There is No Millennium

February 28, 1999

This essay was published in a heavily edited form in the February 1999 issue of Uphill & Beyond, the official newsletter of Barker Road Methodist Church, Singapore.

Too often and too soon, the Christian finds a piece of theology to excuse his or her laziness toward moral thinking. This season — and for a few more to come — it is going to be the red-blooded discussion of the Last Days.

Never mind if there is something vaguely wrong about a morality spurred on by numbers, symbols, hypes, paranoia, spectacles and promises of spectacles: this is your gospel formula for right living. One fad ago, it was warfare spirituality and, then, there are favourites like Spirit baptism, tongue-speaking, Christian music, revival meetings and, oldest of all, church-going.

When is it all going to end — or can it ever end? When are Christians going to realize that nothing absolves them from their responsibility to be consciously selfless and that nothing should compel them than their love for God expressed solely through their love for people?

Sit back and wait for the next well-meaning brother or sister to tell you that he or she is doing good because the End is near, because God will judge the world soon enough, because, well, there are just not enough time. But, for God’s sake, since when has doing good anything to do with time, let alone the lack of it? Since when has the Christian life stopped being an end to itself?

You can always trust us all to keep getting the lesson wrong just so to keep our old anxieties, which are incidentally our most comfortable modes of living. In the Parable of the Rich Fool, the blessed decides to build bigger storehouses so that he can rest comfortably in the future and God mocks him. But how certain are we that we will not be similarly mocked since we have also decided to build bigger storehouses with the same “so that”, so that we can rest comfortably in the future?

Heaven or Earth, the same unchristian selfishness clicks in our secret minds louder than clashing cymbals. Yesterday, I was encouraged to give of myself more sacrificially, to pray more fervently and consistently, and to love others more genuinely because — I could never know — Jesus might come back tomorrow. Last week, I heard about the urgency of noble thoughts and virtuous behaviour which, apparently, were more urgent today than they had been one century ago, one decade ago or even one year ago.

It is not difficult to trace in all these an unspoken need to make moral choice as close a version of Hobson’s choice as it is psychologically possible. The real issue is only too obvious if we quit denying: we are really not interested in the total Christian life, seeing that we strain it so regularly through the sieve of theology just to see how little of it we need to live.

In fact, all these have not been about mere Christlikeness, about going alongside another, both in body and spirit, and offering oneself as the means to further realize this possibility, the manifestation of God. These have been about the love for God cut down by the love for doctrinal truth, cut down in turn by the subtle love of Self — argued all the while as a love for people.

To get this lesson wrong again, you have only to think that I’m reeling against a fascination with Christian ideas which forgets moral action, an evil which most Christians will probably not be guilty of anyway. No, I am not reeling against intellectualism but its opposite; I am reeling against a kind of anti-intellectualism that makes activities moral by applying theology without going through the moral struggles which theology demands.

Suddenly, your moral decisions are revealed to have always been concerned with what they should not be concerned with: you and your place with God. So what if — in the tradition of grand biblical irony — those actually belong to the only certain and indisputable reality about your life? So what if the Ninety-Nine Sheep secure in Heaven’s Fold are all of the one of you and the Lost Sheep is really ninety-eight more, each carrying in its soul a hundred times the pain of God? So what if morality under the skin is infinitely more mundane, more difficult and less conclusive than morality tipped by universal drama and demonstrable with dramatic fun?

Let’s get this straight: the first person to make your religious life anti-climactic is Christ and not me. He is the One who says that, if you will believe in Him, you will be with Him in Eternity and, with such a promise, the unfolding story of your life ends quite literally then. In a twinkling, your momentum to prove yourself valuable, to legitimate your claim to eternal happiness, to assert your case against the evil you are capable of, is rendered completely obsolete.

For once, you are free in the absolute and unambiguous sense — free from every limitation and distraction of a Self half-concerned with its preservation — and this means as well that you are now free to be who you are meant to be, God’s true image, moral without guilt or ulterior motive, loving without fear or discontent, good without weakness or ignorance. Such is the frightening fullness of freedom that Christ offers to all: the choice of Life so authentic it needs no stick or carrot, no law, miracle, abyss, condition, conformity or, yes, time.

For all these edges of Godliness we are free forever to explore, it is scandalous therefore that we should choose instead to take a step backwards, to return the considerations of Self to the equation and to demand of that equation. Don’t tell me that I am over-reacting and go stare through your so-called ultra-Christian lifestyle into your soul: tell me what you find there.

Perhaps — just perhaps — this is really what your quest for the next spiritual gift, the next spiritual song, the next spiritual preacher and, of course, the next spiritual event has always been about. Perhaps, all these spring from a refusal to let go, leading you to substitute an unending movie show of passive morality for a life which, by your own choice, has concluded two millennia ago on a Cross, a truth which must compel you now to get out into the Sun and into the World of the Sun.

If I am mistaken, then there is no real injury and I will perhaps only look fat-headed, at best silly; but, if I am right, then we are confronting what is arguably one of our most ingenious inventions, a living out of a conceptually impossible idea, a Christian Sin.

If I am right, then it really is time, paradoxically — time to think again before we blaspheme further, time to get out of history and live Eternity.

Gwee Li Sui

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