Thursday, December 25, 2008

Grace that overrides genes

To a large extent our behaviour is genetically conditioned. People who
belong to certain ethnic groups have common physical and even
emotional characteristics because of the genes that control biological
and emotional aspects of their life. Certain groups of people are
prone to certain diseases while other groups totally immune to these
because of their particular genetic structure. This also means that
human behaviour is predictable and to a large extent unchangeable
unless there is genetic modification.

Paul talks about another factor that overrides genetic conditioning
that decides human behaviour. That is grace. Paul was intolerant,
violent and possibly a psychopath too. He could not tolerate a group
of Jews who considered themselves as followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
He considered this new faith called Christianity something that should
be destroyed. He resorted to violent means of arresting them and
killing them. To achieve this aim of annihilating the all the
Christians he went on a tour to the neighbouring lands too.

However, we find an entirely different Paul after his dramatic
transforming experience of risen Jesus on the Damascus road. It was
natural that his stand toward Christians was softened because he
became one of them. However, this man has become someone who willingly
suffered and even rejoiced in suffering (Romans 5:3). His attitude
towards his opponents was very accommodative (Philippians 1:15-18).

Paul attributes his transformation to "grace". He said, "But by the
grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). It was grace that
transformed him, or says that overrode the genetic conditioning of
him. The genes may control our physical look, biological factors and
our behaviour but grace that is available to us overrides "genes".
Grace is that divine element in our life, which is solely available
with God and is given to us as he wills.

So many people with inherited diseases were healed by the miraculous
intervention of God without any genetic modification. The Gospel of
grace has transformed people with criminal inclinations and who have
served prison terms to people who serve humanity sacrificially. Here
also grace has overtaken genes. The greatest of these is that change
in character that grace can bring about. Jesus Christ has ushered in
this new possibility that makes new persons out of the old; that is
called of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

True Spirituality and the Vision of Peace

Terrorists who have some religious associations give religions a bad name. Recent events like the attack on Mumbai (26/11) make us think if religions promote violence only. However, the picture is far from truth.

There are narratives of conflicts, violence and bloody battle accounts in the Bible. This makes some think that Bible promotes violence. However, they miss out the many visions of peace that the bible have. One such vision is found in the prophecy of Isaiah in the second chapter. Part of this vision is inscribed on the walls of the UN building in New York: "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

This probably was a very popular vision about the future in those days since another prophet by the name Micah also has this in his book (Micah 4:3). Thus it should rather be called a shared vision of the prophets of the Bible in the eighth century BC.

This is a vision of peace but not just a vision of peace. Here is a vision of people of every nation dropping their weapons and bringing to an end war between them. This is not just temporary cease-fire but a permanent cessation of hostilities, as they will not be training their future generations for war. We would expect them to pile up all their weapons and set fire. The uniqueness of this vision is that it takes us beyond cessation of violence to peace and prosperity. The weapons of war will be transformed into tools of production as swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into hooks to prune fig and olive trees.

It was in a very difficult time in world history this vision of peace and development was given. It was eight century BC when the Assyrian empire was ravaging the world conquering nations after nations through bloody battles and displacing people. To add to the misery of the common man, smaller nations were instigated by superpowers like ancient Egypt and Assyria to fight among them. Violence had reduced the population in many of these countries considerably. The audacity of the vision is that it could see peace in the context of conflict and violence giving way to prosperity.

We live in a violent world, a world of uncertainties and a world of hatred that breed irrational violence. Recent experiences in India and the world over have made us to associate violence with religion. The reason for this association is that perpetrators of violence take on themselves label of some religion. The opening lines of this vision speaks about people from all over the world seeking after God and their spiritual search leads them to a longing for peace. True religion is thus a stimulus for peace and prosperity and not the other way round.

It is possible to imagine a world without violence. It is still possible to long for a world where violence will end and peace and prosperity will enter. However, this new world is not a world without God or spirituality but one of true spirituality. Perpetrators of violence have given religion a bad name, but true religion that promotes peace and prosperity is still the hope of our world.

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning,...