Category Archives: Personal & Longform

Stepping Into the Bigger Story

By Serena Puang, DC ’22. Serena is majoring in Linguistics.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the goodness of God and faith. I think growing up in church, it was always assumed that we knew and believed in the fundamental goodness of God. We sang hymns about it and repeated it to each other so often that sometimes, I’ll admit, it became kind of like a joke: someone would share an annoyance from their week and punctuate it with “but God is good…all the time”. 

But what does it mean to really believe that God is good especially when your circumstances aren’t? I’ve struggled a lot in previous years with mental health problems, and as a youth counselor and even as a friend, I’ve encountered so many people who have asked me or even begged me to help them understand why a loving God would let them go through this

I don’t have all the answers. While I’ve experienced radical healing by the grace of God, I don’t know why other people don’t always experience the same healing when they come to Him. I don’t know why God blesses some people more than others. I have no idea why some people are born into loving and supportive families while others aren’t. These are questions I wrestle with often, but maybe they aren’t the most pressing ones. At the end of the day, I have no control over these things, and based on my limited life experience, that’s probably a good thing. So the real question is how we should move forward. 

According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is “the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It might seem childlike and anti-intellectual to believe in this way.  As someone who likes approximately zero uncertainty in her life, I can attest that this is very difficult, but God doesn’t call us to blindly follow him with no evidence of his provision/goodness. He’s given us his word which not only points us to the ultimate assurance of his love for us, Jesus’ death on the cross, but also gives us story after story of regular people who had to step out in faith even when it didn’t make sense. He called Abraham to move away from everything and everyone he knew at the ripe old age of 75 (Genesis 12); he brought David into the wilderness when he was one step away from the throne (1 Samuel 19), and he brought Philip away from his ministry in Samaria to speak to the Ethiopian (Acts 8).

In their lives, and in many more, God calls people to walk with him and join into the bigger story he’s telling with humanity, and each time they step out in faith, God provides and shows them that he is worthy of that trust which in turns strengthens their faith. On that foundation, I’ve found myself stepping out in faith in little ways and then bigger ways because each time I do, I become more and more convinced of the fundamental goodness of God.

In the last 20 years, God has never let me down. That’s not to say that everything has been smooth, but I’ve watched as God has thwarted my little plans and invited me to a bigger one, and I can say with confidence that his way was better than I could have imagined. I need constant reminders of that truth. I think faith is daring to hope expectantly that God is good in this instance too, even when you can’t see it and then acting accordingly, and since God is good, he’s faithful to meet us there. 

 

Regarding Answers

By Sharla Moody, BK ’22. Sharla is currently undeclared.

A cup with a hole in the bottom

is held underneath a spigot

by a thirsty beggar who,

blind and weary, cannot drink,

for his cup is empty.

 

And the answers rush past him

too quickly to be caught,

or he chooses not to seize them.

 

How dare we come before You

with anything but our

humble wonder, how dare we

fester in our arrogance and

seek to unwind You.

 

And the frayed strings knit around us

a blanket of grace which

we could never pluck apart.

 

And you, Abba, tuck us into Your

pocket to rest. O Father, forgive us.

A Little More Than Lukewarm

By Jadan Anderson, Morse ’22. Jadan is currently undeclared.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’” – Psalm 118:1-3


There are two women at Yale I very much admire. The first one, whom I’ll refer to as Lucy, arrived on campus just a few months ago. She’s a refreshing presence, one that epitomizes patience, gentleness, and peace that surpasses even the worst of midterm seasons. The second one I’ll refer to as Eileen. She is not the opposite of Lucy, but an alternative. In what I admit is a highly romanticized view, Eileen embodies a tortured, ambiguously Christian scholar. She is weathered by the tensions that arise from the ever-hopeful, God-is-good-all-the-time-and-all-the-time-God-is-good tenets of her lifelong Christian faith and the evil that exists and operates in the world, in her personal life and even, as she has been told since Sunday school, in herself.

What I admire most about Lucy is the way she unabashedly worships the Lord in song. Her hands are up high in the air. She sways and jumps and spins. Her eyes are tightly shut, and for a moment I am convinced that we are no longer listening to the same song. It’s like she’s seeing something I’m not seeing, hearing something I’m not hearing. For her, the universe is blocked out. Nothing in the world, and she knows a lot about the good and bad in it, matters. In this moment, she doesn’t care about a thing, not what is going on outside of the church walls or what she looks like or what she sounds like. She is wholly unbothered because she knows that God has met her in this chorus and will meet her again in the next one. Without a doubt she prays, in between the song transitions, that others, too, could experience the Father like she does.

The honesty Lucy exemplifies in her worship is the same for which I admire Eileen in her wrestling. Eileen sees and articulates injustice and corruption, with a keen ability to suss them out of the spaces that claim to actively fight against them. She has no interest in preserving her present way of thinking: what she is seeing, what she is hearing, should inform her thoughts, not the other way around. She runs about campus and the city doing her best to put light into dark places. Her heart loves the world and yearns with a holy desire to see it bettered. She has no time, energy, or want to put on airs of deep inner peace and contentment. And while she has known the Lord for most of her life—and, I am convinced, still loves Him—she angrily shakes her fist. Right now, she is frantically flitting back and forth between what she understands of the world and the promises she has understood God to have made. They seem incompatible. He seems unbelievable. And with many doubts she cries and wonders why God hasn’t made His presence known in all the places, public and personal, that most need Him.

