KUALA LUMPUR: DAP has welcomed more new recruits to the party, including political analyst 7971372_sDr Ong Kian Ming and oil and gas engineer Yeo Bee Yin.

Both University of Cambridge graduates, Ong and Yeo are one [sic] of the few high-profile young professionals that the party has been aggressively recruiting.

Ong in particular is famed for his political analysis published in Malaysiakini, apart from his day job as a lecturer at UCSI University.

In announcing their entry, party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said Ong will be helping him in the party’s election strategy while Yeo, will be assisting DAP in crafting social media strategies in their effort to woo young voters. (Regina Lee, “DAP recruits new members,” The Star Online, Monday, August 27, 2012.)

There are at least three things remarkable about what Ong and Yeo have done. First is that they are even back in Malaysia at all. With their qualifications they could have found jobs elsewhere and I am sure there would have been no shortage of voices telling them that Malaysia has no future and to make their lives elsewhere. The second remarkable thing is that they have decided on careers in politics. Children of diaspora Chinese target jobs that bring financial security and status. Both could have pursued more lucrative careers even if they had chosen to remain in Malaysia. But politics? Surely there are more rational, maybe more effective, ways to make a difference. The third remarkable thing is that they root what they are doing in the fact that they are followers of Jesus. Yeo, for example, begins her story of why she is in politics, with her participation in a prayer movement (https://www.yeobeeyin.com/2012/06/entering-into-politics-story-behind.html).

It wasn’t that long ago (late ‘90s) that a Christian politician came to me in tears. He said his heart was broken because every year his church would pray for their missionaries but no one would ever pray for him and others like him who were serving in public office. In that era, churches would frown on Christians joining politics, assuming that all who were in politics must be “dirty”. At most, churches at that time would tolerate Christians in politics but would have no clue as to the spiritual value of their work. What was clear then was that what was most important were “souls” and “the Word of God” because they were the only two things that lasted for eternity. Everything else was temporal and ephemeral and therefore of relative importance at best. That included politics. Politics was just too worldly. If you were serious about Jesus you would do something that included evangelism or teaching the Word. Yet here we have two Christians entering politics as an expression of their faith. What gives?

No follower of Jesus would question the importance of evangelism and teaching the Word. But there is growing realisation that what awaits at the end of time is not disembodied spirits floating around but a new heaven and a new earth, and that what is destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7) is not the material world per se but sin and the effects of sin. Therefore all that is good in this life, including all good work done God’s way and for God’s purposes will be purified and will find a place in the world to come. Leslie Newbigin summarises this point well when he writes:

We can commit ourselves without reserve to all the secular work our shared humanity requires of us, knowing that nothing we do in itself is good enough to form part of that city’s building, knowing that everything – from our most secret prayers to our most political acts – is part of that sin-stained human nature that must go down into the valley of death and judgment, and yet knowing that as we offer it up to the Father in the name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, it is safe with him – and purged in fire – will find its place in the holy city at the end.
(Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986, 136.)

Brothers and sisters who are called to give their lives to make a difference in society through politics are doing God’s work and what they do will have implications for this life and the life to come. Maximus was right after all. “What we do in life echoes in eternity” (from the movie Gladiator, 2000). However they must bear in mind two extremes.

The first is trying to “build the kingdom here on earth through social, political, and cultural revolution.” (N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008, 215.) As Wright reminds us, “Alas, this social gospel (as it used to be called) has singularly failed to deliver the goods . . . .” (Wright, 215.) But here is Wright on the other extreme:

At the other end of the scale there are those who declare that nothing can be done until the Lord returns and everything is put to rights. The forces of evil are too entrenched, and nothing save a great apocalyptic moment of divine power can address them or change the deep structures of the ways things are . . . We will get on . . . with the real business of the gospel, which is saving souls for the future world.
(Wright, 215-216.)

So Wright would tell folks like Ong and Yeo, and he tells us, to avoid the two extremes:

We must . . . avoid the arrogance and triumphalism of the first view, imagining that we can build the kingdom on earth by our own efforts without the need for a further great divine act of new creation. But we must agree with the first view that doing justice in the world is part of the Christian task, and we must therefore reject the defeatism of the second view, which says there’s no point in even trying. (Wright, 216.)

Today, August 31st, is Malaysia’s Independence Day. Watching a film clip of our first Prime Minister crying out “Independence” still stirs me deeply. Yet I am also aware that, in truth, Malaysia day should be September 16, the day when four separate entities became one, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. (Singapore has since left.) We must remember that Sabah and Sarawak did not join Malaysia. There was no Malaysia then. Malaysia was a new entity formed on September 16, 1963. This is just one example of many things wrong with our nation. What are followers of Jesus to do?

We must pray. We must bless. We must share the gospel. And some of us, like Ong and Yeo, will be called to serve in the political arena. But whatever we are called to do:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 NIV)