In this day and age, there are many shows, books, movies, and writings about the negativities of life. There are even TV shows that implicitly tell young people that suicide is perfectly fine and noble if one feels like life is no longer living. There are also trendy “challenges” on social media that ask young people to do insane and dangerous things in order to prove themselves “up to the game,” beginning with self-inflicted cuts to pushing themselves to the point of a (near) death experience. Sadly but true, these things are either signs of a hopeless and joyless life or the destruction of human dignity and value. Either way, they present a dark picture of life not worth living as everything and everyone can be objectified and be used. They make the world looks like it is just filled with redundancies and sorrows that people have to find sentimental, sensible, dangerous or “cathartic” things to do to feel as if they are humans and that they can feel something. It is a cynical, destructive, and hopeless outlook of reality and the truth. Yet, in the midst of it all, Christianity has always been firm in professing that this life is worth living!
Destructive behaviors and cynical outlooks of life have always existed throughout history. Even in the high, golden, and prosperous time of the Roman Empire, there were writings of many lewd, perverted, destructive, inhumane, and unimaginable behaviors and trends that existed, even with the upper ruling and aristocratic class. From those ways of life, there came many reactive philosophical outlooks and ways of life to combat the atrocities. We saw the developments of stoicism, cynicism, and skepticism arose as ways to make sense of what life really is. Yet, almost all of these perspectives, outlooks, and ways of life only look at life in very mundane and worldly means. Perhaps they can only offer a resistive, doubtful, negative, or a form of escapism from reality because their ways of thinking are simply of this world, in this world, and for this world. The only option for us as Christians is of Christ. With all the hopelessness, sufferings, trials, hardships, and even evils in this world, the Lord provides us with an answer and a way to overcome all evil with loving goodness.
In the midst of many reactions to hedonism and its perverted understanding of life, happiness, and pleasure, while facing many confusions and skeptical reactions to a new way of living and faith, early Christians showed the whole world of what it meant to live for something greater. They showed through their courage of what it means to have faith in Christ Jesus. Some even went to give their lives as martyrs for this immense love for the Lord! While many people hated them and were confused why these people would ever do something so radical, Christians said yes to the greater love with their lives and with their beliefs. They lived that out by how they care for all, especially those who were living on the fringes of society, the abandoned, and those who were forgotten. They lived a vivid communal life that respected all members who came from different walks of life, shared what they have with one another, especially the least of all, even though they were still struggling with human frailties to properly love God with the love of their brothers and sisters.
While looking at early Christians from the outside, one could mistake them for a radical cult. Yet, these people seemed to be joyful and loving, filled with something that many people do not have, which a sense of positivity that is mixed with this so-called faith in Jesus Christ that they called hope. Christianity became intriguing and attractive for many because of the ways that early Christians lived and cared for one another and the people who were often ignored by society. They attracted other people and changed the world — one person at a time — by how they lived their faith and how they cared for one another. They allowed their joyful hope to permeate their lives and radiate through their words and actions. They were courageous and bold to live in the truth, hence not afraid to condemn the failures of this world and but also charitable enough to love those who were seeking the truth. Since they were not scared of persecutions, they did not allow the world to dictate what was needed to be said. They spoke the truth and pointed people to the salvation that is not found in this world or its ideologies. Early Christians offered and shared Christ with others by pointing people to Him, both with their courageous testimonies and charitable lives. Even in their usual struggles as human beings and as the Church, they did not allow human desires to dictate and manipulate what needed to be done. Leaders and the people within the community exhorted one another out of love so that all can be reminded to live in the command that the Lord gave to His disciples by loving one another.
In a similar way, before many indigenous Vietnamese knew of Christianity, they called our faith “the religion of love” because they were amazed at how Christians cared for one another. I think this is important to remember! We win hearts with the truth in charity. We see many people who claim to speak the truth, but whatever is their version cannot be coming from one’s created ideology. It has to be in compliance and alignment to what has been handed on to us so that we can point people not to ourselves but to the Lord! What God has commanded us to do cannot be separated from love. Without charity, the truth can become self-serving and easily manipulated. Saint John the Apostle reminded us in his epistles — over and over again — that if we cannot love one another, the ones who we can see, then we cannot say that we love the God that we cannot see. The love of God is enlivened in our relationship with one another.
I have seen too many people who have become too self-righteous in pointing out what is wrong with others but lack the personal commitment to serve one another. I have seen too many ideologies trying to fix the problems, but the real fundamental error in them is that they try to create another structure or institution as to fix the problem without really recognizing that service and change are grassroots-based. We can talk much about change and social justice, but at the end of the day, they will remain words to condemn others and justify ourselves until we humbly choose to serve and love, beginning with the personal gift of ourselves to others. People are getting too tired of politics and numerous ideologies being thrown at them! Honestly, I stopped listening to politics because all I ever hear people saying are what the other side is not doing, yet there is no humility, accountability, and honesty with what they — the people who are speaking — are not doing. At the end of the day, people speak, condemnations thrown around, suggestions are made, ideas get formed, yet nothing is changed because they remain detached words from real personal, intimate, and loving actions. This is one reason why many have become skeptical and cynical about life.
