Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lazarus and the rich man – Mere Schadenfreude justice, or justified proportionate punishment?

Today at church, the pastor gave a sermon on Luke 16:19-31, the passage on Lazarus and the rich man. I was having some thoughts about the passage while the pastor was giving his sermon. First, I was thinking whether there was some sort of “Schadenfreude” justice mentality that is inherent in the narrative. “Schadenfreude” is a german word describing the psychology where people feel a strange joy in seeing or wanting to see other people in high position being humbled or brought low. Supposedly, medical findings has it that there are certain chemicals in the brain that are secreted that makes a person feel good when he see someone in great fortune being brought low. So in this passage which is about how the rich man went to hell whilst the poor Lazarus went to heaven, I was wondering whether the rich man deserved the treatment of being tormented in hell and not given reprief, because prima facie, it seemed to me that he doesn’t, and the fact that the narrative depict that he does indeed deserve to be tormented is an appeal to the Schedenfreude mentality of a reader. Why would anyone think this way? Well, I guess deep down, there is an inherent desire for people to see equality in things, that it is only fair that people have their share of fortune and hardship, and since there are some people who either have an unequal portion of one or the other while they are living, they must reap the other in the afterlife.

I am not sure whether I am missing the point of the narrative which is being told by Jesus in the passage, but I honestly find it quite unimpressive for the Abraham depicted in the narrative to tell the rich man who is begging him to allow Lazarus to alleviate his pain in hell to respond by saying that there is a chasm that is preventing him from allowing Lazarus to go down to help the rich man. I mean, whoever says that there is a chasm? God? And who created the chasm? God! Now, I know that it is important to make a distinction between parable narratives designed to instruct on a certain point, and narrative that are intended to give information on the fact of things. One should not bear too much emphasis regarding the facts of the former as they could simply be anecdotal. But I find that based on the facts represented in the parable narrative of Lazarus and the rich man, the concept of a chasm as an excuse for why Lazarus cannot go down is unimpressive to me.

I guess the issues I am talking about here drives at bottom to a perennial theological issue that bothers many people, including some Christians. That is, who deserves hell? The concept of hell just doesn’t square with common sense ideas of what justice is, that punishment should be proportionate to the offense. I know that some Christians find satisfaction with the answer that everyone deserves hell, except that God saves the elect from it. Some other Christians seem to find an easiness with the answer of a whitewashed definition of hell simply being a place where God is absent. Did the rich man deserve hell? I suppose if there is anything that can be inferred from the context of the passage, it is that the rich man was uncompassionate towards Lazarus as even though Lazarus was at this gate, the rich man did not attend to the needs of Lazarus. Perhaps God does hold the rich man to a duty of care to provide for his poor neighbor, the omission of which is punishable with the torment of hell. In my opinion, the sheer indifference of the rich man to the plight of Lazarus even when this was apparent to him is so expressive of his utter lack of compassion for human life, that I wonder whether a ‘temporary hell’, in the form of purgatory, would be sufficient to cure him of his inhumanity.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Trust theology

A church mate of mine finds it in his responsibility to ‘counsel’ all other fellow church mates on how to be a good Christian. He never fails to find a moment in social conversation to bring in his evangelical agenda of making ‘better Christians’ out of fellow Christians. I shall refrain from making this post a gossip post, because my main intention is to talk about a thing that he likes to preach about, and to examine it in my writing.

So this thing that he would usually say to a fellow believer goes somewhat along the lines of “In everything that you do, do you put God first, and trust him fully and wholeheartedly? Or have you tried to take things into your own hands, and put the trust in yourself? Are you following God’s will, or your own will?”

I wonder what would be the best way to respond to this line of reasoning. It has that rhetoric quality that would make most Christians nod their heads along and accept the statements as necessarily being incontrovertible axioms of the Christian faith. Yet, it also has that guilt-forming property that makes the Christian feel inadequate about the way he has been carrying out his life. One can never put God first enough, nor can one trust him wholeheartedly enough, and neither can one follow God’s will enough.

It adds to the cringe when that church mate of mine adds that “If you didn’t follow God’s will, and trusted yourself instead, don’t be surprise and blame God when things in your life turn out wrong or badly.”

There is that instinctive part of me that wants to rebut him on every point he has made, and prove him to be the adherent of some misguided theology. But there and then on the spot when he is putting forth such exhortation, I am not intelligent to know what to say. I would have preferred to avoid such conversation, except that he sees it as a obligation to ‘benefit’ people by putting such a point across.

