Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Viewing God’s response to prayers as privilege and not entitlements

Part of my frustration with my chronic tension headache condition comes from the thought that God seems to be ignoring my prayers for healing. I wonder why God would not answer my prayers in the most direct and apparent way by healing me completely of my tension headache if he is indeed real, and hears my prayers. There are times when I feel so frustrated over this thought that I resolve to myself that the answer is God does not exists. But then, given some time, I would relent on that position, and attempt to find answers to give God the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps God is doing something to help me. He might be using gradual means rather than instantaneous ones. Or as the Christian trope would go, God’s will abides by his time. There might be some wisdom to such a saying. Moreover, when I consider that the alternative is one of disbelief in God, which does nothing to help me with my tension headache problem, I find myself perceiving God’s help in a different way – that it is a privilege more than it is an entitlement. If under the normal scheme of things, should things proceed according to nature without any intervention by God, that there be no healing, then healing on the part of God should be perceived as a favor to divert away from such an undesirable outcome, and the lack of such favor granted should invite no more disgruntlement than if God were not to exist and our problems persists in the natural course of things.

I wonder if this thought makes sense. Perhaps another way to explain my thought here is that often times, it is easy to get disappointed with God over the perceived lack of answer to one’s own prayers, when such disappointment is not warranted since God is not duty-bound to answer such prayers in the first place. On second thought, I think it is quite harsh that disappointment should be seen in such a negative light. Perhaps, it is understandable if one gets disappointed, but we shouldn’t go to the extent of being disgruntled with God because that shows that we are mistaking any positive response on God’s part as an entitlement rather than simply a privilege to ourselves. I wonder whether the same can be said of the ancient Israelites who grumbled against God in the desert because they wanted something which God was not duty-bound to give them. If they had merely expressed disappointment, God might not have been so angry at them.

I suppose I am guilty of such disgruntlement. More than that, I have probably expressed anger at God. I still want my healing, and I would hope that God would not make it so hard for me to get it, but I suppose I could very well have a certain greater depth of perspective regarding unanswered prayers, rather than instinctively becoming unhappy and getting angry at God. I would imagine a more emulable biblical character responding in a more dispassionate manner to unanswered prayers with “Well…if it isn’t the Lord’s will, then it is just as well, and so be it”, and I guess I could try to adopt the same attitude.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thoughts about Euthanasia

I would like to write my thoughts about the issue of Euthanasia, or the right to assisted suicide. Part of the reason why I am motivated to do so is because I have been thinking quite somewhat about the issue, and another part is because I come across blog posts by fellow Christians who strongly oppose the legalisation of Euthanasia.

The brief summary of thoughts on euthanasia is that it should be legalised, but strictly regulated so that the option of euthanasia is only available to the genuinely dire and necessary cases. I don’t think that there are any stronger case for providing the option for euthanasia than when one reads about cases of patients with really insufferable diseases that torments them to no ends and with no respite until they die. For example, I once read of this case of a man with the well-known neurodegenerative disease, ALS, who requested to be given the option of assisted suicide, but was denied that option by the court. The way he died was by suffocation from choking on his saliva to death. I really can’t identify when conservatives argue that euthanasia should not be allowed because it infringes upon the principle of sanctity of life, or the right to life. Try saying that to those people suffering from these painful terminal illnesses pleading that they be given the option to end their own lives. “I know you are undergoing a lot of pain and want to die, but I am not going to allow you to, because principle of sanctity of life. You can choke on your saliva to death for all I care, or writhe in agony while the cancer eats away at you, but nope, no assisted suicide for you, because, well, principle of sanctity of life.” I am not sure whether conservatives who make these arguments are aware how cruel and unsympathetic their arguments sound, perhaps almost to the point of being silly. That is the problem of taking some principle as absolute and extrapolating them all the way I guess. It may sound rational, but only if you subscribe to the same paradigm of these principles being absolute. My thoughts is that the principle of sanctity of life, while a principle that should be accorded great weight, has to be considered together with other factors, notwithstanding the least, the principle of consent and dignity of life. If a patient is suffering from a really painful, terminable illness, and no other treatment options are able to cure or alleviate such pains, then perhaps, assisted suicide should be warranted with the patient’s consent.

