Is This What We Want to Teach Our Children?

It’s been a busy, busy, busy two weeks. Thanks be to God, our new project is set for launching in March.

But while Perry and I have been very busy with our project, we have also been quite occupied with following the latest news on the so-called NBN-ZTE scandal. For my foreigner readers, this scandal is about alleged corruption and bribery in the National Broadband Network project of the Philippine government, and it allegedly involves not just very high officials (and, according to two state witnesses, family members of high officials) in our government, but also ZTE Corporation of China.

Now, it even seems that there is much more to this story than first thought. News anchor Ricky Carandang reported in last Tuesday’s episode of ABS-CBN’s The Correspondents  that the deal might even be an offshoot of a 2005 agreement where the Philippines, China, and Vietnam agreed to work together for oil exploration in the Spratly Islands—a deal to which lawyer Harry Roque applied the word “treason”  (paying subscribers can watch that episode online here)!

Yup, the story gets curiouser and curiouser. The progression of events and much of the details regarding the NBN-ZTE deal can be found in the links below. However, what I wanted to share through this post is what I saw and heard on TV, when Jun Lozada, the main whistleblower regarding the deal, gave a short message during a Catholic Mass held last Sunday at the La Salle Greenhills. During his message, he narrated how his young son had asked him why their family had to stay in the La Salle premises and be protected by the La Salle brothers and by nuns, their movements and freedom severely restricted. Lozada said the following in Tagalog, which I’m paraphrasing from memory:

Is this what we want to teach our children? That, in this country, those who tell the truth have to hide and fear for their lives and for their families’ lives? That those who lie and steal are the ones who are free to roam freely, go wherever they want whenever they want, and rest in beautiful, expensive, air-conditioned homes? Is this what we want to teach our children?

Good question. What legacy do we want to give our children?

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For details on the NBN-ZTE deal, non-Philippine residents could refer to the websites of Philippine news organizations including, but not limited to:

Philippine Daily Inquirer

ABS-CBN News

GMA News

Philippine Star

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Will Dead Babies Go To Hell?

Somebody posted a question at the “Comments” section of an earlier post on the reliability of the New Testament documents. I thought the subject matter he was dealing with was very important, and so I have decided to answer him via this separate post.

His question, essentially, was: If it is true that all human beings are born as sinners, what about babies who die? As he puts it, “the baby would not have had the opportunity to accept Jesus as his personal savior and ask forgiveness for his ‘sins’.”

First, I would like to clarify that, even among Christians, there is no uniformity about what is technically termed the doctrine of “original sin”. And even among those of us who do believe in it, there are many who do not believe that the infant who dies is automatically condemned.

The question posed is similar in essence to questions asking about the fates of people who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel, whether in our days or in former times (e.g., what about the people who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?), or who have no mental ability to understand the Gospel (i.e., mentally incapacitated).

To the questioner, doubtingthomas, I would say that, actually, the Bible is silent about this. But it is my firm belief that where the Bible is silent about God’s plans or programs, we can always rely on His character, which is sufficiently revealed in the Bible

In His self-revelation in the Bible, God has revealed that He is love (e.g., 1 John 4:8).

On the other hand, He has also revealed that He is holy and that He hates sin. In fact, a word often used in the Bible to describe how God looks at sin is “wrath” (e.g., Romans 1:18). Sin is not permitted to abide in His presence, and therefore no sinner can enjoy eternity with Him.

The problem is, all human beings do sin. Everyone breaks God’s standards and therefore are not worthy of spending eternity with Him. But God, who is love, wants human beings to be with Him and be blessed by His presence and glory—for all eternity. That is the eternal life which God offers to human beings. Death, on the other hand, is, essentially, separation from God. And God does not want anyone to die or “perish”. He wants everyone to come to know the truth, turn away from their sins, be saved from death, and have eternal life (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).

The solution to the problem of man’s sin and God’s love? THE CROSS! As John Stott, respected Christian scholar, author, and preacher says, “The cross is where God’s love and justice meet“.

As the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

God, in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, became man in order to die on the cross as payment for the penalty of the sins of human beings. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2).

This is how the apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, or Good News of how human beings are restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and are made worthy to spend eternity in His presence: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

So God is love, but God is also holy. He hates sin, and no one who sins can spend eternity with Him—except those who believe that what Jesus Christ did on the cross was a sufficient and effective payment for the penalty of their own sins, which is death. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ in this way can be saved from death, or what has been pictured in the Bible as hell, the outer darkness, or the lake of fire.

So there are only two choices: either eternity with God, in His presence, or eternity separated from God, in hell. Either eternal life or death. The first can only be obtained by turning away from sin, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and surrendering our lives to Him as Lord.

