I Can Do All Things

Atul Gawande in his 2014 book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End says that American health professionals have a formal classification system for the level of function a person has. This may not matter much for young and healthy people, but it is important for aging men and women who find it increasingly difficult to maintain their levels of lifestyle or efficiency. They mainly fight a battle against time. They find themselves outpaced by technology, their health keeps deteriorating, their brain power reduces. They become increasingly lonely, and they are not able to find a purpose for living.

Gavande lists the following eight independent activities of daily life:
1. Shop for yourself
2. Prepare your own food
3. Maintain your housekeeping
4. Do your laundry
5. Manage your medications
6. Make phone calls
7. Travel on your own
8. Handle your finances
The ability to perform these actions distinguishes those old people who can live an independent life from those who cannot.

Until last month, I could do all the above things and many more on my own, at my age of 74. But a freak accident threw my life out of gear. As of now, I am not in a position to meet most of these indices. But in the immobilised state that I am today, there is one great thing I am certainly capable of – I can read the Bible. St Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Well, if St Paul can, why not me?

One of the common words of the Bible that I find captivating is the indefinite pronoun “all”. God is so inclusive. He gives all things to all his children. I just have to ask, and I receive. And even before I ask, he knows what all I really need. He satisfies all my needs and even desires.

That is why St Paul’s statement is not one of arrogance or overambition. It is an affirmation of faith. Because when St Paul wrote that, he was in fact facing intense persecution and in no position to do anything at all.

Among “all” the things that God gives me is faith in a seemingly hopeless situation. That helps me to believe firmly that the things I cannot do today I will certainly do tomorrow. Not on my own, but with the strength that he will provide.

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The Fall of Man

Human beings keep falling all the time. They fall in love, they fall into temptation, they fall from grace. Not only individuals, but huge armies fall in battle, nations and empires rise and fall. Angels fall from heaven. Even Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and Jack and Jill went up the hill only to fall down.

But the greatest ever fall has been what Christianity describes as the Fall of Man. It is the lapse of humanity into a state of sin, resulting from the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the commandments of their creator God. The story of the Fall of Man is very simple and tells how easy it is to fall. Just a bite of a fruit was enough to plunge the entire human race from paradise into disaster. And it could be saved only by God sending his son to earth to die.

Why am I talking about the Fall? Because very recently I had a fall. On a road on which I live. I was crossing it as usual in a careful, watchful, safe, slow manner. There was hardly any traffic and I was just a few steps from the other side of the road, when a motorbiker decided to step up speed and come menacingly towards me straight on. There was little I could do. He braked and stopped short of running over me. But I fell on the road. I was bruised and fractured my thigh bone. I landed in a hospital and had to undergo surgery from which I am still recovering.

My little fall left me thinking of the great Fall of Man. How easy it is to fall, but how difficult to get up! You need help. Before my fall, my life was smooth. I had control over it. Now I have to depend on others for every action of mine. But one thing I discovered anew was that whatever happens to me, God is always with me. My Saviour not only saves my soul from destruction but he is there to lift my body and spirit from any depth they may fall to. Just like he had said to the lame man who had been lying by the poolside for 38 years: “Stand up, take up your mat and walk!” (John 5:8) Those words of Jesus are not just a part of an old story. They are eternal, they apply to all, and they resound in my ears today.

Before my surgery Jesus had told me that he would lend a helping hand to lift me up, and make me walk again. He did what he said.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Quotations

Way back in 1970, when I was writing my Ph.D. thesis, I had bought a book entitled “The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations”. The paperback edition was subsidised by the English Language Book Society and the price was 3 Rupees and 15 Paise. In those days, even that was not a small sum. The dictionary had over 16,000 quotations out of which about 1,000 quotations were surprisingly from the Holy Bible alone.

Over time, countless words have been spoken by wise people, and millions of words have been written. But it is strange that they are mostly forgotten and only a few are remembered. A quotation is a sentence that is worth recalling, that makes sense by itself even when taken out of context, and is not bound by the limits of space and time. By this definition, the Bible is an extremely quotable book.

Jesus Christ, whose statements recorded in the Bible are widely quoted, himself used quotations from the Old Testament while speaking. When the people asked if he were really the Messiah, he said, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead are raised… What more evidence did they need?” (Luke 7:19-22) He was only quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5)

When Jesus was being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he did not resist him but just quoted God’s commandment from the scriptures: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Deuteronomy 6:13) The Devil had to flee.

And while suffering the agony of death on the cross, Jesus quoted a prayer from the Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

Whether we have to confront someone with an argument, or have to battle against temptation, or are so distressed that we cannot compose our own prayer, we always have the Bible to quote from. Whenever my own mind is crowded with confusing and unwelcome thoughts, I quote this to myself: “In the multitude of my thoughts within me, your comforts delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)

When we quote from the Bible, we think and speak in God’s language. We do not have to explain. We are better understood. Our words become authoritative and powerful.

 

Sowing the Wind

How do cyclones and giant hurricanes develop in the tropical belt of the earth? Well, not out of nothing. They begin as a tiny vortex in the atmosphere above a warm ocean. The vortex takes in energy from the ocean and grows vertically and horizontally. In its fully mature stage, dense clouds of the hurricane may grow as high as 12 kilometres and its spiral bands may stretch across thousands of kilometres from its eye.

The initial vortex is so small that it may even go unnoticed on a weather chart that shows areas of high and low pressure. Meteorologists use numerical models to predict the development of a tropical cyclone. What they do is to introduce an artificial or “bogus” vortex into an otherwise benign looking atmospheric flow. Then they run the model for several days into the future and watch how the small disturbance grows into a violent storm. They can then predict what path the system will follow and how much strength it will gather.  Their predictions usually come correct and they can warn people in advance and save life and property.

The Bible uses the term “sowing the wind”. (Hosea 8:7) “If you sow the wind”, it cautions, “you will reap the whirlwind!” A violent storm indeed grows out of a small wind, but the reference to wind here is figurative. God’s law of sowing and reaping has a wider area of application far beyond the atmosphere. Just like a small wind will produce a great storm, one grain of wheat that is sown into the soil, is likely to yield an abundant harvest of wheat. Out of wheat we will get wheat, not some other crop.

“Sowing the wind” could be a phrase that is representative of empty, futile work. The result of such a hollow effort could never be expected to be anything concrete or tangible.

“Whatever a man sows, that is what he will reap,” is God’s law for all. “One who sows to his flesh, his sinful capacity, his worldliness, his disgraceful impulses, will reap from the flesh ruin and destruction, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-10)

In fact, in Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was originally written, there is only one word “pneuma” that means the wind as well as the spirit. The two are similar.

 

Living Entities

“The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years…”, sang Julie Andrews in the 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music”. And if the hills of Austria could live and sing, why not Indian rivers and glaciers? According to news reports, that has indeed happened just recently. The rivers Ganga and Yamuna and the glaciers associated with them have now become living entities and they are henceforth to be regarded as persons having human rights.

But this concept of life is not new. In the Bible, the author of Psalm 148 had exhorted not only human beings but all creation to express praise for God’s universal glory.

Praise the Lord!
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
Praise the Lord!

For God Almighty, all things created by him are living entities. They not only have rights but also responsibilities, one of which is to praise God!