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
“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
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
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.
l Cor 15:33
1 Tim 6:6-10
1 Cor 15:19
2 Tim 2:20-22