“I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing; make something of me! You can do it; you’ve got what it takes God.” (Psalm 40:17, MSG)
Many people relate trusting Christ with their lives with it getting narrower, arduous or intellectually stifling. My experience is totally different. My life was enlarged, then shrunk to almost nothingness, and then God introduced a totally new world which not only made sense, but more beautiful than before. It was a paradigm shifting experience that cannot be traded, but can only make sense from hindsight.
Before I start, closer friends have asked me to start writing my actual testimony, as they believe my story is “more intriguing” as compared to the current thoughts as I process my life as it is now. Some truth there, I suppose. The seemingly bifurcated story of a person who was, in decline for years towards the brink of “death”*, placed into a box from worldly lenses, then in the process of break out of the physical, spiritual and existential prison through the undeniable grace of God who performed Kintsugi of my life seems somewhat interesting.
Okay, I’ll touch a bit on the past.
I did lose many years of my career. Many people did give up on me. I was a prisoner of my room for many years – that’s how severe my situation was. The burns, the smell, the pus. I remember it too well. Day upon day, night upon night. The incredulous religion of cocksure doctors didn’t help either. One particular doctor was of the impression that I was not better “because I didn’t want to be better.” He insisted I see a psychiatrist.** After all, he probably reasoned, “nothing wrong with the treatment”, “nothing wrong with my medical theory”; hence, “something must be wrong with Ken.” In a sense, instead of understanding me as an individual, the pushing of their agenda and ideologies on me is what augmented my physical suffering. It elevated the situation from long-term pain and discomfort that would lead to a shortened life to one of the far-worse existential dissonance of “why am I here in the world at all if no one cares?” This is because friends and family started to believe what the doctors were saying, and they acted also as if I could have easily pushed on or recovered if I were “mentally stronger”. No mental strength could have helped my situation. But God did. Perhaps the mental strength I had was not giving up on God.
Yup. I was slowly burning to death as the climate of Singapore was slowly “poisoning me” (as expressed by one of my articulate friend’s observation). I was trying every way to cling on to life while seeing my friends go divergent paths leading me feeling more and more alone and irrelevant while, what seemed to be the best of medical opinion with their dismissive attitude crushed me by the faith in their empirical studies. Only recently a young family doctor spoke a truth and said that in reality, “there is too much we don’t know about eczema, but specialists are paid to be confident … natural selection favors doctors that appear confident.” (In this regard, that makes the medical and finance industry very similar). It reminds me how a person can be easily cast away when his being does not interact with people’s collective worldviews – especially if the worldviews are of people who are put on earthly pedestals. I’ve been an Ivy-League grad who had a masters in engineering – course work in chemical, statistical and bio-med. I’ve also have been doing seminary work in religion, psychology and logic. I can tell you straight away of the fragility of having too much faith and pride in such mental models. Pigeon-holing can be destructive to people. Take a page from Harper Lee’s depiction of Boo Radley, Mrs Dubose, or Atticus Finch from her timeless novel To Kill A Mocking Bird. The strangest and misunderstood people had the highest moral courage. It’s easy to do socially acceptable things when the whole world recognizes it. It’s difficult to do the right thing when others despise it or can’t recognize it.
But, this post is still not part of my book, haha. I just wanted to share a little of my past, while I contemplate the present.
Yet, here I am.
My life is turning a page. I want to thank God in 3 areas for me:
- Jesus’ death for me is proof that God loves me enough to want to give meaning in my life. Hope that beyond statistics, I could have a chance. I read the Word of God and let the gospel of grace change my worldview.
