Thursday, October 13, 2005

Otherness, Godliness and An Ex

After lunch, I was standing along a corridor, peering at my vertically bisected kueh tutu and wondering how packing the flour differently might affect the mouth feel of the said street snack when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted what appeared to be the all-too-familiar gait and body shape of an ex.

It was X. A good bit older no doubt, but it was very X.

And we had one of those awkward catch-up moments where because of the confluence of past personal histories, we stood in ancient comfortable encroachment of each others' personal space, suddenly remembering that quick greeting hugs were no longer in order, wanting to know what had happened in the intervening decade, taking turns to fumble around for questions to ask to bring us up to speed and casting around for pithy answers that would encapsulate the evolutionary changes, the life-changing discoveries, the personal growth that had taken place since we last met.

Even without the distancing intervention of years, it's interesting how we never really know someone. The parents, spouses, friends and colleagues of accused murderers always express their disbelief that their good/filial/hardworking/quiet/non-trouble-making child/spouse/friend/colleague could have done something as horrific as he/she was alleged to have done (or those just make good human-interest stories for the media). Influential local patriachies, perhaps in acknowledgement of this fact, have potential son/daughter-in-laws thoroughly investigated before they are allowed into the fold. But all the tests, investigations and surveillance in the world cannot grasp the mind and access the soul of a person.

Sometimes, as we enjoy a wonderful bonding session over great food and drink and thigh-slapping laughter, or Bible-centred fellowship and Christ-centred confession, I sense this otherness and separateness from the other persons. It isn't loneliness or melancholy or dejection. I'm happy enough, but at the same time am faced again with the realisation that however much we relish each other's company, or talk deep into the night or let the other into the intimate areas of our lives where few foreign feet have trod, we can never really truly know another. There is an unbridgeable apartness between individuals.

This solitariness means that we can never fully know the thoughts and motives of the other.

We were discussing this a few days ago after we noticed that some new Christians who were easing into church life had started to imbibe Christian lingo unthinkingly. What did they mean by saying that we were godly?
  • first of all, what exactly is godliness?
  • then, what is the difference between godliness and good works?
  • and whom does the Bible say is godly?
  • how do we know if anyone is godly?
  • and finally, are we to judge if anyone is godly?
We played with scenarios:
  1. A church member lends his Porsche Cayenne to the church camp committee to haul stuff up to camp. Is he godly? What if his Porsche Cayenne was the cheapest of his vast car collection and he was going to scrap it anyway?
  2. A church member cleans the house of a disabled person. Is he godly? What if he has a fetish for cleaning?
  3. A church member babysits for a couple so that they can have the evening off. Is he godly? Would the answer differ if he is (1) someone who is generally busy and dislikes babies; and (2) someone who is bored and has nothing to do in the evenings and loves babies?
  4. A church member chats with someone during Friendship Break. Is she godly? Would the answer differ if she is (1) someone who is painfully shy and quiet; and (2) someone who is outgoing and can't stop talking?
  5. A church member is a considerate, caring and gentlemanly person who always looks out for the weaker people in any group. Is he godly? What if he'd been trained to do so from a young age by his parents? Or what if he wasn't Christian?
What is Godliness?
Fundamentally, godliness appears to be a tri-directional: (1) it looks backwards and is a response to the hearing and acceptance of the gospel (2 Peter 1:3); (2) it looks forwards towards the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:11); and (3) it is in the present and also for the future, an assurance of our salvation (1 Timothy 4:8).

Godliness is distinguishable from holiness (cf 2 Peter 3:11), contentment (1 Timothy 6:6), righteousness, steadfastness, faith, love (cf 1 Timothy 6:11) and good works (cf 1 Timothy 2:10).

Godliness is something we can profess (1 Timothy 2:10) and work towards (1 Timothy 4:7, 1 Timothy 5:4) but is also simultaneously, a gift from God (2 Peter 1:3). The only reason why we can pursue godliness is because Christ's death on the cross ushered in a new era in which the *ahem* stronghold of sin on our hearts and minds has been broken (1 Timothy 3:16).

Godliness is something internal. We can have the appearance of godliness but not be godly at all (2 Timothy 3:5).

The Godly
The godly are people whom God has set apart for himself (Psalm 4:3), those who have faith in God (Psalm 12:1), those who have acknowledged their sinfulness and have been forgiven by God (Psalm 32:5-6), those who trust in God (Psalm 86:2)...

The godly sound like the people we know now in 2005 as the Christians.

Who is Godly?
No one is godly by their own merit, for no one of their own accord acknowledges and trusts in God. All Christians are godly, not because of anything they have done, but because of God's grace in Christ. Although the status of Christians is that of the godly, yet, they are to work towards godliness; to live in accordance to their status. The godly/the Christian will always work towards living in accordance with his status.

So perhaps commenting that someone is "a godly Christian" is tautologous and that someone is "an ungodly Christian", an oxymoron.

And though we may observe the appearance of godliness/Christian-ness in another, we can never be certain that they are godly/Christian, for it is an internal affair between them and God. We can never know perfectly the thoughts, convictions and motives of another person. Which is why we are always to pray for our brothers and sisters-in-Christ, to encourage them and to rebuke them. Because the only human who can examine his heart is the person whose heart it is, in the light of God's word in Christ and with the help of the Spirit.



At October 14, 2005 9:43 am , Anonymous meefedtothemax said...

thankee shadow :) true that many times we say someone is "godly" without realising what it means. and true that we sometimes unconsciously look to works to judge rather than remembering that we are only right before God because of Christ

but you know, i think "godliness" is not just restored r/ship with god (although that is certainly the basis for it), but also the WIP outworking of one's salvation in obedience to the bible as the word and the holy spirit convicts us to change our ways.

So it's also true that godliness as an outflow from our saved status can be seen in actions of service (Phil 2:1-4ff) and daily life choices and relationships (Eph 5).

At October 14, 2005 2:14 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, but I believe mr shadow also mentioned that what might appear to be an outflow from our saved status might just very well be what the fella thinks is ju2 shou3 zhi1 lao2, no biggie. so while we go wow wow at how "godly" he is, it's actually his lousy car / fetish for cleaning / love for babies / natural outgoingness / good family upbringing (just to use the shadow's eg), and not necessarily his love for the saints which comes from his love for his saviour. it might be, but we should bear in mind that it might not be and therefore not jump to conclusions (and make him say some big woah leader) too quickly. we always think we know, but do we? really? think that is (1 of) the S man's points. :-)



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