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DISCERNING AND OBEYING GOD’S WILL THESE CRITICAL

TIMES
History is the all encompassing matrix of space and time where
human beings struggle to survive, seek to realize their dreams,
work with one another and against each other to secure their
interest and pursue their visions, create societies that collide, mess
in and dominate with one another and bring forth mind boggling
inventions that extend the powers of human being to almost God-
like proportions. It is therefore a matrix of creativity and conflict, of
angelic and demonic intentions and actions, of plain stupidity and
brilliant genius, of horrendous wars and an enduring search for
peace. In history one finds St. Francis and Machiavelli, Hitler and
Nelson Mandela, Marcos and Ninoy Aquinoand an almost infinite
range of human self realizations that range from the demonic to the
divine. History is a compound of good and evil inasmuch as it
springs forth from the vision and actions of human beings, who, in
the Biblical understanding is a fallen creature made in the image of
God; and so in them reigns a dynamic interaction between good and
evil, the beautiful and the ugly in their search for security and self-
realization, a restless and dynamic process where evil has the upper
hand. All the great and noble achievements of the human spirit get
tainted by pride and ego so much so that even its noblest response
to the divine action in Christ—the church and the mission that it
does—at times, get transmogrified into its very anti-thesis.

Now, great minds tell us that history—given the interminable


conflicts within its bosom—may be leading the whole of humankind
along with creation—is moving in the direction of disaster and
death. Yet the Bible tells us that God works in history! God,
traditionally conceived as omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent
—an absolutely spurbeing plunged the divine self in the cauldron of
history with all of its ugliness, deformations, hate and fury in God’s
sincere and all-out passion to liberate history from the clutches of
the evil one and lead all of God’s creation towards their highest and
fullest consummation.

Such a claim seems to be utterly without bases; for look at the


history of our own people. At the break of dawn of Philippine history
what stands out prominently is foreign invasion, conquest, and later
on domination for nearly four hundred years, and it was carried on
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under the banner of the conqueror’s sword and the gospel.
Succeeding historical periods were equally unkind to the natives of
the islands—the Americans came with guns and cannons employed
with unimaginable brutality, and yet they succeeded in making their
subjects admire, love and adore America! Ours is a history of being
conquered, tamed, oppressed, exploited and dominated. Where is
the God who acts in history? And how is history in our land being
made right now?

There is the seemingly interminable conflict in Mindanao—where


politician and military commanders make their fortunes and earn
their stars, but where poor, simple folk suffer and made victims of
war. There is the reign of greed, hypocrisy, and deceit in national
politics where the high and the mighty hold the levers of wealth and
power and the common people are worked to the bone for a mere
pittance. The harmonies and stabilities of society are no longer
supported by the people’s will but by legal chicanery and force of
arms. What is God doing in Philippine history?

We, as the faithful of the church, do believe that God, in spite of all
the deep moral and deformations of our history, is at work in such a
human, all-too human process with all of its sin and evil. But what
is God doing and where is God at work? The Bible tells us that there
is a divine-human synergy that is at work in history; it is the power
for liberation that we see in all stories of liberation from the Exodus
to Golgotha. This is the theological reality that we have to see,
study and plunge in. We have to be clear about the God we believe
in and know what evil makes our history sick and miserable. God
calls us to join his struggles in history. It is our hope that within the
next quadrennial we will achieve some clarify about where the God
we worship and adore is at work, and render our obedience to him
right there.

THE ACT OF DISCERNMENT


The eyes of faith

How come the prophets and other Biblical writers see God at work
in history and other great and perceptive minds do not? What kind
of eyes to they have? Does theological thought have any special
kind of inquiry in the workings of the divine in history; or is there
something really tangibleconcretely real that truly makes changes

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in history that the eye of faith sees. Moses had his “burning bush’
experience that transformed from a fearful fugitive from the
Pharaoh’s wrathto a courageous leader of his people. Isaiah also
had his experience of the holy in the temple that compelled him to
go through a thorough moral and spiritual cleansing and became a
prophet of profound discernment in the history of God’s people. We
can look at the disciples of Jesus too, who were rather ordinary and
simple folk who became the nucleus of the church’s mission after
the ascension. And there is Paul, the greatest theologian of the
church, who from being an aggressive persecutor of the followers of
the way, became the chief follower himself after his conversion
experience.

