“So what made you decide to study theology?”
Sometimes it’s best just to shrug and say that you find it interesting.When people ask polite questions, they don’t really expect (or want) you to say ‘make yourself comfortable, I’ll need to put the kettle on for this one. . .’
Sometimes, too, when discussion becomes a little more heated with certain subjects, it is easier just to allow others to assume the ignorance of youth. It keeps them happy and means that there is no need to revisit the things which to this day induce the most brutal nightmares I have ever had.
But the things that happen to us have a profound impact on us and time heals the hurt. I am strangely haunted by the memories. The time for shrugs and vague answers seems at last to be past.
So why Theology?
I would like to work in translation and I love evangelism. I think it would be good to work with church plants or young or struggling churches. That’s why. But there’s a reason why I believe that these things are desperately needed.
It started the day when the wolves came out of the West.
* * * * *
Santo’s father had been hurt at work. He’d gashed his arm and needed a blood transfusion. In Indonesia, the deal is pay up or man up and, unable to work, it was looking like the latter.
A day or two after this news, Santo came to me, deep in thought.
‘Mut, there’s a meeting on Saturday.’
I had heard this, yes.
‘It’s a prophet from America and he can heal people. Do you think my father can come? Maybe he can help him.’
Something in my sixteen year old head hesitated. I shrugged.
The words ‘prophet’, ‘healing’, and ‘America’ all in one sentence in relation to one person rang an alarm bell somewhere inside of me. I didn’t know much, only that such a combination of words should be treated carefully. I wasn’t sure why. I believed in miracles and I believed that God could and did heal people when he chose to do so.
I spent time in prayer, asking for an open mind, praying that it would be fine, praying that I was just a doubter. Still that unease lingered.
When Saturday came, the convoy pulled up sometime in the late afternoon. Barefooted grubby girls in hats and aprons reflected back at us in the blacked out windows and silver bumpers. We did not see the man himself until dinner. Curious, I glanced up the table and tried to smile sweetly as the frost settled about my shoulders.
Doing the dishes with Jon, Busno, and Tardi was soothing in its normality. They taught me new words and we talked about the future and our faith. Nevertheless, the village was abuzz with anticipation and the excitement was contagious.
The hall was packed. Folks from the neighbouring villages had put their glad rags on and come just to hear this guy. They were honoured with the limited supply of chairs at the back of the room while the rest of us crammed ourselves on the floor, hardly able to move.
It began as our meetings always did, with songs and prayer. When he had been introduced, the guy rambled a little, telling us to open our hearts.
I’ll admit that with our family history, I would never pray that prayer. I asked instead to be open to God, to his Word, to Truth, to be kept from anything else. I don’t know why I added that last bit. I had no idea what any of this was about. I just know that having a completely open heart is dangerous, any old thing can come in.
Maybe I just worry too much.
Anyway, the trend in the music was interesting but that is a discussion for another day. Suffice to say that those gathered were well worked up by the time the guy started to speak in earnest nearly an hour later.
Hearing everything twice was interesting (he had a translator), and was helpful in that it gave me more time to make sense of what was being said. There’s no need for a detailed breakdown, it was very much the same as a lot of the health and wealth preachers I’ve become familiar with over the years.
But it was the first time I’d heard the prosperity gospel in the flesh, and it had a profound impact. To be honest, the thing that astounded me most was the utter irreverence. It did not sit comfortably that the strength of your faith was measured in how boldly you demanded things from God and how quickly he pandered to you. It was a new concept of God for me.
A little more singing.
Keep me open to You, to Truth, nothing else.
It began with Keturah laughing uncontrollably. Then the first girl went down and the helpers rushed to hold her so that she would not harm herself as she writhed and cried. More fell as he paced up and down among them. It is no wonder, for he hit them hard enough.
I noticed the anger then. It was no longer a simmering in my throat but spreading like fire in my bones and the intensity of it startled me. Anger isn’t something I have a problem with. I’d never felt it like this. I had no reason to be angry.
People were falling over. People were howling, cackling, weeping, babbling. My bones were burning. I closed my eyes.
Lord, I know that you are not the God of chaos but I also know anger is wrong. So if it’s bad to be angry, please take it away. But if it is from you, help me! I’m so confused. Open my eyes!
In stories and films, sometimes the characters are described as seeing red. It is not some sort of poetic language. Believe me, it is a real thing. It’s strange and mildly terrifying. As I looked across at this prophet, crimson tinged, I hugged my knees to stop myself from jumping up at him as I saw him go to hit another child.
That was not all that I saw, but that is between God and me, and very few others need know. All that I care to say is that the message was understood. My anger was not wrong, but I was too young to know what should be done.
I went out from there and wept bitterly.
I do not remember what I prayed, only that the anger was cooled by the balmy night and the cricket song. I don’t recall the words, only the sorrow and the wordless questioning in my soul. I was still very young and I didn’t understand why God allowed people to do things like this. To the people I loved. And no one cared.
Later that evening, Santo and I would talk about it. In clumsy Indonesian, I would try to explain. We would talk about reverence, healing, the Holy Spirit, Santo’s sick father. And he would say something which would bring a bittersweet comfort to my soul as we both struggled to understand.
But just then, I cried.
I’m not an angry person. I’m not a cryer either. Yet as I wept the fire from my bones, every tear a question from my bruised heart, I knew that I wanted nothing more to be able to handle the Word of God properly and help others to do so too, so that the things which had happened that night would not happen so easily again.
* * * * *
Since then, I’ve met several men like this — in one way or another. Some were prophets, some were healers, some were preachers. Some were subtler. Some were just con men or plain buffoons, but some held the same spiritual power which was present that first night. You can feel it in them. There is power, but it is not of God.
This gospel is preached everywhere. It is broadcast 24/7 on TV. There are books, movies, radio stations, conferences, advertising campaigns, franchises. And many Christians think it’s marvellous.
But I’ve had so many long conversations with people about whether they are saved because they have never spoken in tongues or dreamed dreams or prophesied. There have been those who I know and love who, when they heard a variation on this message, lost all assurance. There have been those who chased the experiences and are still not satisfied. And there are some who no longer believe at all.
I didn’t choose Theology because I dropped out of school at sixteen and had nothing better to do. I didn’t choose it because I come from a Reformed Church and wanted a bit of paper to confirm that I know everything.
The reason is that I want to know God more and more deeply. And I want others to as well. I want to be able to handle his word correctly and proclaim it boldly in word and in action, and to help and encourage others to do the same.
We need to equip believers now. Train them and ground them. Work on cultivating a deep, strong faith and it will be harder for bad things to creep in. So many hunger but are not fed, then the wolves come or tribulation closes in and they haven’t the strength to stand.
So there you are, a brief outline of the answer to why. This is the reason I gave up an unconditional offer from a perfectly respectable university to study an obscure subject at an unknown college somewhere in the backwaters of the Scottish Highlands.
Somewhere along the way, the priority changed. It hurt. And it took a lot of time and a lot of difficult prayers, but I don’t regret it. This has been a hard post to write. Harder to publish. I’ve rewritten it so many times and it has sat in my drafts box for months. Like I said, it’s easier just to let people assume ignorance. If nothing else, come away from reading and remember this: we do not need prophecy and tongues and healings and miracles, it is Christ’s blood which saves us and that is enough.
Stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. ~ 1 Cor 16.13