Now the Bible says that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Himself says that He is the only way to God the Father: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But what about those who cannot make this choice? What about infants or the mentally incapacitated, or those who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?

To answer this, we depend on the character of God. He is love, and He is just. To hold this in conjunction with the essential revelation that no one can be saved except through Jesus Christ, C.S. Lewis has said “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him” (from Mere Christianity).

At this point in the development of my Christian thought, I agree with Lewis: we do not know, but we have to admit it is possible, that Christ, in love—and in justice—can save even those who have not had an opportunity to call upon Him as Savior or to surrender to Him as Lord. How? I do not know. But I do know His character, and because of this I trust Him completely to do what is just and loving vis-a-vis those who have not had an opportunity to hear the gospel and decide for themselves.

Some would say it would have been better if God had been more explicit in His Word about the fate of infants, thus saving us all this wondering. Author Philip Yancey has an amusing but correct answer to this: “What if God had made a clear pronouncement: ‘Thus saith the Lord. Every child under the age of ten, I will welcome into heaven’? I can easily see crusaders of the tenth century mounting a campaign to slaughter every child under the age of ten in order to guarantee their eternal salvation—which, of course, would mean that none of us would be around a millennium later to contemplate such questions.

“In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands—the unity of the church, love as a mark of Christians, reliance on God’s grace and not our works, the importance of personal purity, the dangers of wealth—I tremble to think how we might act if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous. We dare not repeat the error of Eden by assuming prerogatives in realms we cannot fathom” (from Yancey: The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance).

In such situations where the Bible is silent or nearly silent, reliance on God’s character is called for, and a humble attitude of simply obeying what is clear. There are some who make what is unclear into an excuse for not obeying a clear command—in the case of non-believers, “I will not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior until you explain to me what happens to the babies and the indigenous peoples unreached by Christians”; or in the case of believers, “Well, if it is probable that Christ will somehow save them anyway, then I don’t need to obey His (clear!) command to share the Good News”.

So, dear doubtingthomas: Trust God’s loving, holy, and just character, humbly accept that His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts than our thoughts, “just as the heavens are higher than the earth”, and seek Him and call upon Him—“while He may be found“, or while you still can (Isaiah 55:6-9).

God bless you!

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PS: One possible clue regarding the fate of infants who die might be provided by the account of the death of King David’s eldest child with Bathsheba. The child was struck with a fatal illness, and David wept and fasted before God for the child’s life. When the child died, David ceased fasting and said: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

Shalom!

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PS to the PS 🙂 , added Feb. 6: The interpretation of David’s statement would depend on our view of how David probably conceived of death and Sheol at that time.

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A Prayer for Saturday

Another week is over. Tomorrow is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. I came across  a post at Challies.com, where blogger Tim Challies mentions that, in the religious tradition he grew up in, Saturday was considered a prelude, a day of preparation, for the worship activities on the Lord’s Day.

What a great tradition! To consider the day of corporate worship so highly that the previous day is reserved for preparing one’s spirit for it. I love that!

Tim reproduced the following prayer at his post here. It’s taken from The Valley of Vision, an old Puritan book of prayer.

There are some traditions that do not emphasize, or even ignore, the use of written prayers. However, as the Puritans say, “The soul learns to pray by praying”. Aside from praying the prayers recorded in the Bible (e.g, the Psalms, or the prayers of  Paul or David), prayer books, such as The Valley of Vision, can be a great help in this spiritual discipline.

I was so moved by the prayer, and I thought that many of you would be blessed by it, that I thought of posting the prayer here, too. It’s a wonderful and inspiring expression of total and humble dependence on God.

I am very grateful to Tim for introducing me and others to the prayer and the prayer book through his blog.

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Another week has gone and I have been preserved
in my going out,
in my coming in.

Thine has been the vigilance that has turned threatened evils aside;
thine the supplies that have nourished me;
Thine the comforts that have indulged me;
Thine the relations and friends that have delighted me;
Thine the means of grace which have edified me;
Thine the Book, which, amidst all my enjoyments, has told me that this is not my rest,
that in all successes one thing alone is needful, to love my Saviour.
Nothing can equal the number of they mercies but my imperfections and sins.
These, O God, I will neither conceal nor palliate, but confess with a broken heart.

In what condition would secret reviews of my life leave me
were it not for the assurance that with thee there is plenteous redemption,
that thou art a forgiving God,
that thou mayest be feared!

While I hope for pardon through the blood of the cross,
I pray to be clothed with humility,
to be quickened in thy way,
to be more devoted to thee,
to keep the end of my life in view,
to be cured of the folly of delay and indecision,
to know how frail I am,
to number my days and apply my heart unto wisdom.

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Amen!

May you have a restful and blessed weekend. God bless you!

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