It also seems like our society is trying to evoke, intimidates, and puts down those who want to seek greater, transcendental glory and love by labeling us in derogatory ways. It portrays God as a made-up depiction of human desires and manipulation of religious organizations to deter us from living the fullest potential and freedom as human beings. Nevertheless, here is the irony: the same people who cry wolf and labeling religions as manipulative often become manipulative themselves by being overly vocal, criticizing, degrading, oppressing, and bullying others who do not share their ideologies — as if their versions of truth and tolerance are the only ones valid. They degrade the truth in exchange for lesser, subjective, and manipulative goods because they can manipulate and control the mass with ambiguous words and trendy thoughts. It seems like if one person or a group of people can manipulate and influence popular opinions and say something long enough, it will start to be accepted as something “true” — even though it is not the truth. Even though they are appealing and seem-to-be cutting edge, all these things leave the hearers and enthusiasts empty in the end.
When we, the people, cannot trust one another, the only other alternative is just to live life with no meaning. If there is no real joy or meaningful purpose, all we can do is to live for ourselves and try our best to maximize our hedonistic values and make sure we have a high return on emotional, sentimental, or personal investment. We simply objectify and put a price on everything and everyone. It just then becomes a game of exchanges and manipulations to get more influences or leverages to get what we really wanted for ourselves and our pleasure, satisfaction, or self-defined happiness. Our neighbors become hellish and hard to be bear because they become an obstacle or thing to be figured out and dealt with. Society at large — in its pure sense — ceases to exist because no one really cares for the other unless they are needed for every person is too obsessed and worried about his or her own existential identity and its crisis. (cf. Jean Paul Sartre’s thoughts) In the midst of all these destructive chaos, skeptical and cynical lifestyles, there are many implicit cries for help. People want to seek a way out of this existential nightmare and selfish hell that we have created for ourselves and others!
The only way to save ourselves is to recognize that we cannot do it ourselves! It is very paradoxical in our postmodern, self-centered lifestyle; yet, the only way for us to save ourselves is to go beyond ourselves and seek help from the Almighty and others who are instrumental in our sobriety. In contrast with the way of the world and of the Devil, the way of the Lord is grounded in humility, knowing who we are and who we belong to without being pretentious, demanding, or expecting things to be our way. This way of life begins with radical spiritual poverty, depending on God and His loving grace instead of the quantifiable goods of this world to be happy. It is a recognition that everything we have received, who we are and the gifts given to us, is to be shared in and through love for all. In loving Christ, we are willing to embrace the imperfections of this world without allowing them to define us or hurt us deep from within. We are even willing to bear insults and dissatisfactions from others who do not understand us and our true freedom found in loving Him. We found our satisfaction by seeking holiness through the honest, genuine, and transparent gift of ourselves to others as we point others to the One who loves them. True friends and people who care for us want to give us not just the things that will be appealing or satisfying at the moment, but what is good for us beyond ourselves or what is in front of us now! To truly care is to give the gift of ourselves in all its genuineness as a present, in the present moment, to the other person.
In loving God and caring for one another, we have to learn to avoid and be easily deceived by laundered words and empty slogans. Dishonest language not only reflects lies but also destroy trust and respect as it justifies its own perverted corruptions and manipulative actions. Lies come in many forms, but they all will ultimately destroy society in the long run, even though deceptive measures are appealing at the present time. True freedom is the ability to align one’s self to do what is right as one chooses to sacrifice for the greater good. This freedom has to be aligned with something greater than immediate or temporary goods as it finds the courage and ability to stand up and protect what is right in the presence of God’s everlasting judgment and love. Even though standing with the divine truth will make us be at odds with others who are too focused on getting what they want here and now, the truth will set us free because it is not of this world. To be obedient to God-given truth is to truly be free from the fears and manipulations of this world! It hurts and it is costly as we will lose people who will leave us to find a more appealing and hedonistic way of life, but our reward to be called Christians — disciples of Christ — is more than what this world can ever satisfy or promise to give.
God is the Lover of hearts as He made us out of love, formed and loved us into being. Therefore, the only right and proper way to know who we truly are and what we are called to be is to return this love in a personal, intimate, and selfless way. Instead of trying too hard to find out how to make a life for ourselves at all costs, it will be beneficial to find ourselves in and through the love of God. Just as our DNA’s tell us who we genetically are, our spiritual formation by the Lord and His love within our heart calls out deep from within. All of our temporary humanistic, sensual, or materialistic thirst and hunger are simply outward signs of the everlasting spiritual hunger for Him who made us out of love. Our soul yearned to be loved by the infinite love of God, and nothing finite in this world can ever fill it. Our spirit cries out to Him because everything that is created by human hands is insufficient to satisfy the spiritual craving and love that are beyond the sentimental or physical levels.
Therefore, I would like to invite each and every one of us to begin our days by grounding ourselves in the love of God. As we pray, we condition ourselves to seek His loving presence in other people so that we can seek Him in each and every encounter. We hurt one another when we are too focused on our own self and lose focus on who is in front of us and what we are called to do. If we can recognize and understand the presence of the Lord in one another, I believe our world would be more compassionate, our society becomes more understanding, our friendships and relationships are more treasured as we love and challenge one another to grow in what He calls us individually and communally to be. We build a real society when we can be genuinely present and give the gift of ourselves without pretension and worrying about nonsense, secondary, or self-centered fears and reservations. We can and are able to love one another in the truth and challenge each other with patience and love when we are able to recognize, understand, pray, reflect, and discern the will of God who is present in our midst. True love is hard but it is totally possible when we allow ourselves to be humble, genuine and loving in and through the love of Him of who loves us first. When we really love and care for one another in the truth, we will all discover that life is truly worth living.