These women represent two states in which I’ve lived through my walk thus far. Watching Lucy is almost like looking at a reflection of myself when I first fell for Christ, back when I woke up each day hell-bent on bringing Heaven down to Earth, when I actively sought ways to sneak Jesus’s name into casual conversation, when I jumped in the air and thanked God that a friend agreed to go to church with me. Eileen is at once a reminder of myself before Christ–a bit beaten down by circumstances in which she was raised that seemed at odds with the supposed goodwill of God for her life–and of myself whenever I learn about circumstances that are far worse than those of my childhood–an all-too-common occurrence. I was, and sometimes still am, dizzied by theological explanations for why my loving God must or chooses to allow evil’s presence. And at times, I fancied disbelief a far easier conviction to hold than belief in a good, or at least all-powerful, God.

I know that for a while I’ve been floating in between these two states. The things I am learning about the world are often disheartening, but disbelief is not an option in my reach. Christ has captured me, and I still love Him. I can see where Heaven touches Earth. I perceive small, quick moments of His presence and catch glimpses of His workings. But the novelty–what I can only irreverently describe as a sweet honeymoon phase–seems to have passed, and in place of what was once a roaring fire for God is a small but ever-burning flame. I usually go through the day content. I am easily grateful for the smallest things. But I don’t exactly jump for joy like I did before. And the dull ache accompanying that fact intensifies when I speak with Lucy who, though her walk has been life long, shares her experiences as if they were all brand new. When that happens, I want to shut my eyes to everything and get back to the days when I worshiped like Lucy does. But then I don’t, because that self (though I’m sure Lucy does) never addressed the important questions that Eileen and I do now. And I am once again stuck in between wanting a blind faith and wanting to be released to skepticism.

God, through a few conversations about quiet and charismatic worship, about seeing and believing, about settled faith and disenchantment, met me again. I will spare the details–though if you ask me about them, I’ll tell you–but the bottom line is that this Thanksgiving I have been moved to be thankful for my faith, which on any normal day feels just a little bit above lukewarm. I could and should pray for more, sure. I think we all should continue to pray for visceral joy of our salvation, pray to properly feel the gravity of the great love let on by the death of Jesus Christ, pray for patience as we await the full merge of Heaven and Earth. But, though I am not jumping out of the joy of my salvation, I can still see its beauty. I can still remember it. I hold fast to it, and I know He holds fast to me. He has blessed me with a small, weary yet persistent hope, one that anticipates leaving this gray, slightly-above-lukewarm state of faith for a blinded faith unblinded, a questioning faith satisfied, a state I haven’t known but in which I’m sure Lucy and others like her live. And until then, that hope, however small, is something to be thankful for.


“Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.” – Psalm 118:4-5

Be Thou My Vision: A Reflection

By Bella Gamboa, Jonathan Edwards ’22. Bella in majoring in Humanities.

Even in times when I feel farthest from God, hymns have had a singular ability to remind me of who He is and of his presence. The value of song has clear Biblical precedent, particularly in the Psalms (which themselves were designed to be sung!). The psalmist frequently presents song as an imperative part of a relationship with God, such as in Psalm 98:4-5: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!” Praise to God overflows in song, and so singing also reminds us of who we are in Him and how we ought to relate to Him. With all that in mind, what follows is a brief meditation on several verses from one of my favorite hymns, “Be Thou My Vision.”

 

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart 

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art 

Thou my best Thought, by day or by night 

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light 

 

God’s presence at the center of one’s life is essential to the Christian life; He is not to be kept on the periphery, relevant only at certain times or in certain spheres, but He is intended to always be central. He ought to be primary in our sight, what we see and look to above all. And when God occupies His appropriate place in our lives, He, in His overwhelming greatness and perfection, is sufficient for us and our needs. This verse recalls Paul, who said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). God is incomprehensibly, indescribably superior to anything else.

 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word 

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord 

Thou my great Father, I Thy true son 

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one 

 

As undergraduates, we seem to endlessly pursue knowledge; whether compelled or enthused, we accrue information and skills in various classes, extracurriculars, and conversations with our peers. And knowledge is certainly valuable, but we must be careful to put the quest for it in context — the Bible makes a distinction between different sorts of wisdom or knowledge. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus thanks God that “‘[He has] hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’” Here, Jesus refers to the inability of his learned, worldly wise contemporaries, like the Pharisees, to appreciate who He is, while children can grasp it. Yalies certainly occupy a position similar to that of “‘the wise and understanding’” — we know a great deal about coding, or carbon compounds, or Caravaggio. But true, Godly wisdom does not lie in these things, as “Be Thou My Vision” reminds us; indeed, David might call the wise of Matthew fools, for the “fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). God himself is our wisdom. Knowing him provides deeper, truer fulfillment and wisdom than knowing all the material for any course. Furthermore, we have the opportunity for continual companionship with God, as he is our Father, and, through the Holy Spirit, he dwells within us. This continual presence enables God to be our vision and our wisdom, for he is unwaveringly present.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise 