The other argument conservatives raise is that such options are prone to abuse. I can agree with that, but isn’t this easily addressed by ensuring that certain regulatory features are in place? For one, there needs to be consent. For two, the illness must be recognised as being terminable, with all other forms of treatment options exhausted. Perhaps a more restrictive approach could employ a list regulating kinds of illnesses where the option of assisted suicide is available. Perhaps the regulatory issues are more complicated, but I am sure that they can be further refined. But to do away completely with the option of assisted suicide simply because of these regulatory issues seems to swing to the conservative extreme to me. While I identify with conservatives on a number of issues, euthanasia is not one of them. I hope that those conservatives who oppose euthanasia can somehow take on a more sympathetic view if they should consider their own personal susceptibility to such debilitating and tormenting illnesses. They might one day wish the option of assisted suicide is available to them should they find themselves beset with such illnesses someday, but find that it isn’t because they had opposed it their entire lives, and now find that those they had encouraged to oppose euthanasia similarly oppose them too from resorting to such an option at a time when they most wish it for themselves.

Visit to the neurologist; thoughts about visiting other specialists

I visited the neurologist at the hospital today. This is the third time I am seeing a neurologist over my tension headache condition. The short story of the end of the matter is that I left without a solution to my tension headache once again. Indeed, I had my reservations about seeing the neurologist as I expected such an outcome, but I figured that I should consult another neurologist for a third opinion, just in case he or she might have something useful. Guess that as it turns out, I am fully convinced that the neurology department is not able to provide a solution to my tension headache condition. All that I hear from the neurologist is that she is not worried about my condition as it is simply a tension headache. I was a little upset that the neurologist seems to treat my problem dismissively, but I guess I can’t really fault her when the limitation is inherent in the scope of the field of her medical knowledge. But I suppose that these neurologists could be a little more humble about the possible limitations of their medical knowledge, rather than assume that just because they can’t identify anything wrong, it means there really isn’t anything wrong, and that all is well with their patient, and the patient’s problems is irrational or imaginary.

Anyway, I am thinking of visiting a different specialist the next time. I have in mind an ENT specialist – one who is specialized in the medical knowledge of ears, nose, and throat. How would such a specialist help? I am too sure, but I encountered an article from a facebook support group that a patient who seems to experience a condition quite like mine found the appropriate treatment when he visited an ENT specialist. He had been struggling with chronic headaches for six years, and like me, had gone to numerous doctors and specialists, without finding an answer to his problem. In fact, the doctors started to regard him as having a psychiatric illness or angling for drugs due to his persistence. But he found an answer to his problem one day when he came across an old medical article (see here for more information) describing his condition and treatment for it. He took it to an ENT specialist, who treated him for the headache with some minor surgery, and was relieved of the headache almost immediately. I suppose I could consult an ENT specialist as well about such a condition and for his opinion on the matter. I am also seeking alternative medical therapies that might be helpful. I have been giving traditional Chinese medicine treatment involving gua sha a try, and I think it helps somewhat in alleviating the intensity of my tension headaches. I am also interested to give chiropractic a try as well, especially after viewing some youtube videos of it as being able to cure tension headaches. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thoughts about addressing unbelief of others, and asking God to help with unbelief

At a Christian fellowship group meet today at school, a member leading the session went through the passage of Psalms 88 and Mark 9:14-29 where Jesus healed a boy with an evil spirit. The member leading the session talked about how the Psalmist in Psalms 88 experienced moments of doubts about God in his hardship, so much so that he made rather seemingly irreverent remarks about God in his lament that might seem blasphemous in nature. The member talked about how it is possible for fellow believers to experience similar doubts about God, and that quite often, such doubts go suppressed in Christian settings, and it is quite convenient for fellow Christians to push away such doubts from a fellow Christian because of their discomfort with handling it. The member referred to the Mark passage, and made the point that at times, what we can do about our doubts is to ask God to help us with our unbelief.

