Home   e-Library       中文 
e-Library Home |  Browse By Category |  Study the Bible    
 (Manna 14)
Changing Limits
TOC | Previous | Next

Changing Limits

E. G. Tay

 “What would you do if you were given a year in which all that you do will not be accountable before God?”

Peter barely looked up. He was bored but did not want to show it. When he suddenly realized that the discussion leader was looking at him, his eyes tried vainly to register some flicker of intelligence.

 “Look, say God gave you a year. In this period, he says, you can do anything you like. He will not judge you for it. You sin all you like and it will be wiped clean off your slate. It’s as if that year did not exist at all in God’s reckoning but for you, the experience will still hold. You get my question? Peter?”

He didn’t like to answer this kind of question. In fact, he didn’t like to answer any question in a Bible discussion. He wasn’t always like this but Bible studies were becoming more and more of a burden to attend. The principles which used to be enlightening him now weighed heavily, as they seemed more like demands that were unreasonable and restrictive on one trying to enjoy the prime of his life. Perhaps principles are like elastic bands fencing a stretch of road. They are nice and protective if one was to walk along the road but they pull backward if one were to stretch them to cross over to another road. And if they break, they leave a stinging whiplash on your body.

Peter readily admitted to himself that Bible studies had begun to sting him since he met Nimrod. It occurred at one of those innocuous birthday parties that students give to signal a certain coming of age. “What?” he had asked when they were first introduced. “Nimrod. Hard to get at first, but sure to be remembered later.” They had easily settled into a conversation on cars as both had just gotten their driving licenses and their fathers were rich enough for such a discussion to take place without it sounding like hopeless window shopping. Nimrod was a reasonably good-looking boy with a penchant for the braided things in life, teeming with a confidence acquired, like all other things he had, by his father’s mammon. They had somehow gone on to discuss religion and Peter, surprised at Nimrod’s interest, started preaching in earnest the little he knew. “Come to my church,” he had said. “Sure, we’ll make an arrangement. I have always wanted to find more meaning in life.” Peter was glad and silently muttered a prayer of thanks. “Anyway,” Nimrod asked, “are there any pretty girls in your church?” Peter gave a hesitant laugh.

Nimrod came to church several times. Peter introduced him to his religious education teacher who explained in detail, over several sessions, the teachings of Jesus Christ. He looked interested, came regularly, then irregularly, and then stopped altogether. Meanwhile, Peter had also been introduced to his circle of friends. It was tit-for-tat, as such friendships demanded; a visit to church had to be balanced by a party at Nimrod’s friend’s place or a drive along the beach. After a midnight show and a long phone conversation not long after the beginning, he said, “Hey, let’s not talk about church, OK?” And Peter said, “Alright,” thinking to himself, “to the weak I become weak” and then plunging on to a good unspiritual discussion.

“I know my limits,” Peter had told himself when he went for the first time to a discotheque. No smoking and no drinking. He would just listen to the music and maybe dance a few numbers. After all, that was good exercise, as said many times before. The next day he found an excuse not to attend a college Bible study. The elastic bands of Bible principles had begun to be stretched.

There are some people who by the vice of their talents stay from the narrow way because of pride and contempt, and those puny bands would control their lives. The medical student has no time for church attendance, the entrepreneur has no qualms about bending some ethical rules for that great opportunity to soar ahead of the competition, and the beauty has no wish to reject the affections and accompanying gifts of admirers. There is however a much larger group of people who slide back morally because they have no obvious talent. Such resort to acts of infamy to gain attention and to shout out to the world that they have a stake in life. To each group, then, their particular illusion of the meaning of life pulls them forward down through the most energetic period of their lives. Peter belonged to the latter group. A tall, gangling teenager with a face one would politely call good-looking, but after a second look, he attracted no attention. One wouldn’t call him boring but he left no impression before, during, or after meeting him. He had realized this and had made an attempt to excel at least in one area. He had chosen tennis and had made favorable progress on a whole course of forty-dollars an hour coaching. But his zeal deflated when he was easily beaten by a church friend who was self-taught in tennis. Church was no better, for again he saw the more talented dominating him in all areas. It never occurred to him to work hard and long under the grace of God in prayer and Bible study for spiritual success. And it never really sank into him, in spite of all the earlier exposure to the Word of God, what spiritual success was. His ideals in life were more shaped by the commercials in the blabbering mass-media than the common sense in the Bible.

