Renouncing a Vocation

Somehow, I have to give up this thing that I love above everything else on earth because the love of God is greater… to renounce the purest of all vocations simply because it is not the one God has chosen for me – to accept something in which it seems likely that my highest personal ideals will be altogether frustrated, purely because of His love, His will. He who loves me prefers it this way, and to accept His love is to send up to Him the incense of the purest prayer, the sweetest praise, without pleasure for myself – and yet in the end it is a supreme joy!

— Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

The Intellectual Life

I’m presently reading A.D. Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life. I first came to know about this book while reading James Sire’s Habits of the Mind. Yesterday I found a secondhand copy of this book at a local secondhand bookstore. I was so happy with my discovery I felt like kissing the book! I’ve just finished the first chapter –  “The Intellectual Vocation” –  and I found it really inspiring. Here are a few quotes I liked:

If you are designated as a light bearer, do not go hide under the bushel the gleam or the flame expected from you in the house of the Father of all. Love truth and its fruits of life, for yourself and for others; devote to study and to the profitable use of study the best part of your time and heart.

Do not prove faithless to God, to your brethren and to yourself by rejecting a sacred call.

Every truth is practical; the most apparently abstract, the loftiest, is also the most practical. Every truth is life, direction, a way leading to the end of man.

Work always then with the idea of some utilization… Listen to the murmur of the human race all about you; pick out certain individuals of certain groups whose need you know, find out what may bring them out of their night and ennoble them; what in any measure may save them.

Work and Spirituality (2)

In the previous post we had a Trappist monk’s perspective on work and spirituality. Now here is a 17th century puritan’s take on the subject, but with a slight twist, as his concern is more on remaining in one’s calling:

Devote yourself to performing your duty in the place and calling God has given you. The very power of godliness lies in such consecration.

(William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, vol 1.)

This is actually one of my favorite quotes, as it reminds me of the importance of remaining in my calling and not to think that activities such as preaching, etc. are more spiritual than lawyering. Gurnall goes on to say:

We are to tend with all diligence everything that comes within the scope of our particular calling; beyond this, we are tilling someone else’s field … You cannot expect to honor God by leaving the work He assigns you and doing something of your own choosing instead, no matter how worthwile it may seem.

This is a timely reminder for Christians engaged in “secular” jobs not to disparage their calling.

Work and Spirituality

Many Christians would not consider their daily work as “spiritual”; what is spiritual, they think, are preaching, praying, and the like. Thomas Merton in Life and Holiness thinks differently:

 … one’s daily work is an all important element in the spiritual life, and that for work to be truly sanctifying the Christian must not only offer it to God in a mental and subjective effort of will, but must strive to integrate it in the whole pattern of Christian striving for order and peace in the world. The work of each Christian must be not only honest and decent, it must not only be productive, but it should contribute a positive service to human society. It should have a part in the general striving of all men for a peaceful and well-ordered civilization in this world, for in that way it best helps us prepare for the next world.

Seeking Justice: The Way of Lawyers

We should all seek justice in what we do… [The Talmud states,] ‘Every judge who renders a fair decision is like a partner of the Holy One in the act of creation’ (Talmud, Shabbat 119b). The Talmud also promises that ‘a judge who decides a case in accordance with true equity causes the Shekhinah, God’s presence, to dwell in the midst of Israel.’

… By seeking justice, you share in the divine power. You can bring God into the world. Failing to bring justice into the world also has cosmic implications, for lawlessness drives God’s presence into exile.

Lawyers of judges can find God in their careers by discerning how God would want us to behave in this world

Lawyers or judges should know that their actions reflect upon God. If God cares about justice, then the way we administer justice implicates God.

(Jeffrey K. Salkin, Being God’s Partner)

Vocation and Injustice

(Basis of a talk given to FOCIG [Fellowship of Christians in Government]- Bacolod City)

I’d like to thank you for inviting me to speak before you this afternoon. This is really a privilege. I am encouraged to know that I am addressing brethren who are part of a nationwide organization that believes in the importance of Christians letting their light shine in government, which is where God has put you. I do hope that you will find what I have to share with you this afternoon profitable as well as stimulating.

I intend this talk to be an exercise in theological reflection on a topic which will be of interest to you: “Vocation and the Problem of Injustice.” As Christians in government many of you occupy positions that deal with issues of justice at close range, at least closer than do many private citizens. Thus, for many Christians in government, justice is not merely a general issue, it’s a vocational issue. And it surely would be helpful to know what the Bible has to teach us regarding our vocation, since so much of our lives has to be lived out in the context of our vocation.

The focus of my talk, however, isn’t on justice per se, but on its reverse side: injustice. And here I will be inviting you to meditate on the words of Ecclesiastes 3:16 – 4:1, which will serve as the basis of this talk. From this passage we learn that injustice is a reality, injustice is a tragedy, and injustice is a mystery.

