Sunday, November 09, 2014

Why I stayed in the faith

It has been some time since I’ve blogged here, but I recently read an opinion piece in the Malay Mail Online on atheism, and it calls to question a few issues that I have wrestled with in the past. In a world where death threats have been issued over puppies, I’ve wondered if I should share my two cents worth, and finally decided to write this, because once upon a time not too long ago, I shared the concerns of the author of that opinion piece.

Despite being born in a Christian family, I am a firm believer in the notion that religion should never be inherited, but understood and personally sought after by each individual concerned. Having said that, I went through a season when I started questioning the existence of God, the purpose of church, the validity of the Bible. It has taken me a while to grasp the iceberg of what it means to be a practicing Christian, but allow me to address a few of the issues raised.

Wives submitting to husbands ( Ephesians 5:22 )

To be honest, as a rebellious, opinionated teenager, I found reconciling my notions of independence and feminism with this verse close to impossible. Submit to my husband? A mere man ?? A mortal ?? What about never !  Unfortunately, as with many other instructions in the Bible, we tend to have these knee-jerk reflexes when it comes to sensitive issues such as these and forget to look at the verse in it’s entirety, in context. For instance, when we talk about women submitting to their husbands, many tend to gloss over the following verses :

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. – Ephesians 5:25 – 28

There are a few standouts here :
  •      Husbands are asked to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church. Just as Christ loved the church. If you’re unfamiliar with Christianity, Christ endured torture, mockery, abuse, denial, and still DIED for the church. And after all of that, husbands are asked to love their wives in the same manner.
  •      I am aware of how often men (and sometimes the church) misquote the Bible when trying to manipulate their wives, an instance in which I’m afraid reflects the sheer lack of understanding he has in the Word.  “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife, loves himself.” Basically meaning : do unto your wives only what you would do unto yourself. Men who hurl verbal, emotional or physical abuse on their spouses are not obeying this verse, and thus are not accurate representations of what the Bible actually expects of them.

In essence, the Bible is asking husbands to reflect to their wives the love that Christ has for us and further binds them to the promise of loving their wives as much as they love themselves. Now, I’m not too sure about you, but I wouldn’t mind being loved by my husband in the same selfless manner that God does. On addressing submission, submission in this context is very different from the submission of a slave to his master. It is important for a household to have a leader as that familiar saying about two queens never ruling one kingdom goes…but the Bible also binds husbands to submit to God as the leader of the household, thus effectively making Christ the center of a relationship and the head of one’s household. Not man, Christ.

Women as quiet, gentle spirits ( 1 Peter 3: 2-4)

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

In a world that prides material possessions, superficial beauty, and temporary success, there is really very little wrong in priding values that lead to inner beauty. Perhaps one might argue that this only applies to women, but then you’d be ignoring the countless many other commandments that apply to men too, in regards to righteousness.

Lot offering his daughters to be gang-raped (Genesis 19:8)

I once had a long discussion with someone over instances in the Bible such as these, and received a pretty enlightening answer. The Bible documents everything that happened in the history of Christianity, and it does not censor. Thus said, what Lot and many others have done may not always be right, or pleasing to God. Just like David’s infamous adulterous murder of Bathsheba’s husband, it is definitely not an instruction for fellow believers to do the same. Free will, and the freedom to choose allows us to make our own decisions, bearing in mind that all actions lead to certain repercussions, which is why it is important to remember this verse : 

“ I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything, but not everything is constructive – 1 Corinthians 10:23 “

The Bible and the oppression of women’s right

Quite the contrary actually. The position of women in the Bible has always been questioned, but critics often overlook the many positive positions that women have been given, bearing in mind the cultural and historical timeframe of when these incidences unfold. The Bible documents the acts of numerous faithful women like Esther, Ruth, Elizabeth, the Samaritan woman at the well, also the fact that God chose a woman (Mary) to mother his son, and upon his resurrection, Jesus appears first to the women. Regardless of what men of that era thought, contrary to being second class, God placed women first.

It is important to follow the Bible in chronological order, (or one would argue that slavery, live sacrifices, and polygamy are still valid today). Jesus demonstrated perfectly the position of women in God’s eyes. Despite objections from his disciples, Jesus was insistent on ministering to prostitutes, widows, adulteresses, persons of whom were amongst the lowest in society at the time. In doing so, He showed by example how each and every person is precious in the sight of God. Women were the center of many miracles Jesus performed, which further cemented the fact that He did not judge women based on their sex, or position in society, but more in terms of their relationship to God, and their faith in the living word. To quote Philip Yancey 

For women and other oppressed people, Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom of his day.... Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels." 
People who know me well would know I'm a proud feminist. And as one, I do not agree that the Bible is anti-feminism, quite rightly the opposite too. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's definition of a feminist recently went viral, in which she defines a feminist as : 

" A person who believes in the social, political and economical equality of the sexes ". 

Now, if I may be so bold as to say, if one were to go by that definition, then Jesus, would fit the profile of a feminist. 

By reading the Bible in chronological order, one should realize that the coming and living sacrifice of Christ has obliterated all known laws that were used to oppress the oppressed. It was the start of a new chapter in Christianity, a renewal of the relationship that the church now enjoys with God. In fact, there are about 100 passages in the Bible that stresses on caring for the needy, the widow, and the orphans. It is a call to action for all Christians to truly practice the essence of Christianity, a relationship with God that prioritizes love as it’s most important commandment. The word ‘love’ appears 310 times in 280 verses of the Bible. To raise arms against Christianity over laws that no longer apply, would be to ignore the selfless nature of Christ's sacrifice.

I do not argue that throughout history, religion has been misinterpreted, misused, and abused as a means of manipulation for evil men. Indeed, there is no one religion that does not have blood on its hands, but the one common denominator in all these, is men. Men, religion, and the existence of an all powerful, loving God are 3 very separate entities. Interlinked, but separate. 

Ultimately, it is the not knowing of all the answers that makes it necessary for me to know Christ. I need God not because I am perfect, but because I am imperfect, because He is the champion of the broken, the outcasts, the weak and the ones in need of salvation. Perhaps you’ll tell me that I have been brainwashed, and so indoctrinated in religious dogma that I have lost all sense of independent thought, but though I may not have found all the answers to the many questions I have, I have found the one answer that matters : The grace of God, and the peace of knowing that a strong relationship with Christ is one that endures all storms.

* All opinions expressed are my own, I am not a pastor, or a theologian, but I feel the need to stand up for what I believe simply because I have been in the position of the critics, the confused and the wondering wanderers. I share these thoughts not to judge, or victimize someone else’s freedom for expression, but from a position of one who has walked through the same uncertainties, I know personally what it feels like.