Peter had not liked the discipline of the short-term youth theology course conducted during the year-end school holidays. Again, seemingly a lot of effort reaped little reward. He was sufficiently convinced of the need to escape the punishments of hell, but heaven, as he imagined it, reproduced in the seminar, held scant attraction for him. Vaguely, he formed a notion of doing just enough to escape hell, roughly set up a scheme of mortal sins to avoid, number of services to attend to ensure contact with God and a set of limits he must not cross. He did not like to talk about these limits in the presence of those whom he feared had higher standards. Troubled by the possible need to redefine guidelines he had become comfortable with, Peter started excusing himself from Bible studies. “I will surely come,” meant that he may appear. “I am sorry but,” became a constant rejoinder to concerned enquiries about his absence.

But then this question was different. What shall he do if God wouldn’t count it? Ah, but then again wouldn’t this reveal the depths of his thoughts? But who cares, he had not done anything really wrong. It was, on the other hand, good for him, therapeutic in fact, to release the pent-up need in him to let the others know that he had so far successfully prevented the evil in him from surfacing. He still walked the line though he could so easily have crossed over. The bravado he felt called to mind a cornered boxer’s final gesticulations of defiance before submission into defeat.

 “I’d probably kill someone.” He appreciated the gasps and the uneasy laughs he had generated. He imagined that this would be what some anti-hero in a film-noir would say. He had been inducted into this genre of film, fashion and mood by Nimrod and he found its suggestion of rebellion and grayness of morality compelling. They had taken to wearing French-style clothes which were not loud but understated. They enjoyed the camaraderie in late night jaunts and even later discussions on secluded beaches, watching the lights afar. These discussions were presumably on the meaning of life and covered depression, meaninglessness, and their most recent romantic interests.

Peter had always wanted to marry someone of the same religious persuasion. His parents, being respectable members of the church, were also very supportive in this aspect, on the small condition that the girl was compatible socially. That was how he lost his first sister in church. Nimrod was very supportive during this difficult period, always keeping Peter company and supplying him with company to keep his mind off difficult thoughts. That was how he had met Nicole. And Ah Ling. And Akira, and June and the most recent romantic interest. He always believed that he could ultimately make these believe in Jesus. They had to anyway, or he wouldn’t be able to marry in the church.

The Bible study leader had quietly taken Peter aside after the discussion.

 “I’m worried for you, Peter.” He was an experienced Christian and he did not want to say he was shocked by Peter’s confession.

That would only spur him on. He suspected that Peter had begun smoking, drinking and dancing. He was not wrong. The first disco trip had been followed by others and Peter had had not enough time to build up a spiritual fortitude to withstand resonating to the rhythm of the world. His limits were broken. He felt the sting of breaking God’s law, grew numb, and then contented himself with the new limit of not committing mortal sins. He will still go to church on Sabbaths to keep in touch with salvation and definitely--no mortal sins.

It wasn’t that no one in church cared for him. His obvious slide pained many of his contemporaries from religious education class and older brethren who had taught him. But he had found their company boring, their words grating, their concern unempathetic, and he avoided them. It will not be wrong to observe that all who leave the True Jesus Church never really do so on doctrinal grounds. Grudges, worldly attractions, laziness, persecution and even if some quote doctrinal grounds, further investigation often reveals the real root to be either grudges, worldly attractions, laziness, persecution and etcetera.

 “I’ll be all right. Don’t worry, Brother John. I know my limits.”

Peter later married Nicole, a French-Chinese. He did not know that she carried a fatal incurable disease. He still comes to church on and off and enjoys only “practical” sermons which touched on handling stress and day-to-day living.

Some Bible passages to consider after reading the short story.

1.      l Cor 15:33                                         

2.      Mat 10:16                                           

3.      Mat 26:41                                           

4.      Neh 13:23-27                         

5.      Prov 22:6

6.      1 Tim 6:6-10

7.      Phil 4:4-9

8.      1 Cor 15:19

9.      Eph l:17-19

10.  Mat 25:14-30

11.  2 Tim 2:20-22

12.  Prov 13:16

13.  Mt 13:18-23                                                                

PDF Download

Author: E. G. Tay