What vision was vouchsafed to them? Is this vision a reality and a


force that can be made ingredient in history to prevent it from
plunging resolutely into a cauldron of human misery and death?
What is the historical reality that became the bearer of God’s
liberating activity? What kind of insight do the gospel writers have
that they reported something self-transforming, earth-sharing, and
life renewing and empowering in the ministry, death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ? To see what they saw is to have the
eyes of faith
Jesus Christ

At the center of our faith is an event in history—the ministry, death,


and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to look deep into the
meaning of the coming of the human and the divine in Christ and
see what it means for us as we plunge into our own history to
render obedience to God’s will therein. We have to look into the
kind of ministry that Jesus had and find out what compelling ideas
and actions he practiced in doing his ministry. We have to look at
the crucifixion—why an absolutely evil form of judgment and
execution can become the symbol of the faith of justice, mercy and
love. We have to look at the resurrection and see why this event
that secular eyes cannot perceive as historical imbues believers
with the faith, courage and power to carry on the mission of God in
the world.
Kairos—the fullness of time

The New Testament speaks of “the fullness of time,” which assumes


a certain understanding of a divine ordering of history wherein a
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kind of ripeness appears when something liberatorand revelatory
event happens. It is possible to discern the moving mystery that
makes us human withinthe matrix of history? What does the
fullness of time reveal? That God is at work in history but with
varying intensities—rather smooth and muted at certain times, and
revolutionary and dramatic in others? Do they require different
forms of obedience from us? Of course we are aware that great
theologians in the past and the present speak of history as a linear
progression from a specific beginning that moves to a middle—
which is a prolepsis anticipation of the end—and finally to the end
time that ends history and inaugurates the kingdom of God. How
and where do we locate our space within such a historical line of
God’s redemptive activity? Or shall we go back to a cyclical
understanding of time where all historical points are equidistant to
the center which is the source of their power and meaning? Is it
possible to look for the cerotic moment in Philippine history—are we
right threenow? How do we participate in bringing that
ceroticmoment? Or do we just wait and see?

Tools of socio-political analysis may help us understand what our


critical problems in ourhistory are: how they developed, what
sustains them, where their power lies, and where they are going to
lead us. Marxist analysis of society has been a tremendous force
among the young and the radical intelligentsia now for many years;
some say that the Marxists vision of reality is but a secularized
version of the Gospel perspective---what ideas do they share in
common and where to they diverge? We must remember that
socio-political theories do have their own full understanding of
things and we have to be careful about bringing in the assumptions,
their methodology and vision for the future as well.
The act of obedience

Our theme is not designed to enable us to have an understanding of


how God acts in history. Its primary intent is to lure us into acts of
obedience to the will of God who is at work in history, and be bearer
of the divine grace, liberation, healing and reconciliation. It is in the
act of obedience that we, the disciples of Christ, can have a
personal and real encounter with him—not merely in the world of
prayer and spirit, but in the concrete, harsh, pitiless world of history
where the real wrestling of humans with one another take place and
where grace passes judgment or librates?
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Obedience demands repentance; a radical about face, a turning of
the self inside out; in fact, a sincere denial of the self that the spirit
and power of the Christ may enter in. There is so much that we
should be in deep repentance for. We may have borne the Gospel
for the fame, influence and power it may give to our persons, and
not because of God’s demand to pursue His kingdom and its
righteousness. We may have born the gospel insincerely—to make
us look good and acceptable to the eyes of the world. We may have
accommodated the values and ways of being of the world into the
life of the church and our other institutions, and we are hardly
aware of it. We may be articulating the Gospel to prop up ways of
being that are oppressive and exploitative of people—and think that
we are preaching the good news. We have to go into a deep
exploration of our acts of unfaithfulness, careless theological
musings, and embrace of new and titillating ideas that work against
the spirit of Christ.

