I learnt about taking the long view on life from my Malay neighbour. He once told me that sometimes things may look as though they are going against the purposes of Allah but Allah will win in the end. It may take generations but in the end Allah will win.
Now here was a word I needed to hear. Taking the long term view of history is of course very much a Christian perspective as well. One only has to look at the gallery of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. I am particularly drawn to those heroes who exercised faith but did not receive any tangible rewards for their faith in real time, indeed in their life time.
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
(Hebrews 11:35b-40 TNIV)
This long term view and the ultimate triumph of Jesus were very much in my mind when I received the news of the judgment in the Lina Joy case. For those who have not been following the case here are some excerpts from Reuters. (Please scroll through if you are already familiar with the facts of the case.)
[“Lina Joy, 43, was born Azlina Jailani and was brought up as a Muslim, but at the age of 26 decided to become a Christian. She wants to marry her Christian boyfriend, a cook, but she cannot do so while her identity card declares her to be Muslim.
In 1999, the registration department allowed her to change the name in her identity card to Lina Joy but the entry for her religion remained ‘Islam.’”
“Malaysia’s best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word “Islam” removed from her identity card, after the country’s highest court rejected the change.
‘You can’t at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another,’ Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in delivering judgment in the case, which has stirred religious tensions in the mainly Muslim nation.
He said the civil court had no jurisdiction in the case and that it should be dealt with by the country’s Islamic courts.
‘The issue of apostasy is related to Islamic law, so it’s under the sharia court. The civil court cannot intervene.’
About 200 mostly young Muslims welcomed the ruling outside the domed courthouse with shouts of ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ (God is great), but Christians and non-Muslim politicians were dismayed.
‘I think it’s a major blow,’ opposition politician Lim Kit Siang said. ‘It casts a large shadow on civil liberties and the constitutional rights of Malaysians.’
Malaysia’s Council of Churches was saddened.
‘We still go by the possibility that the constitution allows any citizen of the country to exercise his or her right to choose a religion and practice it,’ council secretary Rev. Hermen Shastri said outside the court.
‘I don’t think this decision is going to stop an individual from exercising that right for whatever reason.’
“The three-judge appeal bench ruled 2-1 against Joy. The dissenting judge, the only non-Muslim on the bench, said the department responsible for issuing identity cards should have complied with Joy’s request to remove ‘Islam’ from her card. He accused the National Registration Department of abusing its powers. ‘In my view, this is tantamount to unequal treatment under the law. She is entitled to an IC where the word Islam does not appear,’ dissenting judge Richard Malanjum said.”
(Jalil Hamid and Syed Azman, May 30th 2007, Reuters)]
Many of us are deeply saddened because our sister in Christ continues to be denied fundamental freedoms. It is shameful that the highest court of a country that is a signatory to the universal declaration of human rights, denies her citizens the most basic of rights. It is disturbing that the three judge panel is divided along religious lines. (I thank God for the dissenting judge who in my mind gave the straightforward and natural reading of the law.) But the divide among the judges reflects the growing secular-Islamic divide in the country.
If Christians are disturbed we need to ask ourselves why we were not disturbed long before this? (I salute those who saw the dangers much earlier and were lonely voices in the wilderness all these years.) It’s not as though these concerns surfaced for the first time with Lina Joy.
What we need to do is to ask the Lord what He expects of us now and here on in. I suspect that more and more we have to follow Jesus into the garden of Gethsemane and choose to do what we must do and not what we would like to do. We need to ask the Lord for the stamina for the long haul, and the clarity of what is needed to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness for us and for all. And we need to take the long term view.
The long term view is this:
The Lord will not owe Lina Joy anything on the last day. (Mark 10:29-31)
No one can take Lina Joy’s salvation away. (John 10:27-30)
God’s purposes will triumph. (Revelation 21: 1-27)
It will be shown how He used apparent setbacks in His purposes for the ultimate good. (Romans 8:28)
In view of the long term realities, here are some immediate realities:
There is nothing to stop anyone from following Jesus Christ. No court on earth can dictate the choices of the heart. (Acts 5:29)
There is nothing to stop the church from sharing the gospel to all peoples through word and deed. (Acts 1:8) (Indeed the controversy over the Lina Joy case is an excellent conversation starter on matters of the faith with all sorts of people.)
There is nothing to stop the church from blessing all in need with the love of Christ. (Galatians 6:10a)
There is nothing to stop the church from speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. (Proverbs 31:8)
There is nothing to stop the church from laying down her life for brothers and sisters in Christ. (John 15:12-13)
There is nothing to stop the church from praying. (Daniel 9:20-23)
There is nothing to stop the church from taking up the cross. (Luke 9:23-27)
I am not so concerned that Christians find themselves with minimal political clout. Been there, done that, from Egypt to Babylon to Rome. I am more concerned that the church has imbibed too much of the consumer culture of the day and want to feel good about life all the time and gets overly disturbed when things don’t go the way we think it should.
I am concerned that the church forgets the many exhortations in the Scriptures to be patient and to wait for the Lord’s deliverance and timing, like a farmer waiting for the harvest. (James 5:7-8)
>From the Scriptures, and sometimes from non-Christian neighbours, let us once again take the long view. God’s view.
Let us remember God’s word to us from Jeremiah:
“If you have raced with people on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?”
(Jeremiah 12:5 TNIV)
And the words of Jesus Himself:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 TNIV)
The Lord is still on the throne. He is still the Lord of history. Nothing happens without His permission.
Let us take heart and continue to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”