This session resonated with me because I have been experiencing some grave doubts about my faith in recent years given my hardships in life. And I can quite identify with the point made by the member that such sentiments are not too well accommodated in Christian settings at times. But to be fair, I am not sure what would be the right way to address such sentiments as well. There are Christians I know who would approach this by boldly telling the doubting person that he should just trust God and not doubt. Some other Christians would just try to allow the doubting person to talk out his sentiments without offering too much comments. Then there are those Christians who would try to afford an explanation, or some wisdom to the doubting person. For me, I will tell the doubting person that I too have similar doubts, but that I think it is okay to doubt, and that God is bigger than to be upset at our doubts, but that we should also try to give God the benefit of the doubt. I suppose different people may respond differently to different approaches, so I wouldn’t want to overly criticize any of the different approaches. But there are some which I find myself adverse to, so much so that I prefer not to relay my doubts to that Christian person whom I know would simply belittle my doubts.

Where I am with my own doubts right now, I think I am at the point where I think that there is a distinct possibility that God does not exist. It seems to me that he is virtually absent from the world, or from my life at least. Regarding the point made by the member that we can ask God to help us with our unbelief, I wonder to myself why I should even ask God to help me with my unbelief when it is quite possible that God does not exist in the first place. I guess my unbelief is the one talking there, rather than the believing part of me. I once watched a video featuring a talking session amongst four prominent atheists who are colloquially known as the Four Horsemen of Atheism– Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. In that dialogue amongst the four individuals, they talked about why believers seem so persistent in their belief in God. Christopher Hitchens made the point that one of the chief reasons which he identifies for persistence of belief is the act of the believer to ask God to help him with his unbelief. I guess from an atheist point of view, the asking for God’s help with unbelief is a rut which prevents the believer from embracing his unbelief and coming to the truth of atheism. Where I am at right now, I am pretty inundated by unbelief so much so that I don’t even want to ask God to help me with my unbelief. I tell God that if he wants to help me with my unbelief, he should remove my hardships in life, rather than demand my psychological attitude of belief towards him. I am not sure how God, if he does exist, will respond to my attitude towards him. I told the group that I think that God helps us with our unbelief even if we do not ask for it. Honestly though, I am not sure. But if there is any reason why I still continue believing in God, it is that I hope he would do something to alleviate me of my hardships in life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Some thoughts about the Singapore general election – Coming to a tacit consensus for apportioning constituencies between PAP and the opposition.

The Singapore General Election is just around the corner. This would be my first time voting, since the last time the election was held, which was 5 years ago, I was a year too young below the minimum age requirement to vote. What are some of my thoughts regarding voting at this general election? Well, I believe that I should vote for what is good for my country, which would affect me and my loved ones as well in one way or another. As to what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans, I am not too sure, but I believe that the status quo of majority PAP as the ruling party, with WP as the minority opposition is comfortable and desirable.

I believe that the incumbent government composed of chiefly the PAP party has done a pretty good job since coming into parliament in the last election. But I can also empathize with the desire by Singaporeans to maintain a proportion of opposition members within the ranks of parliament to provide checks and balance on the ruling party, and also to keep the ruling party on their toes and not become complacent. The ideal composition I believe that most Singaporeans want would be a parliament with PAP as the majority ruling party, and an appropriately sized opposition in the minority.

I think it would work well if Singaporeans can come to some form of tacit consensus on who should vote for which political party based on the constituencies they reside in. I believe one such tacit consensus that may already be prevailing would be that those living in currently-held opposition constituencies should continue voting in the opposition, whilst those living in constituencies currently held by the incumbent ruling party, the PAP, should continue voting for the PAP. The difficulty however lie where Singaporeans wishes to vote in more opposition, but also keep the PAP as the majority ruling party. The difficulty and danger in an election though is that in trying to vote for more opposition representation in parliament without any form of tacit consensus, it is possible to swing too greatly in favor towards the opposition and grant them more seats than what ordinary Singaporeans would be comfortable with, or to be too adverse towards voting any opposition and not vote in enough. I am not sure what the prevailing sentiment amongst the majority of Singaporeans is regarding the number of opposition that should be voted in, whether this should be maintained at status quo, increased, or decreased. In my opinion, the status quo number of opposition is just right, and I don’t think there needs to be so much checks and balance on the ruling party by voting in more opposition if the PAP has been doing a good job, and remain clean and honest as the government given the existing number of opposition members. In my opinion, it would do well for similarly like-minded Singaporeans to vote along some lines of tacit consensus in order to reduce uncertainty of outcomes in the election, and my suggestion of where that line of tacit consensus would be is the status quo, both in terms of the numbers and the current constituencies held by the respective parties. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thoughts about a blog article on unanswered prayer