We cannot make ourselves morally and spiritually clean; it is the


grace of God in Christ that brings that about in us – God’s action in
Christ to liberate us and transform us. We must totally and
sincerely accept, and surrender ourselves to Christ, for us to
become new beings in Christ. We do not seek perfect moral
rectitude, but simply an honest and sincere acceptance of the
gracious offer of our Lord, and we trust that he would empower and
give us the courage to go out into the world and render our
obedience to him. What God in Christ give us is a ‘new being,”—that
is entirely the work of grace, and it is out of that new being that real
courage to be springs forth that has the power to participate in what
God is doing in history.

The form and dynamics of our obedienceis spelled out by the


apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. The form of Christ is his
abandonment of his divine right and privileges which speaks of his
mercy and his love, and his dynamics is his total identification with
sinful and broken humanity as he took up their cause and fought
against the powers that oppress and exploit them. We should go
deep in study and meditation on this Philippians verse and discover
what forms of obedience we should render to our Lord in these
critical times.

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We should also go into a study of the Gospels—focusing on the
ministry of Christ and discover how he positioned himself with
respect to the political formations of his time that do correspond to
our own: he stood in opposition to the establishment, he was
definitely not with the Scribes and the Pharisees who were his
tormentors, neither was he with the purist Essenes, and he rejected
the way of the Zealots, the armed revolutionaries. So where in the
political stream can we locate the comrades of Christ in the current
struggle for justice and peace in our society? Jesus definitely
moved in the direction of God’s kingdom in his ministry: where in
our contemporary struggle might that be?

Behold I am doing a new thing, can you not see it?


The UCCP has traditional and varied ministries some of which have
become controversial. Perhaps, one of the problems of our church,
and other church groupings as well, is that they are deeply moving
in the same groove in their traditional ministries. We go into
evangelism, engage in various forms of mission, and even plunge
into newer ones, and we do them routinely that by the dint of
constant repetition we may be missing the whole point of mission.
In fact, evangelism was encouraged by the Marcos regime inasmuch
as he believed evangelism, would divert the energies of people to
the building of his new society and away from revolutionary
pursuits! We ought to see what new thing the Lord is doing in our
midst.

The prophet Isaiah speaks for the Lord, and says, “Behold, I am
doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not see it?” (Isa.
43:19) and the old order of things that have decreed the harmonies
an stabilities of life have become not only boring, but oppressive
and exploitative. Market forces which were deemed the great
democratic engine of modern economics now largely serve the
interests of the high and the mighty and are oppressive and
exploitative of the poor and the weak— and God takes the side of
the lowly and the nothing, so something breaks forth right in our
midst.

It used to be that gays and lesbians are the popular whipping boy of
society—they are made objects of ridicule, derision and fun, and
largely marginalized in the ways of being of civilized society; and
society has been quite oblivious of the rare kind of gift and genius
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so many of them harbor in their being. Some of their pairings issue
in novel as well as noble ways of human togetherness that give the
lie to the old and jaded way of looking at them with scorn and
superciliousness.

Women have long beenmarginalized in our society; they are the


invisible ones—they toil for long hours without recompense and yet
are not given their rightful due. Social values and restrictions have
denied them the right to fully explore their potentialities as human
beings and are socially condemned to play what is considered as
distaff roles in society. Something new is springing forth from the
ranks of women; something that exposes the pride and ego of men,
that exposes their weaknesses, but something that releases the
energy, genius and vision of women.

