Sunday, May 17, 2015

The question of the 42 boys and the bear

I read the new post that the boy posted up today — despite telling myself that I should not because I don't want to indulge his need for attention any longer — but I just could not help it. I wanted to hear his side of the story, to make my own judgment. And I wanted to see how he described the counsellor turned bailor.

I wish I hadn't. Because after finishing the post, I just felt sad. Sad for the counsellor. Sad for society in general. I was not quite sure what I should feel towards the boy.

Perhaps one problem that we Christians always have is that more often than not, we are so concerned about telling the whole world that we are the chosen salt and light of the world rather than actually being the salt and light of the world. In trying to push his agenda across, the counsellor shot himself in the foot unknowingly. In trying to help, he somehow made the situation worse.

I know the counsellor meant well. I read the way his child defended him. I don't think he's actually a bad person. But perhaps in this case, he might have thought that age or his actions meant authority, which turned out to be gravely wrong in the end. Should he have not tried to “convert” the boy, things would not have turned out so badly. If he have held his peace, only bailling the boy out without having to make his faith known, just to prove the boy wrong, things may not have turned out so badly for him.

I guess my only gripe about this whole incident has to do with Christians themselves. Or anyone who feel strongly for a religion. We have this insecure fear over our religion that we tend to get defensive whenever someone attacks our religion (like how the boy did to the counsellor) but at the same time we are so eager to prove our faith is the superior one that in our best of intentions, more often than not we end up doing more harm than good to our own cause.

I think another problem with Christians nowadays are more concerned with making their faith known in a self-fulfilling way that we forgot that Jesus once condemned the priests who prayed in the public and urged us to instead seek a quite corner to be with God. But no, everything now has to be in the public now. It's almost as if we're fighting a propaganda warfare with the aim for validating ourselves instead of really helping others. Like scoring brownie points. (I know some will try to bring out the point about evangelising, but that's another point for another post)

But back to the point. As a Christian, I tried to think about the point that he brought up. The one about the bear and the 42 deaths. Was God really unjust and vengeful? Was this a irreconcilable difference that points to the fallacy of Christianity? How can I answer this without shaking my faith? Or more importantly, how can I answer this without sounding too defensive?

Think as I might, I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer. God is indeed vengeful in the Old Testament (OT). One need not look so deep into 2 Kings to get example of it. If you really wanted to believe in a just, merciful and benevolent Lord, you will not find it in the Old Testament. The flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plague of the first-born during Moses time and the way Israel slaughtered their enemies after Egypt — this was not an indication of a just God. If anything, he would kill to get things done.

Perhaps the insult of the bald priest made the story more absurd, but one does not need to flip a lot of pages in the Old Testament to get a sense that the God in the OT is more of a tough love kind of God. So how does one justify this then?

To be honest, I can't. If you ask me, Christianity can be filled with quite a lot of contradicting statements if you look deeply into it, especially when it comes to the bible. On one hand you have this passage saying you cannot do this but then on the other hand you can given the right circumstances.

Jesus didn't correct a lot of laws in the OT after all, other than the divorce and the meat eating portion, so a lot of things remain open to interpretation and that I think it's the biggest vulnerability that the Christian faith has if someone wants to attack it. Heck, even a 16 year old was able to shred a loyal believer to pieces.

So how can one answer his question on the 42 boys and the bear then?

Perhaps we can start by acknowledging that our faith is not as perfect as we would like to believe. Yes, God may have seemed fairly inconsistent if you compare the OT and the New Testament (NT), but personally I would believe that God, like us, changes too. He may not as rigid as we would like to think he would be and I believe there were instances when he changed his mind as well. The Jonah story can be an example and perhaps how God decided to send Jesus himself to save us by grace is perhaps the indication of the biggest change of all.

So why can't we explain that perhaps during that time during the OT God may be this way, but the God we believe now is somewhat different, at least in the way He does things?

Of course, that is only one answer. There's also the argument that the bible may have been interpreted differently for that story — after all, like it or not the bible is written and translated by humans and after so many translation, the story may have been misinterpreted from the way it was intended to be. This may open up a whole new can of worms, but I am only bringing up another possibility of an answer.

Or perhaps the best way to explain this whole thing is simply to admit that we, as humans, can never hope to understand the way God works, given our limited knowledge. After all, how can we expect an ant to grasp the way we think about mathematics or science? I guess the same reasoning can be applied to us trying to understand God's logic. We simply can't. And we should never hope to fit God into our worldview because if He is truly omnipotent as we believe, we can never hope to understand him. And perhaps this is what is meant by simply having faith.

I will admit that these are feeble attempts to counter the boy's questions — more like a touch on the surface — but I think what it important at the end of the day is that our purpose is not to “win” this argument or to “convert” anyone. This is not a competition.

Instead, dialogue should be about understanding each other's position, accepting them and coming up with a win-win compromise. No parties should be forced to accept the opposing party's worldview and it should be alright to agree to disagree. And I think if Christians are willing to do this, maybe then we can start dealing with people like the boy who seeks to challenge the faith without coming off as insecure idiots. This is my personal ideal.

I guess one man can hope.


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