We live in a world of reality that encompasses the polarities and dualities of life that can often render us confused and troubled.
In the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens opened his famous book A Tale of Two Cities with these renowned words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .”
Today, we still experience these polarities and dualities in life that seem irreconcilable. They trouble and challenge our daily living, witness and ministry as disciples of Jesus Christ, both individually and communally as His Church in Malaysia. Some “dualities” are made more intolerable when they smack of outright hypocrisy such as when there is the declaration of freedom of religion, yet there are overt restrictions imposed, when there is the pronouncement of moderation yet elements of excess practices that threaten the fabric of our multi ethnic and multi-religious society are permitted.
We live in an inescapable world of polarities and dualities – the co-existence of good news and bad news, if there is hopelessness there is also hope, if there is disappointment there is also fulfilment, if there is pain there is also joy, if there is death, there is also birth. The reality of these polarities and dualities are also reflected from another perspective in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 - For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. 2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.
The New Testament teaching prepares us for living in this reality of polarities and dualities. The Lord Jesus, John and Paul were teaching in line with what ancient Jews believed: that world history was divided into two “ages” or epochs [NT Wright: The Letters of John]. The “PRESENT AGE” is full of misery and suffering, injustice and oppression especially for the people of God. Then there is the “AGE TO COME” – the time when GOD would sort it all out, put everything right, and would in particular rescue His people from the evil they had experienced and are experiencing. This “age to come” has already broken into our present reality even as the Kingdom of God is in the here and now, abundant life is here already, not only in a distant “hereafter” life in heaven, though not consummated till the second coming of Jesus Christ. Until then, the Church will face the polarities and dualities of life that can be faith-shaking at times.
Hence the early Church was born at a time of these polarities and dualities. They were a “small church facing huge problems” both inside [eg false teachers deceiving true believers with heresies, unspiritual leaders in a spiritual community etc] and outside [persecution, prosecution, marginalization etc]. These early believers made significant impact in the “present age” of suffering and oppression, never being “so heavenly minded but of no earthly good” – because they never lost the “big picture” of living ultimately for the “age to come”. We must also learn to hold these polarities and dualities in healthy, faith-ful and hopeful tension.
An individual who overcame the polarities and dualities that almost tore him apart was Joseph in the Old Testament. He held the “visible” world of his suffering and the “invisible” hand and plan of the Sovereign God, Maker of heaven and earth in healthy, faith-ful and hopeful tension. He had learnt to develop a “secret and sacred history” of relationship with Almighty God so that he could affirm that God works mysteriously in ways that are mostly hidden to us on earth. Joseph knew he could trust God Who leads through darkness and obscurity, when circumstances went from bad to worse because He is the God of goodness, love and power. He could rest in God’s steadfast love that never ceases and His sovereign grip of history – even though he cannot see the good that God was doing.
Just like Joseph, even as we continue to wrestle with what we “cannot see” from the divine hand, we shall continue to fulfil our call to be “salt and light” in the world that we “can see.” Joseph was a beacon of blessing wherever he was placed and “stationed” because God never left him but “the Lord was with him” [Gen 39:2].
We too must do likewise. At our recent August General Conference Executive Council meeting in Sibu, the following Episcopal sharing arose from the leading of the Lord that came during the worship and devotion of the Council of Presidents that took place a day earlier. As a Methodist Family in Malaysia, we are called to take note of the following, especially for our East Malaysian Annual Conferences – in the light of the coming 14th General Election:
#1. “Do NOT sell your BIRTHRIGHT for short term gain but suffer long term loss.”
We are to especially watch out for short-term promises and proffered gratification especially vote buying and to reject and denounce such corrupt practices from any party.
#2. “TODAY is a KAIROS moment from our Sovereign God for our orang asal, Sarawak Iban Annual Conference, Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference and Sabah Provisional Annual Conference to strategically impact our community, state and COUNTRY.”
The national political situation presently gives greater opportunity and leverage to those in East Malaysia to influence and bless our national life with fresh breakthroughs and even greater good to God’s glory.
#3. “The Church is PRO-ISSUE of GOOD GOVERNANCE; we are NOT into partisan politics”.
The Methodist Church is above partisan politics that divide the Church, and we do have a responsibility and duty to seek the total “welfare of the city/land” [Jer 29:7] as God’s people resident in this beloved nation of ours.
Polarities and dualities are “normal” in a fallen world that is being redeemed by the Lord and in people who continue to carry the image of God though this is now marred; we are not surprised to see that humankind is capable of the noblest of deeds such as the sacrificing of one’s life for others, yet also capable of the vilest and sickest of deeds such as unspeakable torture and murder of little children.
We choose to follow in the footsteps of Joseph in this generation. He knew that in all things God is at work. That “in spite of, through and against all human effort” – the Sovereign God of goodness, love and power Who has all history in His grip – is orchestrating and bringing His purposes to pass. He has not lost the plot!
We stand on the time tested and “unexpired” words of the prophet Isaiah [43: 1-3] - “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God,..your Savior....”
The people called Methodists – through the Holy Spirit remain Jesus Christ’s “apostles of hope” in Malaysia and beyond – no matter the polarities and dualities in our generation and in our land!