For far too long, Christians have believed and behaved that their
faith is the truth, and is the absolutetruth, and all other religions are
vain human attempts of getting at the truth and that they are a
fertile ground for Christian evangelism. But there have been
authentic human realizations of grace and goodness within non-
Christian communities with such spirits as Gandhi, the Dalai Lama,
the Buddha, Confucious and so many others beside whose personal
lives a lot of Christians are put to shame. It is the height of
hypocrisy and blindness not to recognize sucn authentic human
spirits and to wonder whether the God we worship does not in fact
make the divine self present in other religions. Then there is the
contemporary “clash of civilizations’ underneath which are two
ways of being in society each with a compelling vision for the future,
that instead of exploring ways to peace have devoted their energies
to the ugly task of mutual domination.A triumphant gospel is in
violation of the kenotic passage in the Philippians—and so the
aboriginal form of Christ, breaks out again and comes out as new!
There is a need to engage in an honest dialogue wit other religions
and discover ways by which religious plural communities can rise to
mutual understanding, camaraderie and peace.

There are many more; and we should venture forth into that
exciting territory where the Gospel allows us to perceive the new
things God is doing. What kind of reflections can we see in the
EDSA events—was our God at work there, or was it a purely human

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event without any divine participation? If there is, is this not a new
thing?
Reflection on acts of obedience

We are journeying with God; Christian communities are not static


forms of fulfilled humanity, but are communities of struggle against
sin, evil, and all their forms as they move on towards the coming
kingdom. Our acts of obedience while they are acts that serve
others and fulfill us are also veritable encounters with our Lord
wherein we are given a deeper understanding of ourselves, God’s
mission and our God.

In this final phase of the quadrennial, we will look at our acts of


obedience in the past years—even the years beyond our present
quadrennial well into the years long gone, and see new dimensions
of meaning of self and world as well as new forms of obedience that
may be lurking in them, and if indeed, we experience being
changed into the likeness of Christ from one degree of glory to
another.

In the bible we see a spiral development upward of the theological-


spiritual consciousness of the people of God; from henotheism to
radical ethical theism, from triumphalism to being a light to the
nations through a suffering servant-hood, from an unbridgeable
distance between God and human beings to their oneness in Christ,
from an exclusivity of salvation in Christ, to a loving kindness that
springs from the human soul.

In an age of religious pluralism, how do we do our evangelistic


work? Is syncretism the new thing, or shall we go into a new kind of
religious ecumenism that does not bring together various forms of
belief into one systematic corpus, but allows each faith to stand on
its own uniqueness and essence and engage in a dialogue and
sharing of what each religion has.

What about worship and liturgy? Far too much cloistered liturgical
forms of worship has been done through the years and still is being
done, and perhaps God is calling us to worship and God where
‘cross the crowded ways of life” such as we find in people
demonstrations for justice, freedom and peace which are also ways
of overcoming the denominational barriers of the ecclesia that
separate and alienate us from our brothers and sisters who worship
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the same God. God’s people’s people at worship could also be an
expression of God’s people of a vision of a new socio-political order,
or God’s people struggle against an undemocratic military regime
like what we now have in our land. Then worship will really be alive
and a force in giving obedience to God’s will.

Looming large in our lives now in God’s creation, as Paul says, “the
whole of creation has been groaning in travail,”—the apostle may
have meant something different from what we now experience
wherein the relentless drive of human beings for power and profit
has been inflicting irreparable damage to creation’s life sustaining
powers. God calls the whole humankind together to help restore
creation as the physical basis of God’s covenant wit those who have
surrendered themselves to Christ. There is an imperative need to
devise new life-styles that would take mute and silent creation into
the exciting journey towards the kingdom of God. We have to find
out what these possibilities might be.

As we reflect upon our encounters with God in our acts of


obedience, we have to see what developments take place that
reveal the new thing thatGod is doing. How do we interpret the
EDSA events? We may be on to something quite theological novel
here that could lead to new ways of Christian discipleship. Do we
see a theological development in the Biblical story—or is the
theological self-understanding of the Bible unchanging from Genesis
and Exodus to Revelation?

If there has been a change, what is it? Is it the relation between


God and human beings? Are they so absolutely different essentially
from one another—or is there a basic kinship and affinity between
them such that in the world of history you cannot have one without
the other? This is a critical question in looking upon ourselves with
respect to our obedience to God’s will in history.

Levi V. Oracion
For the Faith and Order Commission
Winterheimer and Rovira
Dumaguete City
September 8-9, 2009