- My health is being blessed. God surreptitiously put me in situations that I “accidentally” stumbled to doing things that actually started to help my health on a long-term basis. I am now doing many things my doctors hardly encouraged me to do in the 25 years of seeing them regularly. To date, I have not found any internet forums explaining what I am doing either. My career is also being revived. Even in my earlier limited state of not being able to be mobile, God also put tools in my hands, and caused a few people to cross my path at perfect timings. With the perfect blend of accessibility of resources and divine appointments, I am making progress in my career.“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight…” (1 Cor 3:19, NIV)“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” (Joel 2:25, NIV)
- God rearranged the darkness into a story that is forming up to be beautiful. If life was a continuous roll of a pair of dice, then God started to roll 12s multiple times for me. I started to achieving things which were statistically unlikely. “You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.“ (Ps 77:14, NIV). In fact, it was shortly after someone told me (after observing my struggles for years), “if God were real, you would have been healed right now” before proceeding to do hurtful things that triggered off the kairos timing of God’s plan. In a span of months, I started walking in a place of grace (hesed) … almost like God was answering that person’s challenge. I’m now at the a place where I can forgive and even feel pity for that person. We cannot truly forgive unless you know God is good and can turn anything evil towards you into good.“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.“ (Gen 50:20, NIV).These words were spoken by Joseph, but the strength and beauty of his story is under-girded by years of undeserved suffering and unfairness. We cannot see true courage without fear, true good without evil or true happiness without sadness.
“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounter
I spoke too much of past today. Oops. I won’t talk about the specific challenges and miracles in my life in the blog (not yet anyway) – that’s going to be in the book! Tune in! It’ll be exciting, I promise. I’ll be mixing in exegesis, philosophy and pop-cultural references too. Sounds like fun.
Now on to what I wanted to talk about today:
Talking about people being pigeon-holed by powers-that-be, I recall Serge Aleynikov, the Goldman Sachs computer programmer who was jailed for “stealing code”. He insisted that the code was mainly his, and it was for reference, not for usage for competitors. No doubt he was analytical and intelligent. Regardless, he said something noteworthy. He said that “When you create something out of chaos, essentially, you reduce the entropy in the world.”
This was the noteworthy action based on the logical extension from the naturalistic and communist influences originating from the ethos of his Russian upbringing.
For many, that is the best this that can be hoped for. But God can do more. In fact, He is the God of the “How much more”. He can do more than design. He can create something out of nothing.
If He can create something out of nothing, how much more can He do with the scraps of our lives?
“I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing; make something of me! You can do it; you’ve got what it takes God.” (Psalm 40:17, MSG)
So it turns out that I could know only on hindsight; that my life is not bifurcated, but rather 2 realities being superimposed at the same time. Like an optical illusion, what you see depends on the lens you are using. Use the worldly lens, it’s suffering and hopelessness. Use God’s lens, and those are elements that God using to build a unique meaningful story on the canvas of life. But instead of paint characterized by colors (red, blue, black or white), it is characterized by good, evil, joy, pain, love and hate. The greatest pains will be framed by the greatest restorations. There is purpose. In the chaos, I see God’s face. And His face is strong, purposeful and loving.
Take for example the Holocaust, arguably, one of the worst tragedies of the modern world. Every evil was exemplified in this exercise. Pain, suffering, viewing humans as animals, using academia and “logic” to support killing others, lying and propaganda. Yet, the most beautiful art comes from the ugliest situations. Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest holocaust survivor should have turned out bitter, but she has been characterized as the brightest of spirits.
So dear friends, I leave you with this:
Trust God and his masterpiece in the making. Be patient.
End of blogpost.
* I’ll explore the meaning of “death” in greater detail in my book. But to quickly answer that, how does one define Life? It’s not about breathing. It’s about meaning interaction that may lead one to experience higher truths and moral victories. If it came to be that a person had no hope in this regard, this is the true death in my opinion. For example, there would be no meaning in a victory if there was no one to thank for it, to share with it, or even recognize it. More next time.
** Incidentally, the psychiatrist tried to push his drugs to me. He told me more than 5 times that I should take these drugs (anti-depressants, sleeping pills and mood enhancers). This is after the fact that I told him pointblank that I did not want the drugs as I astutely told him that my problem could not be solved by his drugs. My problem was a ideological one, essentially, why does God allow horrible things happen to good people? I had enough personal evidence to convince me that indeed the probability of there being a God was significantly higher than there not being one. Yet, I was suffering for reasons that I couldn’t help, and people were casting me aside too. I deconstructed my own worldview and then I deconstructed his worldview (after he told me somethings about his belief system) so accurately that he admitted to me that he tends to push drugs because he makes more money. He also subtly implied that the reason why he did so many high profile fund-raisers was not for altruistic reasons, but for career raising. By the way, I rejected 3 of his drugs, but I took the sleeping pill. I soon got addicted and couldn’t sleep without it. In the end, the pill did me more long term harm than good – as expected.
