealousy, fear or just because they didn’t like his face. Or maybe those in power go berserk when another kind of power emerges in the lives of the people they wish to control? Which is why they must disparage and destroy it.

I’ll repeat it: Good Friday is the day a very good and godly man was tortured and killed by selfish political bullies who, by doing so, played perfectly into the hands of a Higher Loving Power. As Narnia author, C.S. Lewis, said: There is a ‘deeper magic’ at work which the most evil forces in existence cannot deal with if they even knew about it.

I don’t know where MH370 is, but I do know that a deeper magic is available to help the families of the passengers heal and move on with life. I don’t know why Karpal Singh’s car crashed, but I suspect that the author of this deeper magic grieves with his family. I also think that those who would carry on the former DAP Chairman’s vision for justice in the country will do so and, if they search their hearts, find that deeper magic somehow ‘holding’ them closely.

Thank God it’s Good Friday. God loves us more than we know – surprise?

“If God was good and all-powerful, why did He cause/allow the MH370 tragedy”

Got a question recently from one of my good pals the other day. He’s an atheist. He asked me what kind of God would allow a Boeing full of people to disappear, creating pain and heartache for the families. Needless to say, this is a popular question and one of the reasons why many ‘free-thinkers’ view religious faith to be as valid as believing in unicorns.

Many assume that if God cares about us, He wouldn’t let bad things happen to us. The fact that incidents like MH370 occur means either that God doesn’t care or He’s powerless to do anything or, better yet (and how convenient), He doesn’t exist.

I’ll skip to the chase: I don’t believe God caused or willed the MH370 tragedy. I don’t even think He allowed it to happen “for reasons of His own”. This is to take a low view of His kindness and love. God has obviously planned many things but we have no warrant to conclude that everything is divinely pre-set.

God is good and has He’s made some A+ stuff, e.g. the Malaysian Peninsular, Klang river in its original state, metal for our iPhones, and the human freedom to do whatever the hell we want.

God decided that the sun would rise east and set west. He’s also put a moon up there so we save on bulbs. But if Donald Rumsfeld and his golf buddies enjoy lighting up the Iraqi night sky with missiles and bombs, that’s hardly God’s doing.

God loves us. God decided that men and women would have hands that can operate on chicken chops, and legs that work when the lifts don’t. God has even opted that whenever we answer nature’s call, it’s usually pleasurable (instead of the opposite). He also insists that we think before we speak. But if people like the Perkasa leaders and its patrons regularly talk like they arrived in Malaysia before the first bacteria, this is surely not within God’s design.

God is very serious about people forgiving one another, especially those they would never befriend on Facebook. That our species in general has thrashed this mandate is a statement about human nature and the kind of freedom God has granted us to exercise in a manner He hopes we will.

What’s the relevance of all this to MH370? Clearly, the nature of the question – “Why does God let/cause bad things happen?” – is flawed. Bad things, from the lack of parking at 1 Utama to world hunger to MH370, point more to human failure and frailty and less to divine enterprise.

Human freedom is real so there is totally no need to attribute a tragedy like MH370 to the ‘will of God’. To be sure, God has willed MANY things but to say that He wills ALL things (including the exact RM1 chicken that Najib held up during his campaign) is not only weird theology, it’s bad anthropology.

“Okay. Maybe God did not ‘choose’ this tragedy, but He surely could have stopped it, right? Why didn’t He? What specific reasons were on His mind?”

Again, I wonder if that’s even a right question.

Billions of people perform trillions of mistakes or crimes everyday. For some reason, God almost never ‘deletes’ these acts by fiat. And what kind of world would it be if God did that? What kind of world would we have if each time a rude email was to be sent, the ‘Send’ button disappears? Would we really want mosquitoes with insights into the ethical background of their would-be victims prior to biting them? Should all cigarettes and alcohol be enchantingly sucked down to hell next week, since it will clearly prevent so many lung problems and car crashes? In this kind of world, even office meetings could become non-stop fun?

I say and do stupid hurtful things regularly. But instead of frying my brain cells the two micro-moments before I act like an idiot, God usually lets me misbehave, hoping that the repercussions will teach me to act more maturedly. There is no ‘specific reason’ why I am allowed to be rude to those who love me – I am just irresponsibly exercising my freedom.

Human freedom is real and, from the looks of it? It’s irrevocable, too.

Every Chinese New Year hundreds of people die in highway accidents. But instead of cosmically terminating Gong Xi Fa Cai from the world’s collective memory or magically making every Malaysian motorist drive at 10KM per hour, God decides to work through people’s sense of safety, traffic police, warning signs and so on. There is no ‘specific reason’ why a Toyota and a lorry may collide – badly driven vehicles, the laws of physics and poor roads are reasons enough.

Again, there are no ‘specific reasons’ why bad things happen. As if God is the kind of Being who MUST plan out every tragedy for reasons only He can know.

So what happened to MH370? I think the media has given us a HDD load of speculations: cockpit fire, decompression, terrorist, co-pilot scandal, pilot schemes, Asian Bermuda triangle, aliens, government conspiracy, etc. We don’t have to add “God’s mysterious reason” to this list.

Because God’s power, in addition to what He can do, is also witnessed in what He does not do.

If God were to intervene in all risky/dangerous/evil cases, our world may be less painful and vulnerable than it actually is, but it would also be far less beautiful and orderly. It would not be a world worth defending as there really wouldn’t be anything to defend against. It would be a world devoid of that crazy little thing called love, which we only recognise as part and parcel of the ability to choose not to love.

God is love. To love is to make a decision to be exposed to the kind of world we have. To expect miraculous interventions on-demand is another way of asking for a different world, a world without risk, with no freedom; a world without world.

God is love. He’s created people who care for strangers. There is surely something quietly and humbly powerful about a whole nation united in prayer for missing passengers. Doesn’t this give fresh meaning to the phrase ‘God is power’?

Whatever happened or happens to MH370, Malaysians will always need more of a God of strange power and wonderous love. Amin.