I am about to write in to a local paper. I am disturbed because today, this paper carried a report that says that the Prime Minister (Malaysia) has asked for all forums dealing with Article 11 (pertaining to religious freedom) to stop. The Prime Minister said:

“‘Article 11 forums to discuss inter-faith issues must stop immediately because they are deemed to cause tension in our multi-religious society,’Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said. The Prime Minister said the Umno supreme council had expressed its utmost concern over inter-faith issues that were being debated by Article 11, an umbrella body of 13 non-governmental organizations, through forums on Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. ” (Star, July 26, 2006)

It was the reason given that disturbs me.

“Abdullah, who is the party president, said the Government had made the decision to urge all parties concerned to end discussions on the formation of the inter-faith commission (IFC).”

I am disturbed because the Article 11 Forums has nothing to do with the Inter-faith commission. In the words of one of those involved in the Article 11 initiative: “The Article 11 initiative is in no way connected with the Interfaith Commission initiative. They are separate initiatives, with very different objectives.”

So why does the Prime Minister link the Article 11 Forums with the Inter-Faith Commission initiatives? Either he has been misinformed or the paper has quoted him wrongly. I dare not entertain the possibility that this is part of some spin to quell attempts by citizens of the nation to better understand their rights under the country’s constitution.

So I am writing the paper. I don’t expect my letter to be printed. So why bother? Because of the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4: 26-29).

“He (Jesus) also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain-first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.'” (TNIV)

Jesus is clear that nothing can stop the growth of the Kingdom. God Himself will grow the Kingdom till the day of its full appearing. There is nothing one can do to stop its growth. Indeed there is an element of mystery to it. The Kingdom is growing whether we are aware of its growth or not. But there will be no confusion when it appears in its fullness.

Therefore whenever I am faced with a sense of futility in my little attempts for the cause of the King, I remind myself that God is working out His purposes in history. No one can stop Him. Whether my attempts on behalf of the Kingdom succeed or fail will not stop the growth of the Kingdom. The growth of the Kingdom may even be invisible at times.

“God’s hour is coming: nay more, it has already begun. In his beginning the end is already implicit. No doubts with regard to his mission, no scorn, no lack of faith, no impatience, can make Jesus waver in his certainty that out of nothing, ignoring all failure, God is carrying on his beginnings to completion. All that is necessary is to take God seriously, to take him into account in spite of all outward appearance.” (Joachim Jeremias)

God does work in mysterious ways. His ways are indeed higher than ours. He turned the greatest failure of all time, Jesus’ death on the Cross, into His greatest triumph. So I tell myself, and others, do not be too quick to judge whether your work for Christ has succeeded. Let us wait for the final judging at the end of time. God only calls us to be faithful (Matthew 25:21).

We need to remember the Parable of the Growing Seed because a sense of futility can eat away at our spirits. If we are not careful this leads to cynicism or despair. Or it just robs us of our joy of service.

It is tough to keep on preaching the gospel when no one seems to be interested. It is tough to keep on working for justice and compassion when the powers of darkness seem so powerful. It is tough to help the poor and hungry when for every mouth you feed, thousands more go hungry and die. It is tough to go on when sometimes it seems like three steps forward, four steps back.

(It is even tougher when you belong to churches that only celebrate triumphs and who imply that if you are not “succeeding” you are not tapping into God’s power or you have inadequate faith. But that’s a topic for another commentary.)

So whenever I feel like giving up I remember the Parable of the Growing Seed. God’s reign is growing whether I see it or not. And it will reach its successful completion. No one can stop Him. It is not our responsibility to ensure that the Kingdom grows and come in its fullness. We can’t. It’s God’s responsibility and He will do it. But He has invited us along for the ride.

I am not implying that our efforts are meaningless. I believe that God in His grace allows us to be His coworkers. Nothing we do in His Name is ever wasted. No offering of fishes and loaves is too meager. But how my efforts actually contribute to God’s purposes is not always evident this side of heaven.

Which is why Paul tells us:

“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 TNIV)

At the proper time, we will reap a harvest. That is God’s promise to us. Our duty now is to keep on doing good. Our duty now is to not give up.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan