And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)
Periodically, I still get asked if I have adopted Singapore citizenship, both by my Malaysian friends and by my Singaporean friends. It is an understandable query. Many Malaysian Chinese have adopted Singapore citizenship after spending time here. I reply, “no”. I am deeply grateful for the love and acceptance I have experienced in Singapore, but I am a permanent resident. I have not received any leading from the Lord to give up my Malaysian citizenship, especially at a time when the country is going through so many challenges. And as we approach another Malayan Independence Day (Aug 31) and another Malaysia Day (Sep 16) my heart and prayers are focused northward. This year, the biblical triad of faith, hope and love come to mind as I think of Malaysia and my Malaysian brothers and sisters.
As Malaysian followers of Jesus we need to remember that we are, first and foremost, defined by our faith in God. That means our primary identity is “children of God”, not our race or our political affiliation. So, when we look at life, including what is happening in our country, we must look through the lens of the Lord and His Word. That does not mean that we do not have other identities, but we must always remember that our primary identity is defined by our Abba Father and hence we need to view developments in Malaysia from His perspective. It is not one perspective among many. It is the primary perspective.
As Malaysian followers of Jesus we need to remember that we are to be people of hope and that our hope is to be rooted in God. I find that too often my hope is rooted in earthly events and human leaders. Therefore, I was elated when Pakatan Harapan (The Hope Coalition) won the 2018 general elections, stopping the slide of a government going down a path of corruption, racism and incompetence. My disappointment was great when this new government was removed by some political betrayal and chicanery. Every day, reports of each new political development would make me feel high or low. I was on a constant emotional roller coaster.
But if my primary identity is “child of God” and I view life through His eyes, I must ask myself — is my hope too shallow? Shouldn’t my hope be in a sovereign Lord who is in control of history? Do I really believe that He is in control and that nothing happens without His permission? If I really do believe this, then though I may be disappointed at certain turn of events I should not be shaken. There should be a certain confidence about things even when they look bad; like Jesus asleep in the middle of a storm.
And if my hope is in the Lord, is the scope of my hope too short? We do know how things will turn out in the end. All that is happening now are like the chapters of a book where it is all works out in the end. I must view all that is happening in the light of the end of history. We must do our part in that segment of history entrusted to us, but we shouldn’t be shaken by what happens because we know how the story will end.
And if we are first and foremost children of the living God, we must never forget that our first call is to love. Jesus Himself stated that the key evidence that we are His people is that we are a community of deep, sacrificial mutual love (John 13:35). More than that, we are also a community called to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Is that what we are known for in Malaysia? In what concrete ways do we love those brothers and sisters with whom we disagree? In what concrete ways do we show love to our political opponents?
There was a time when the church, at least the evangelical churches I knew, were hardly involved in the political life of the country. This has changed somewhat in the last two general elections. But the internet has made the world very polarised and there is a lot of anger and even hatred out there. While followers of Jesus are to be passionate about justice, we cross a line when our anger becomes hatred and bitterness.
Again, if our primary identity is children of God, we must show the heart of God in what we do and how we relate to people, especially people we disagree with and whose characters we may find suspect. One of the hardest callings of being a Christian is to take a stand against evil but to love people, recognising that all of us have fallen short of the glory of God.
Looking at events around the world I see many using the internet to divide people by manipulating their perceptions and their feelings. I see many Christians falling for such manipulation and taking sides in situations that are often nuanced and complicated. We are swept along into an us-versus-them mindset where our side can do no wrong and the other side can do no right. Such an approach often leaves no room for truth and the love which is our primary calling.
My dear Malaysian brothers and sisters, I am not arguing for a defeatism masquerading as faith. We must continue to pray. We must continue to share the gospel. We must continue to work for righteousness and mercy in whatever way we can. But we must never forget faith, hope, and love. We must never forget who we are.