When King Uzziah Dies
2013 has had a troubled start. The use of "Allah" by non-Muslims is an old issue, but it has resurfaced with an unprecedented move -the Sultan of Selangor's decree that the word is off-limits to non-Muslims. The essence of this decree has also been supported by the PAS Syura Council, the party's highest authority on spiritual matters. Pahang's mufti, meanwhile, has called for enforcement of state laws that ban the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims. And to heighten political tensions further, a call was made for Malay bibles to be seized and burned.
Racial-religious polarisation has always simmered beneath Malaysia's calm exterior. Of late, it has reached a disconcerting level. Many of us may be struggling to get a handle on it, what more with the general election looming ahead accompanied with great expectations of change. What's in store for 2013? Perhaps, in our moments of honesty and reflection, we fear the unknown.
That was how the people of Judah felt in the days of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah chapter 6 tells us that when King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord, "high and exalted, seated on the throne". King Uzziah was one of the better kings of Judah, doing "right in the sight of the LORD" (2 Kings 15:3). His death brought uncertainty for the nation. Yet, in the midst of this, Isaiah points to the vision of a sovereign God. Note how he does not point to the blessings or acts of God, but to God Himself. This reminds us that as we face the uncertainty of 2013, our eyes should be on God and His sovereignty, not on circumstances or the blessings we may hope to receive.
A danger for the church is the tendency to look to signs and miracles for comfort and assurance. Or, we may rely on technology or even rituals to gain a sense of control over circumstances. We forget that all things belong to God and all that happens fulfils His great purposes for the church and beyond.
But acknowledging God's sovereignty is not enough. Isaiah also had a personal encounter with God. Likewise, we need a true vision of God that inspires us enough to be struck by how unworthy we are. Only then, in our unworthiness, can the grace of God bring forgiveness - of our sins, our failures and perhaps even our unfaithfulness to Him. And then, empowerment, for only when we understand our unworthiness can we become of use to Him. It is not the proud or capable whom God uses but the humble and contrite who are dependent on Him.
Isaiah's vision did not end as a mystical experience of awe and wonder. It moved him to practical action. In the same way, our vision of and encounter with God should lead us to action. Isaiah's response was not to ask for training or for more signs of confirmation. His reaction was one of action: "Here am I. Send me!"
Isaiah's reaction was one of willingness and surrender. It was the giving of one's life to be used by God for the sake of the nation and its transformation.
Have we been willing to surrender our lives, our all, for God's use in 2013? Or are we holding back by saying, let me go for further training, give me more signs of confirmation, before we can say, "Here am I, send me"?
If the renewed "Allah" controversy has anything to tell us, it is this: Time is not on our side. Our fundamental liberties and our religious space are fast being constricted whether we realise it or not, and whether we accept it or not. The danger for the Christian community is procrastination, thinking that all is well, or that all will turn out well. God's way of making things "well" may not always be in the way we imagine.
The antidote to fear and uncertainty rests in a personal encounter with the sovereignty of God in deep holiness, willingness and surrender to do His will. Isaiah understood that doing his would mean bringing a message of hope for the nation of Israel amidst the reality of judgement.
In the same way, our mission for 2013 should one of peace and hope.
Tensions and contestations must be countered with messages of engagement, reconciliation and liberty. Malaysian society needs this.
The challenge is whether the church is ready to do this. Or are we spinning thicker cocoons for ourselves with bigger church buildings, hi-tech, state of the art worship, or personal plans for migration?
It is time to arise and take stock of how we are to bring the Gospel's message of transformation and reconciliation to Malaysia. If we are to see change and goodness coming at the end of 2013, God's people need a fresh encounter with Him daily, wherein we realize our need of His grace. And then with humble and contrite hearts, to willingly surrender all unto Him and with boldness and courage, to impact our neighbourhoods, communities, society and nation.
Dear Lord, give us a fresh vision of You.