“Amazed at the Book”
I was born in a Nair family in a remote village in P____. My earliest memories were those of farms, cattle, farm workers, vast open spaces and paddy fields where a tranquil peace prevailed.
We were a middle class family comprising my father, mother and seven children…. One evening ritual for all of us kids was to sit in a row for recital of prayers to the Hindu gods, along with mathematical tables. As soon as the hurricane lantern was lit at dusk, it was time to sit cross legged and go through the routine. But the loud chanting did not go well with the neighborhood children who were often rebuked by their parents for not being “good like me.” Some bullies would take it out upon me the following day on way to school, a clear three kilometer walk.
I did visit temples, bowed reverently before idols and attended festivals. Though in all these I was merely imitating customs of the family, I somehow came to believe in a God whose goodwill was necessary for my well being.
After my eighth class it was time for me to leave the local school. The nearest high school was about 10 km away and my parents were not confident that I would be able to travel that distance all alone. A brother-in- law of mine from Madras proposed that I study in a good school in that city, which was not far from his residence. At the age of 12 I left my parents, brothers and sisters to live in Madras—from a village to a cosmopolitan city to spend my next ten years.
Coping up with the sudden change-over from a rural village school of P___ to the prestigious M___ Christian College High School wasn’t easy. Though initially I felt inadequate, this was soon overcame and I did well in studies. I was in the good books of the teachers. I did not, however, take part in extra curricular activities. After I passed out with a first class I then joined Loyola College.
Around this time, my father, a prosperous farmer, was involved in a litigation over division of property. The civil case lasted 15 years and in the end the verdict went against him. The court decreed that he divide all his property into 42 portions; he would be entitled to only one share. That meant his hard-earned wealth would now be enjoyed by relations who had not done anything to create the wealth. Our house, where we were born, cattle, farms, all movable and immovable property, passed into the hand of rivals. My father was a broken man. For the family it was a shock.
For me, it was a taste of injustice. The prosperity and security we enjoyed turned illusory. Being the eldest of six children, I felt burdened about the future. Sickly from childhood, with bronchial problems and sensitive by nature, the future appeared bleak. I was bitter, angry, anxious and fearful—this was my existence for a good part of my youth. However, with financial help from an uncle I continued my studies and obtained an MA degree in economics.
Though I had studies in two important Christian institutions I had not been influenced by any religious activity of these institutions. Nor did I come across any teacher or other personality whose faith stood out demanding my attention. However both of them were institutions with libraries and other facilities and a reputation for academic excellence and discipline. My outlook on life must have been shaped to some extent by the days I spent there.
In the school, students were given an option to join either moral instruction or Bible class of less than an hour’s duration held once a week. Mr. K___ J___, a distinguished academician who took up the Bible study would teach the subject as he would mathematics or geography, with a sense of total detachment. I became familiar with the sermon on the Mount and stories like that of David and Goliath.
Around that time my attention was drawn to a Christian convention which was on, among other things, the hand bills announcing a convention which said the sick will be prayed for. I had been suffering from a bronchial problems for a long time. Marked by frequent coughing and occasional fever, the disease gave me an inferiority complex. I was quite anxious about my health and future especially in the context of the court case. I was being treated at a government hospital and it was an ordeal.
Prompted by a desire for healing, I attended the convention held at a large ground. It was a large gathering with a major section of the people dressed in white jubbas. There was much singing and lot of sermons. There was also a festive atmosphere. At the venue there were many banners made of clothes which carried Bible verses. One of the verses taken from the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew drew my attention. It said: “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!!” It strangely fascinated me.
I liked the singing and the message. As I continued to attend the convention, a pastor invited me to his house where he held prayer meetings on Sunday mornings. Around 10 persons hailing from the neighborhood were usually present. They belonged to the lower strata of society but were certainly pious, humble and loving in their own ways. The pastor must not have been more than a matriculate but he knew the Bible well and preached sermons that were comforting, inspiring and convincing.
The preaching motivated me to read the Bible more closely and here I came face to face with the truth. As I look back, I am amazed that the book unraveled human nature in plain terms. There was hardly any need for debating the statements concerning the nature of man. Looking within and around me I had no difficulty believing that the human heart is desperately wicked or that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
These pronouncements had a quality that made me accept them not as human wisdom but as bits of superior divine wisdom. Much later I came to recognize that there were great men who disagreed with the concept of sin and even decried the tendency to create a sense of guilt in persons through such teachings. Equally familiar to me is the charge that people were being coerced to believe by all talks of a reward and punishment; by the promise of heaven and threat of hell in the hereafter.
