A Quick Note on Valentines

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No matter how hard we try to dismiss it, we are products of our culture. Because we are not aware of it sometimes, our notions of what love is are shaped by some of the things the world says about it. Just try to list down some of your thoughts and see how much they are influenced by what we have read or seen from novels and movies. A lot of things already happened since the dawn of modernity and Romanticism. Ideas from these periods subtly crept into our consciousness. We could see them at work during the Valentine season.

I know that many would object in celebrating Valentines Day—Christian circles still debate about the legitimacy of this day—but I see this occasion as a means to start a conversation. We should not fear contextualization; we know that the message of the gospel is always relevant to us sinners. However, we should not border into thinking that we should avoid any appeal to relevance at all. The apostle Paul exhorted the young minister Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Augustine wrote the City of God to instruct and comfort the weary Roman Christians. The minister of the Word should not be shy to give pastoral insight during times like this. He could address the needs of his congregation and yet still be faithful in explicating the texts in front of him. Also, if the apostle Paul could appeal to the “unknown god”—the product of the pagans’ thinking—and show them the true God (Acts 17:22-31), then I think preachers could follow suit in engaging the culture and the philosophy prevalent today. If we are sick of how the world paints love, shouldn’t we all the more preach about what love truly is?

We should bear in mind that this worldly love is a distortion of what is originally a good thing. After the fall, man started to think in allegiance to himself and in rebellion to God. That is why the apostle Paul admonished us not to be “conformed to this world,” that is, we should not follow the autonomous manner by which fallen men live their lives. It is because of “being transformed by the renewal of our minds” that we could take a second look at love under the light of God’s revealed will (Romans 12:2). In His light we see light (Psalm 36:9). The gospel reorients our view of love.

Because of the acknowledgment of our sins, we know that we could not trust ourselves; we know that impurities are still in us—that we are selfish and proud. A man could boast of the stars and the moon but in reality, he only wants to get what he wants in a woman. He might be on a chase for his ultimate satisfaction and eventually will make his idol work for him in his quest for self-fulfillment. The woman, in return, might use this to gain favors from the man, or in other cases, exhibit authority over the weakened lover. She might seek identity in the embrace of a man; only to find that her idol will not deliver. One needs to look at the standard that the apostle Paul set in 1 Corinthians 13 to know the gravity of what a lover is claiming to do. Whenever I weigh myself against this standard, I fall short of keeping it.

However, it is because of grace that we could hope for change; we know that we are not lost cases—that we are already loved and could be loved for Christ loved the unlovely (Romans 5:6). We meet ourselves within the story of redemption. And in this fertile ground, our love could grow bountifully with every good fruit. Every state that we are in is an avenue for our sanctification. Every state is a vocation where maturity is cultivated along with virtues that follow faith. Marriage—and being in a relationship—is such a state. This we could heartily pursue by putting on God’s Word as our corrective lens. Other than Paul’s oft-quoted love chapter, we could see some parameters set in 1 John 4:7-12: Why do we love? Because God loved us. How do we love? God’s way. When do we love? Always. Even though these verses speak of brotherly love, these could be expressed as well within the bounds of intimacy. After all, the Christian couple are nothing but two sinners redeemed by grace.

In light of these things, the lovers could forgive each other, bear one another’s burden, and build one another up (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). It is because of God’s love for us—and working in us—that we could love truly. This is where I put my hope whenever I recount all my flaws regarding love. I think these are the things that we should say to the unbelieving world when we celebrate Valentines Day.

“We Could Not Call it True…”

Just recently, I was able to read the Japanese novel “Silence.” This is a fine piece of literature from Shūsaku Endo’s pen. The plot followed the journey of a priest to Japan in the quest of finding his mentor in the faith who apostatized and evangelizing to the native folk. Below is a discussion between the priest Rodrigues (the novel’s protagonist) and an interpreter to the feudal lord:

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‘Father, we are not disputing about the right and wrong of your doctrine. In Spain and Portugal and such countries it may be true. The reason we have outlawed Christianity in Japan is that, after deep and earnest consideration, we find its teaching of no value for the Japan of today.’

The interpreter immediately came to the heart of the discussion. The old man in front with the big ears kept looking down on the priest sympathetically.

‘According to our way of thinking, truth is universal,’ said the priest, at last returning the smile of the old man. ‘A moment ago you officials expressed sympathy for the suffering I have passed through. One of you spoke words of warm consolation for my travelling thousands of miles of sea over such a long period to come to your country. If we did not believe that truth is universal, why should so many missionaries endure these hardships? It is precisely because truth is common to all countries and all times that we call it truth. If a true doctrine were not true alike in Portugal and Japan we could not call it “true”.’

Talk about putting the nail in the coffin of postmodernism and charging forward the relevance of the gospel! I’m looking forward to write more on the pressing issues that the novel laid in its pages.

Excerpt from Shūsaku Endo, “Silence: a novel,” trans. William Johnston (New York: Picador, 2016)