I know God is good, but I had no explanation for my own evil and evil done to me. As an ex-competitive chess and poker player, I could not rest until I could resolve this problem. But the cognitive conflict arises because I saw the problem clearly. I am convinced of the parameters, but the inability to see how they fit perfectly was like a splinter in my mind. Whereas, he was prodding on in the world, unsure of his place in it. For the naturalistic, atheist doctor, was it a good world or bad world? Who would ultimately take care of me? How do we even define good or bad. Or, whatever definition we define good or bad; when probed deeper, gets rooted in something very relative. It’s meaningless. I’m unsure, so I’ll just do what other people are doing, I’ll just make more money.
But there is “More to this Life, than living or dying, or people just trying to make it through the day.” Steven Curtis Chapman.
However, I felt the same way as the above-said medical practitioner before, when I was being persuaded by atheistic thought during my time at a liberal college. That’s why I understand why he could not or wanted not to tackle the root of my issue, but would only push chemicals.
This, of course, astounded me, because it is a very well kept secret in the world of psychology that religion and prayer is not a delusion. (Please note, that I am not saying that all religions are good. Some religious thought are evil, self-serving, logically inconsistent and dishonest to historical reality. The existence of these false religions are to expected if you believe humans are inherently slaves to sin. They can distort anything to their own benefits. However, as a financial analyst, here’s an analogy. Many fake investments tell you that you can make 15-30% a year without any work. However, the reason why there exists counterfeit is because there exists genuine investments. Else, where did the idea come from? The issue is not to avoid all investments all together, but to think deeper and more honestly about how to go about finding and working towards the right one.) The problem not that great investments are bad, but rather the many people who “claim” they are experts and hoodwink the common people into investments that line their own pockets instead of the people they claim to help.
Andrew Sims, the past president of the royal college of psychiatrists in UK. He writes “Is Faith a Delusion?” He comes to conclusions strongly opposite to new atheist Dawkins.
“In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.”
“The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality is one of the best kept secrets in psychiatry medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volumes of research on this topic had gone the opposite direction and if it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front page news in every newspaper in the land.”
Yes. Volumes of studies have shown that religious activity is not a placebo. Statistically, it works to better well-being in ways that other “modern” ways of thoughts are still struggling to do.
Here, I agree with the mathematician and philosopher that is a professor in Oxford, John Lennox when he says that we need to check the best scholarship in the field we are venturing in.
Yet, our conversation was not about trying to have clarity of the splinter, but of repeated suggestions for drugs to numb the existential pain? I can only thank God for saving me from that. With God, his best plans usually can only be understood with hindsight. Let us be patient.
3 thoughts on “Something out of Nothing”
Your blog really encourages pple and Godly timing that I read this blog, else i think my mind will swerved towards negativity, thank God and thank you!
Brother ken. So much has happened since we last communicated! ?
For the last 11 years i have also had a journey of being brought low. But few could or would understand. I wondered if everyone felt this despite looking all “nice and clear. ”
And I’ve come to realise that my need for reliance on Him as i am promoted through life will never cease.
As a specialist doctor, I will always share with patients that we don’t know enough of the body. Its too complex. Autoimmune diseases are also so difficult to understand; but I know it is never God’s plan that our own body hurts us.
I have come to realise the tenderness of Him in the lowest valley moments… and sometimes miss them when things are sailing well. The feeling of emptiness and then His affection for me is brighter than the brightest day in the darkest night. And that contrast affirms not His existence, but His love for me.
Let me join you in prayer bro.
“The feeling of emptiness and then His affection for me is brighter than the brightest day in the darkest night” – I love this Jason.
I’ve always appreciated that your had a sensitivity and depth unlike many others. Thank you for joining me in the journey!