So first, injustice is a reality. It’s part of this fallen world. It is inevitable and inescapable. You see it everywhere and you meet it wherever you turn. What is injustice and where does it come from? Many definitions can be offered but I’ll go with the biblical one: it is the righteous getting what the wicked deserve and the wicked getting what the righteous deserve. It’s the world in a state of disharmony. It’s life not being what it should be. It’s paradise lost. And how did it happen to be this way? Well, it all started with our first parents eating the forbidden fruit, not realizing what terrible consequences lay in store for them and their posterity. But why such terrible consequences for a small misdemeanor in the class of disobeying a no trespassing sign? Well, it wasn’t a small misdemeanor. It was a crime of cosmic proportions because by eating the forbidden fruit in an attempt to be like God they were actually trying to displace God. There can by definition be only one God, you see. But to displace God is to in effect desire wittingly or unwittingly his death. What Adam and Eve were guilty of was actually deicide: killing God – which they could not do in reality, but which they did in principle. And the result was chaos, disharmony, injustice: in their relationship to God, in their relationship to the world, in their relationship to one another, and in their relationship to their own selves. Their sin was actually a declaration of independence – the assertion of their right (?) to pursue happiness in their own way. For just like a rogue planet loosed from its orbit around the sun, man is now free to wander in spiritual darkness.

Secondly, injustice is a tragedy. It is a tragedy because it is often without solution. We are simply helpless before it. “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.” (4:1) Moreover, injustice is a tragedy because we often find it in the most unexpected places: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.” (Ecc. 3:16)

And finally, injustice is a mystery, because although our text says “God will judge the righteous and the wicked,” (v. 17) justice seems so long in coming. We are therefore tempted to ask, “Why is it taking so long? If you, O Lord, care about justice, why don’t you act now?” Injustice is a mystery because we know that God is just and that he cares, but there seems to be so much evidence to the contrary.

So in the face of all this – the reality, the tragedy and the mystery of injustice – what are we called to do? How, now, shall we view our vocation? The answer which is offered will probably surprise and even perplex you. Some might even find it outrageous.

“So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” (Ecc. 3:22)

Rejoice in my work – in the face of so much injustice? Isn’t that downright unchristian? Isn’t that selfish and an abdication of our duty to love our oppressed neighbors as ourselves?

Before we condemn this answer as a non-solution let me suggest to you that the key to understanding this verse is in the phrase: “For that is his lot.” But allow me to digress; I promise to come back to this.

The temptation that faces Christians and non-Christians alike when confronted with the problem of injustice is to take matters into our own hands, to pit power against power, to look for a political solution, i.e., a solution that works. Without our knowing it, we gradually shift our confidence in God to something else.

This is not to say that political means of alleviating the plight of the oppressed are off-limits to Christians. All I am saying is that at the end of the day our trust is not in them. Let me cite a few verses:

Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy. (Hosea 14:3)

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Ps. 20:7)

The weapons of our warfare, after all, are not carnal. They are first and foremost spiritual – and powerful at that. But that is not how it appears to the world. To the world, Christianity, which it classes with all other religions, is merely the opiate of the people. And what could be more powerless and unproductive than prayer? And what could be more foolish than the preaching of the gospel?

But here is where faith takes its stand. We believe in prayer precisely because it seems so weak. We believe in the preaching of the gospel precisely because it seems so foolish. More than that, we believe that our strength lies in weakness and that victory is found in defeat. And we believe this because we believe in a God who makes use of the foolish to shame the wise and who makes use of the weak to shame the strong so that no flesh may boast in his presence. We believe this because we follow the Crucified Christ – a monumental failure as a political messiah in the eyes of the Jews; a weak and insignificant nobody in the eyes of Rome. But who would have guessed the monumental victory that was being achieved through the weakness and foolishness of the cross?

But now it is time to return to the point from which I digressed. God also makes use of our ordinary callings to accomplish his purposes in this world, which includes that of establishing justice and righteousness. When the Bible says that in the midst of great injustice we are to rejoice in our work for that is our lot, he reminds us that after all God is still sovereign. He is in control of the armies of heaven and earth in the fight against injustice, and he assigns to each one his or her place in this war. It will not do for the army cook to throw down his kitchen utensils in favor of taking up a machine gun. I think he will be making a more significant contribution to the war cause by concentrating on his work in the kitchen. Soldiers need to eat and that is why we need cooks who rejoice in their work for that is their lot. The same goes for radio personnel and army medics. You get the picture.

St Paul says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (I Cor. 7:17). John Calvin comments on this verse: “Every individual’s sphere of life, therefore, is a post assigned him by the Lord that he may not wander about in uncertainty all the days of his life….No one will then be tempted by his own boldness to dare to undertake what is not compatible with his calling, because he will know that it is wrong to go beyond our limits. Anyone who is not in the front ranks should be content to accomplish his private task, and should not desert the place where the Lord has put him.”

Thus the problem of injustice entails the problem of vocation. The issue can be put this way: Shall we take matters into our own hands and act in unbelief, or shall we remain in our calling and act in faith? For the Christian the answer is clear: The just shall live by faith.

I close with two quotations, which have to do with faith as the answer to the twin problems of injustice and vocation.

First, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

“Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach…. Now, for a moment, his own fate…ceased to trouble him….[P]utting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”

And lastly, here is the famous Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Thank you.