I was reading an article about unanswered prayers. In that article, the author attempts to suggest some reasons why prayers remain unanswered, and how we should pray in order for our prayers to get answered. The author cites the Lord’s Prayer and attempts to distill some principles from it as a model. One key principle the author claims is that we should hallow God in our prayers, otherwise we will be praying self-centered prayers, and that may be the reason why a person’s prayers does not get answered. The author cites the passage of James 4:2-3 where James writes in his epistle to his audience that even when they ask, they do not receive because they ask with wrong motives. The author makes the point that even seemingly godly prayers like the author’s own asking for God to change his children could be self-centered in nature as it does not focus on the kingdom of God.

I have mixed feelings when reading the article. On the one hand, I am desperate for God to answer my prayers, especially with regards to physical healing of some of my chronic illnesses. Thus, I just hope to apply whatever the author is recommending so that God will answer my prayers for healing. I figure also that it couldn’t hurt to focus more on the aspect of hallowing God when I pray. I believe that I do indeed try to hallow God’s name when I pray. I would ask God to heal me because I believe that he is an all-powerful, merciful, and loving God. But perhaps I might have left out the part about asking for God’s kingdom to come, and that his will be done, or something like that. If praying that would make my prayer more effective, I would certainly do it.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this suggestion of having to pray for God’s kingdom or otherwise my prayers are self-centered is legalistic and artificial. I hope I am not being overly-cynical, but it sounds to me that God is scrutinizing my prayers such that if I don’t add a particular phrase or clause, he will foul me and not consider my prayer requests. It doesn’t matter whether my prayers are heartfelt, or sincere, or whether I am pleading with God most earnestly, because if I haven’t hallowed God’s name, or asked for his will or kingdom to come, I am being self-centered in my prayers.

Personally, I have a different conception of how God is like, or how I think he should be. I conceive of God as loving and sympathetic to our needs, and even our desires. I like the idea in the bible of how we should think of God as our Father, and we his children. Some of the bible passages I favor about prayer are those like Matthew 7:9-11 where Jesus was telling his audience that just as we as human parents know how to give good things to our children, so much so will God, the Father give good things to those who ask of him. As such, rather than a legalistic God who would make such demands on the way we pray, I would believe that God is keener on trying to meet our prayer requests for our needs, even if they may be self-interested (or more negatively put, “self-centered”). I can accept the point about how God desires that we as Christians should want to advance God’s kingdom and do his will, but I am quite adverse towards the idea that I must have such desires first before God will consider meeting my needs. And to be honest, I often don’t feel that the advancement of God’s kingdom or doing his will is at the topmost of my mind. I don’t even feel like praying for this actually, because the concerns for my own needs or wants can be pretty overwhelming. It can seem forced for me to have to conform to this idea that I have to do those, so that God will answer my prayers.

Perhaps I might be overly-cynical by saying that the God that the author describes is legalistic and demanding. I know the author means well with his article, but this are my thoughts about it at the moment. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections about suffering

Where is God when it hurts? I still ask myself this question quite often, especially in light of the chronic daily tension headaches that I experience. I wonder why God would not heal me of this tension headache. I believe I must have prayed at least a thousand times asking God to heal me of this illness. So why hasn’t God healed me yet of this tension headache?

I can’t help but find my faith in God challenged through this ordeal and hardship that I have found in my life. Does God exists at all? I tell myself this sometimes. And there are indeed times when I say to myself that God indeed does not exist. If he does, then why wouldn’t he do something about my plight?

I suppose if I should be critical of myself, I should have questioned the existence of God as critically as I am now even before I suffered these tension headaches. After all, suffering amongst humankind is pretty common. There are the periodical news report of some poor souls undergoing some form of hardship or another. I remember reading about a kid who died after he was kicked in the neck during a taekwondo sparring session. Then there was the case of a newly wedded couple where one of them fell down and died on his wedding day. The spouse committed suicide a few years later. Recently in the news, there was a report of a girl who had to have her legs amputated due to cancer, the news coming to her on the day when she got into the netball team of the Singapore Sports School. She succumbed to cancer later, even though she had underwent an amputation of her legs. I believe that she was Christian. The mother was quoted as saying that she is somewhat relieved that her daughter does not have to go through any more pain, and is in heaven with God.

