Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Theological Reflections on My Trip to the Philippines

As a middle-class American driving through the Palawan countryside, I cannot help but be taken aback by the deep poverty of the average Filipino citizen on this island. I have already posted several pictures of the terrible living conditions that these people endure. Many have no electricity; most have no running water. The “bathrooms” that I have encountered on this trip, even in the tourist-friendly locations, often leave much to be desired (to put it mildly).

It is natural to wonder about the eternal state of these people. Scripturally I know that apart from knowing about Christ and the gospel they have no hope. Thankfully, I have seen many missionary endeavors on the island, and even seen tangible fruit from their labors. God’s light has reached this corner of the world but there is no question but that many of these people have yet to be evangelized.

My human response to this fact is to question the fairness of it all. At least those in America or other westernized nations have had the opportunities granted by wealth and development to enjoy their time on this world before they face eternity. These poor people live in squalor and then face the judgment of God. How is that fair, I found myself asking.

As I reflected on that question, I began to wonder if it was not my own materialism that caused me to think as I do. Compared with eternity, what do material things really matter. Is the rich man who builds bigger barns to hold all his stuff really better off? God calls him a fool. Riches often bring about additional cares for the things of this world that rob us from enjoying what we thought we just had to have. Ecclesiastes speaks of the frustrating endeavor to get just a little bit more, an effort that never satisfies (Ecc 4:8). I obviously do not have the right perspective on things.

A passage that God has laid on my heart during this trip is Acts 14:15-17. This is Paul and Barnabas reacting to the crowds in Lystra who thought them to be gods after healing a man:

Acts 14:15-17 (ESV)
And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: 16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

The people of Palawan, Tokyo, New York City, or Suwanee are all men of like passions. We have the same human, sinful nature and all need the same savior. We all need to repent, to turn from the vanities of this world, whatever our own way is, to the living God – the God who created the world that we all share. The vanities of Lystra may look different from the vanities of Broadway, Atlanta, or Sabang, but they are vain nonetheless because are not satisfying or eternal.

For years God allowed us to go our own way, yet He still gave us revelation about Himself so that we would know what kind of God we were offending when we sinned. The revelation that all men receive, regardless of time or place, is that God is good. He gives us rain, fruitful seasons, and the subsequent ability to be fed and glad. Yes, sometimes God sends famine or sorrow but the typical human experience is rain on the just and the unjust, providing nourishment to the ground for harvest, and the ability to have food, clothes, and shelter. It may be meager; it may be plain; but it is God’s good provision.

The other thing God gives men is gladness. One of the most striking things about my experience here in Palawan has been seeing the good cheer of the residents. They may be poor but they are a happy people. The children run and play. The men and women laugh. They enjoy life. Now, deep down there will be an emptiness in all men who live apart from God. No one experiences the true joy of being right with God unless they know the Savior. Yet, it does appear that God gives happiness and joy in some measure to all men. It gives a glimpse of what all men really desire and that is deep abiding joy. When I see these poor little children living in deplorable conditions I also see a laughter and joy that tells me that God really is good.

One last quick thought comes from a verse in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Honestly, I could not picture myself stooping to live in the conditions in which so many Filipinos find themselves. Yet, Christ must have humbled Himself to a much greater degree when He came to earth and lived as a man so that He could save us from our sins. The depth of His love is unbelievable to me. He became poor – that phrase has a new, more vivid meaning to me now – so that I might gain the unsearchable riches of Christ. I am left speechless at the thought….


At 8:35 AM, Blogger Admin said...

Often times Andy, we become so caught up in our material possessions that we miss what is wealth and what is poverty. Both terms are entirely relative. We look at the Philipines as poverty, because the conveniences are not as abundant. Yet someone from the Philipines may look at Haiti as been poverty stricken. The value that some civilizations and cultures place on material possessions is entirely different than Americans. You can't even classify it as Western, since even people in France or Europe don't live in the same conditions or material surroundings as even Americans. Values in these types of cultures are placed in different areas as we do.

I liked your comment about Christ "stooping" to us and giving up his great treasures to be a sacrifice for us. It is an interesting picture.

You are right about possessions. When we are toward the end of our life, maybe even on our deathbed, the reality of what we have will become real. All of the money in the world will not save us on that last breath, as we realize at that instant that all we had, worked for,lived for will be gone on the other side of this breath and all of eternity will matter.


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