Talk to Law Graduates

This morning Atty. Juvy Victoriano-Dioso (professor of Criminal Law review at UNO-R, Bacolod City) and I talked to a group of law graduates, led by Errol Parpa, who are preparing to take the bar.  My topic was “The Role of Faith in Preparing for the Bar: A Personal Perspective.” I shared with them some excerpts from my diary from that period of my life (almost 15 years ago) which I am now posting here:

“May 4, 1992. Dear Lord and Father, please help me to pass the bar. I want to do this first and foremost for you; and also for my mom and dad.”

“July 23, 1992. Read Psalm 75. Verse 7 says, ‘God is the judge: he puts down one and exalts another.’ The bar then is in the hands of God. May it please him to bless my efforts and cause me to pass with flying colors, along with my friends whom it may please Him also to cause to pass.”

“Aug. 28, 1992. Don’t lose hope. It may be that God will help me to successfully pass the bar. And thought it may be nothing more than a ‘maybe’ , yet while it exists there is still ground for hope, and a good ground at that. For who knows but that it is indeed God’s will that I pass?…

“God has promised to that he will help me and strengthen me (Isa. 41:10). I do not know, however, if it is his will that I pass the bar. However, it ‘may be’ that it is his will that I pass the bar; and, if so, then surely he will help me to pass it. On the basis of this ‘maybe’ I will, God-willing, attack the bar exams with and new and fresh confidence. I will, God-willing, be bold and very courageous, acting as if indeed I am sure of passing the bar exams, acting as if indeed God will help and strengthen me to pass the said exams. Yes, I will venture on the possibility of his willingness and power to help. For who knows but that upon seeing my faith, weak though it may be, he will honor it with success?”

[What follows are quotations and Bible verses which I copied into my diary.]

” ‘I will have to trust in God anyway sooner or later, so why not trust in him now?’ ”

” ‘Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of his servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.’ (Isa. 50:10)”

” ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’ (Isa. 30:15)”

” ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ ”

“Sept. 14, 1992. Praise the Lord! The exams yesterday went very well. The Lord heard my prayer and supplied me with the necessary wisdom, courage and confidence. A verse from his Word sustained and strengthened me: ‘Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor be dismayed… for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.’ (II Chron. 32:7-8) God is so good! The joy and satisfaction I felt for having performed very well yesterday, through God’s strength, more than compensated for the discouragement I felt last Sunday over my labor exams. Yes, yesterday the Lord reassured my of his help and love. In fact, after the exams, I opened my Bible and chanced to read this verse, ‘I have loved you with and everlasting love; therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn thee.’ Thank you so much, Father; thank you so much.

“I make a record of these things so that I may not forget for the rest of my life that on one particular day involving a crucial time in my life, the Lord stood by me, in order to reassure me of his love and faithfulness towards me, and worked mightily in my behalf. Again, praise the Lord!”

“April 13, 1993. PRAISE THE LORD!!! He helped me pass the bar! Truly, Father, you are faithful and loving towards me, though I am so unworthy and sinful. Thank you very much, thank you so much.

” ‘I know the plans I have for you – plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”

I then summarized my talk in this way: During the bar –

(1) I PRAYED for God’s help;

(2) I PONDERED on God’s promises; and

(3) I PRESSED ON in spite of discouragement.

Juvy spoke next and gave some very helpful tips, such as the need to maintain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance. She also stressed that what matters most is dependence on God. She also sang the song which encouraged her while taking the bar!

(I must also mention here that my wife, a medical doctor, gave to the same group, a very helpful talk last night on stress management, and capped her talk by quoting I Peter 5:7 – “Casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you.”)

After that I offered a prayer of blessing for the group.

We had a great time and we thank God for the opportunity to be instruments of his blessing to these law graduates.

True Calling

A pastor friend of mine who’s about to review for the bar exams (yes, he’s a pastor and a law student at the same time) has requested me to fill in for him while he prepares for the bar, i.e., I get to preach every Sunday morning and evening for at least two months in his church until he comes back. I’ve already said yes, but doubts still linger in my mind as to whether I should be doing this. I do teach a theology class at present and preach once in a while (as well as blog on theology!), but my main task is law practice because that’s what I am and I assume that’s what I’m called to be: a lawyer. The question I ask myself is: Is preaching every Sunday morning and evening a veering away from my calling as a lawyer? The problem is compounded by this quote from Calvin which I read this morning:

“Every individual’s sphere of life, therefore, is a post assigned him by the Lord that he may not wander about in uncertainty all the days of his life…

“Sometimes he may perhaps succeed in doing something that appears to be praiseworthy. But however good it may look in the eyes of man, before the throne of God it will not be acceptable. And besides, there will be no consistency in the various parts of his life.”

Come to think of it, the issue is more or less moot and academic because I’ve already said yes. Or is it? Maybe I can still back out? Whew! this is really difficult. On the one hand, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to serve the Lord in a greater way. On the other hand, I don’t want to wander away from my true calling and do something which the Lord has not really called me to do. I pray the Lord will make things clearer to me…