I mustn’t be too surprised over my own experience. It is perhaps much more common than what I am aware of. At least, if I should consider my society as a whole, instead of just the communities which I interact with on a daily basis. And even within those communities which I am part of, I wouldn’t be too surprised that the respective individuals themselves face one sort of ordeal or another, ordeals that are hidden from the surface that can be observed by the eyes. But it can honestly seem like I am the only undergoing such undue hardship when everyone else seems pretty happy around me.

I would like to think that God exist, and he is merely testing me, or making me undergo trials through which I would become a better person. There is this underlying belief I had even before I experience this chronic tension headache, that suffering is God’s way of imparting divine wisdom. When I see my plight from such an angle, it makes me question what are the lessons or wisdom that God is trying to teach me from this suffering. Perhaps I have become more empathetic to the sufferings of those around me, and of other people in the world. I wonder whether I have been less than empathetic to the plights of others before the start of my own suffering. It wasn’t like I didn’t try to be empathetic, but I may not have been so intuitively pricked in my consciousness of such suffering. I believe I was a little more simplistic in the way I believe that God would be sufficient for those in suffering, without being aware that suffering can be a struggle even with that fact. It is not unheard of for me to hear people say in church that they are not afraid of suffering because they believe that God would sustain them through it. I too might have said to myself that if I ever were in similar suffering, I would not be perturbed, but maintain an easy serenity to myself because God would be with me. And that belief might have quite subconsciously made me less than empathetic to the possible emotional turmoil that those in suffering undergo. I might have told at least one or two of such people I know who lament about God through their suffering alot that they should count God’s blessings, rather than focus on their misfortune. On hindsight, I guess that might have been insensitive, even as it is well-intentioned.

I think I might be unfairly caricaturizing my past self here, because I remember that I did try my best to be empathetic to those in suffering, but such belief-system mentioned above might have been in mind, somewhere in the subconscious perhaps. Perhaps suffering brings such thoughts that lie in the subconscious to the fore, and make us realize their folly, or uncaring nature. Perhaps one such thought could be that when we read of someone else in suffering, even as we express pity, we might have the subconscious belief that such plight only happens to others and not to ourselves. Perhaps when we suffer, even if just a little, and not as much as those we had initially read about, we might come to realize that we are actually as susceptible to such misfortunes as they are.

That said, I still find myself angst at God. I ask God why he doesn’t just tell me what he wants me to know if indeed my suffering is a trial to make me a better person. And I can’t help but wonder whether this idea of suffering being a means by which God imparts wisdom is a vanity in itself. There are people who experience such suffering of the most extreme sort, such that it robs them of the ability of conducting a basic decent life. What comes to my mind was this video I saw on youtube of a boy who experience something called the butterfly syndrome. His skin would tear and bleed at the gentle rub of its surface. My heart certainly grieved for him when I saw the documentary of his daily routine. Living through every single day is nothing short of an arduous challenge for him. And I doubt he would ever be cured of it. I doubt he can ever look upon his ordeal, and tell himself that it is simply a way for God to teach him wisdom, after which he would be healed. And I guess I can’t help but also feel that even if it were the case that God intends to teach the boy wisdom through suffering, he is being quite cruel.

So I find myself flip-flopping in my faith at times as I reflect upon suffering. They flip flop according to the prevailing thought that may be in my head at the moment. There are times when I find myself pretty assured that the good Lord is simply giving me a temporary trial to teach me wisdom. And there are times when I feel quite the reverse, that God is malevolent, uncaring, or simply non-existent because I find it hard to reconcile the existence of suffering with that of a good God. Moreover, this chronic daily tension headache has been with me for a long time now, about 3 years.  And for the most part, I find myself just being unsure of which is the truth. It is not that I am comfortable with agnosticism, but I find myself more uncomfortable with professing complete certainty of either the truth of Christianity, or of atheism. I still go to church, and I still pray, though not as regularly as I used to, and not as fervent and convicted in them as I may have used to be. I guess I find it hard to put a label on myself at the moment regarding my religious beliefs. It is a little of all three – Christianity, atheism, and agnosticism. Quite a change from the exclusive Christian label that I would think of myself in the past.

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