On the other hand, one feels the need for people making a clear distinction between right and wrong instead of philosophizing about them as two sides of the same coin. Those who are unwilling to change their ways find an alibi in such statements as “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so” (Shakespeare). The same people will fret and fume when they are affected by the slightest injustice.
The Sermon on the Mount, to me, represents the blue print for leading a good life. He offered the mysterious prospects of dying in order to live; he turned all the values of the world upside down, “telling us it was the weak, not the strong that mattered, the simple not the learned who understood, the poor not the rich who were blessed.” (Malcolm Muggeridge)
But the process of crucifying the self was not easy for me. My convictions about the Biblical prescription for the good life were deep enough in me not to attempt to serve both God and Mammon at the same time. When I look back I had heard enough sermons to transform me; the repeated messages Sunday after Sunday encouraged and motivated me to be a non-conformist as regards the world. I had never suffered from an excessive obsession with winning laurels from the world for it militates against those very convictions indelibly etched on the tablets of my heart.
In my day to day life as well as in my career, I have closely observed people and their ways, how they strove, cheated, grabbed and manipulated for self aggrandizement; the boastful and the proud treading underfoot the poor and the innocent; individually and collectively they affirmed the revelations about the human heart contained in the Book of Books. That being so, I had no difficulty in agreeing with what some of the great authors had written in their works. For instance when I read John MacArthur and his account of the kind of society we lived in, he reflected my own thoughts: “Its society is hostile to Godliness; it is dominated by carnal ambition, by pride, by greed, by self pleasure, by evil desires. It opinions are wrong; its aims are selfish; its pleasures are sinful, its influence is demoralizing ; its policies are corrupt; its honors are empty ; its smiles are fake; its love is fickle.”
I have recognized I can not live the good life in my own strength. Every Christian knows he has to battle with selfishness and temptation on a daily basis. His hope is that God’s grace will enable him to meet these challenges. When anyone decides to follow Jesus Christ, He helps him to become a new creation. God’s promise to the man who comes to him in with a true desire to change his life is: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean ; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”(Ezekiel 36: 25)
Without His spirit working in me, I can not love my enemies; without His spirit aiding I can not prefer righteousness over selfish gains or resist other temptations that come my way constantly.
Christ declared that He is the way. He prepared a new and living way for us by dying on the cross. His death and resurrection are central to my faith. If there is ground for me to trust in my own righteousness, then all that Christ did to redeem me becomes superfluous. Man in the flesh remains imperfect and the striving towards perfection is aided by the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Man must be born again from above to be able to lead the good life. He has to be made3 good before he can attempt to be good.
Christ does not present you with a list of do’s and don’t’s but empowers you with His Spirit. His light is the light which enlightens the everyone who enters the world. He has written his laws on the tablets of our hearts.
For the same reason I make a distinction between Christ and others who founded religions or emancipated the human race in one way or the other. Napoleon is reported to have observed: “ I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man…. Everything about Him amazes me. His Spirit overawes me and His will confounds me. There is no possible comparison between Him and any other being in the world. He is truly a being by Himself…His birth and the history of His life , the profoundness of His doctrine, His Gospel, His empire, His marches across the ages –all these is to me a wonder , an insoluble mystery.”
In my youth I developed a reading habit and was fond of self-improvement books. Dale Carnegie, Samual Smiles, Norman Vincent Peale, Emerson, Tolstoy, were some of the authors who appealed to me. And they discovered that they contained principles and values upheld by the Book of Books, the Bible.
The Lord, in strange ways, brought me in touch with persons of non-Christian backgrounds , who had an authentic experience of the truth in their lives. And invariably they were men and women who faced a crisis or a serious illness at some point in their lives; some had been fierce opponents of the Christian faith until the truth dawned on them. Some of them had a background of drunkenness and evil, but Christ confronted them and transformed them completely. I had also read a few biographies of a few transformed lives.
My spiritual journey, which is still in progress, is not the result of any sudden experience. My reading, my interaction with people, the testimonies of men and women and above the challenges life itself placed before me—all these had a part in my current faith life.
When I have looked at life with all its sorrows, suffering and uncertainties, the race for power and fame loses their glitter altogether. This wisdom comes from the Cross and also from the sensitivity brought in by my own experiences. That being so it doesn’t need too much of an effort to resist all the temptations to manipulate and to resort to deception and double standards to advance in this world. Contentment has become easy for me. Yes, this attitude has put me at a disadvantage in the power game implied in career advancement. I have deliberately kept aside from the rat race. I had to observe the rules of the Cross. Even this is not too much of a price to pay if thereby I can allow His light shine in me for the glory of the Lord.
by M K