In my talk with my pastor, I surfaced this up, and he refereced the term ‘trust theology’ to describe this set of thinking. It is not necessarily health and wealth prosperity gospel. Nevertheless, there is a constraining element to it, that the focus of the individual’s faith becomes very much centred on the individual’s ‘trust’ in God. And I would add that there is a quality of false dichotomy to such statements as well. It’s either God first, or you first; trust in God, or trust in yourself; God’s will, or your will.

Truth be told, I am not sure whether such a characterization of God is actually valid based on the bible. I feel that this property of ‘trust theology’ is enunciated in the bible. Just today, at a Varsity Christian Fellowship group gathering, we were going through the passage of James 1. And I could identify that quality of ‘trust theology’ in the verse “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

I don’t have enough academic knowledge of the bible or of theology to substantiate my point, but my preference of understanding right now is one that values the genuineness of an individual’s sentiment towards God. If an individual truly has doubts, or has trust issues about God, I prefer that the individual be free to acknowledge them and continue to live as a Christian despite these apprehensions, and that he or she need not be particularly worried that he or she might be missing out on some aspect of the goodness of God’s will etc. What then is the goodness of trust? It is for the individual himself, who finds a sense of peace from trusting in a God that is deserving of such a trust.

On intercessory prayers

A friend messaged to ask me how I am. I responded by replying about the health issues that have been troubling in life, such as the tension headache, and the panic attacks. I wished that I could say something else more interesting about my life, but I figured I would just be genuine about what bothers me most. It occurred to my mind that she was a catholic, so I asked her whether she could pray for me. I even asked her to obtain intercessions from the saints from her faith to get God to heal me. I told her that my Christian friends have been praying for me but to no avail, and perhaps, a prayer from a catholic friend would be good. She told me to ask St Anne to pray for me, and that there is a St Anne church in Singapore. However, as someone brought up in the protestant faith, I am reluctant on taking up the practice of resorting to the saints for intercession. But I just feel that perhaps, the Catholics might have something there about appealing to the saints for intercessory prayers.

I don’t quite get the idea behind intercessory prayers though. Even protestants practice it to some extent, asking for people perceived to be of good standing with God to pray for them in the belief that “God listens to a righteous person”. The underlying thought is that their prayers might not have gone answered because they were sinful or not righteous enough.

I really don’t know how God works, and who is right on their characterization of God. I suppose some Christians would argue that the notion of requiring intercessory prayers limits the understanding of the way God works, that he acts for our good will whatever faults we may have. Other Christians out there have the understanding that God would not answer prayers if the individual sins, or that he prefers to listen to the prayers of those he consider righteous, or closer to him.

While I prefer the former understanding of how God works, I still have an innate mentality of the latter. But all said and done, I am quite the pragmatist. Whatever floats God’s boat. If he wants a righteous person, and I am not a righteous person, get me a righteous person to say a prayer for me. For now, it seems quite a cultural maladjustment to call upon Catholic saints, although I have the belief that there is possibly a good argument from the Catholics on why they call upon the saints. I don’t think it is an idolatorous practice to call upon such figures for intercession.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Law school thus far

It’s been a little more than a month since the start of this law school semester. Can’t say that I am pretty pleased with how things have been going so far. It feels like I am headed for another waterloo at the exams. I wished I had extended my leave of absence for this semester instead of resuming studies. I believe that I had been suffering from some form of anxiety or panic disorder, which was particularly acute during the past two semesters. The leave of absence was a much needed break to allow myself to gain back composure, but I could certainly do with more time for recovery. I still experience the strange pressure sensation in the head feeling. It is substantially milder than it was when I first had it a year ago. I believe that I was coming down with what seems like the onset of a panic attack when I was in an intellectual property seminar a week ago. It was exacerbated by the fact that the professor was randomly pointing out students to answer her questions in class, and I was fearful of being called out because I am quite lost in class. I had to excuse myself from the lesson to go calm myself down.
I don’t feel my mind is working quite right. It is not in its normal cognitive capabilities. I am finding materials which I didn’t find difficult to understand in the past difficult. I would have thought that the Ocean Law and Policy module under Beckman would be easy for me considering that I did well in his class during my first year, but even that seems difficult for me to grasp. I am guessing that I might still be experiencing the mind-numbing effects of the acute panic attacks I had last year. I think I am recovering alright, but I would need more time to regain normal capacity.
I wonder if I should be taking any drugs that would help my condition. I have scheduled an appointment with the campus psychiatrist. But I am quite apprehensive of resorting to psychiatric medication because of all the possible negative side effects that I have been reading online so far.
I wished I could write more the stuff that are taught in law school on my blog. I haven’t come across blogs by fellow law school students who keep blogs and write stuff they learn from law school. But I think that people from the general population would be interested to read about such stuff, and I am privileged to be in law school. I like the idea of writing interesting posts about law on my blog and people reading them, but for now, it seems I am quite unable to do that.

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