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always 

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart 

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

 

This verse is somewhat intimidating to me — I certainly value and hang onto the praise of my professors and peers, and could hardly say that I treat it as if it is “empty.” But, as with Paul in Philippians, the hymn’s dismissal of earthly standards, of wealth and repute, are not arbitrary or melancholy. These are not inherently bad things, but they are so insignificant because God is so much greater. When He is first in our hearts and central in our sight, we have no need for worldly, and almost inevitably disappointing, means of raising ourselves up. 

He alone is our Father, our Treasure, and our King, and He is eternally deserving of our song — let us join as the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

Shape and be Shaped, Love and be Loved

By Raquel Sequeira, Yale Timothy Dwight ’21

At the start of each new school year, I find myself auditing my relationships: Who are my true friends that I will make the time to invest in this semester? Who are my fake friends—or friends I’ve been fake to? Who are the people that I wave to but don’t remember their names or where I know them from? (Thank God for the Yale Facebook, am I right?) I tally up the relationships I can’t wait to deepen this year, and those that I feel guilty about for my negligence.

Then I ask myself the more uncomfortable question: Who am I when I am with each of these people? Sometimes I feel like a many-sided shape:a prism with plenteous faces, rotating like a magnet into the orientation that seems to attract those around me. It’s not that I’m a totally different person with different people,but it’s clear that my society shapes my personality.

It’s easy to fret overour social life, but we often fail tothink about our relationships enough—or at least, not with enough intentionality. There are only three meals a day (two on weekends!) and so many people to get a meal with. Relationships are an investment, and not a cheap one in a time and season of life when time feels like our most valuable resource.

But these are investments worth making. Because I believe in a relational Creator, I believe we are designed for relationship. My identity isnot only about my individuality, but about my relationshipswith the Creator and with fellow-creatures. This attitude sets Christians apart. Relationships are central to who we are: as individuals and as children of the Kingdom.

The Psalms and Proverbs are clear on this point: your character is shaped and judged by the people you hang out with. We are told not even to be in the vicinity of “scoffers”, “fools”, or people contemplating evil (Psalm 1, Prov. 4). We are also instructed that “as iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another” and “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”(Prov. 27:17, 18:24). We are vulnerable to the influence of others, for ill and for good.

Even beyond our individual worlds that often seem so small, scripture gives us a glimpse into the role of our relationships at the scale of the eternal Kingdom. Jesus promises that our Christ-centered relationships will be sanctified into priesthoods. (“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20).)  His disciples and apostles went off in pairs to heal the sick, proclaim good news and freedom, and change the world. God uses our relationships to reveal Himself to us, giving us a taste of Holy love, sacrifice, and unity. Sometimes, God puts people into our lives against our inclination, giving us a chance to mature in humility and generosity, and in doing so—often unbeknownst to us—He makes us instruments of His grace.

If you also feel like a many-faced magnet in your varied field of friends, ask yourself who you’re willing to be vulnerable with. It’s hard, and not every acquaintance can become a deep, life-shaping friendship. Nevertheless, practicing relational vulnerability—the true and terrifying giving of ourselves—is the way we allow Christ to shine through our cracks and build bridges of love where we can’t. And this practice is a positive feedback loop: the more we risk true, vulnerable relationship, the more we channel God’s true love for others, making us less afraid and more genuine as we go on.

“For what do we live,” says Jane Austen’s great social critic, Mr. Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice, “but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” Like most of Austen’s characters, Mr. Bennett’s cynicism veils a nugget of truth. Our lives really are all about relationship: first with our Creator (a stunning, humbling, worship-inducing thought) and also with our fellow-creatures. Let us pray for wisdom and true love in our relationships this year.

Good Things

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Bradley Yam, Saybrook ’21. Bradley is majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics.

Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

            I am more blessed than I dare imagine. I am blessed with a loving family. I am blessed with generous, kind, and understanding friends. I am blessed with a place of privilege at Yale. I am blessed with many good things. It is possible that I am blessed with so many things I could hardly list them here even if I wanted to. And yet, why do I still anxiously scramble from place to place, why do I constantly fret and worry about the future, and why am I often dissatisfied with what I have?

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

            The light shines brighter in the darkness. Water tastes best in the desert. It is easier to choose the better thing amongst bad options, than when surrounded by good but deceptive ones. Christianity is often chalked up to a kind of asceticism; a denial of the self for the sake of heavenly rewards. If this is true, then it is only the most basic of truths, for what becomes of the heavenly rewards when heaven must eventually meet earth? Must they not also incarnate, as our Lord Jesus has?

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

            St Matthew’s formulation seems superficially transactional. If we seek first the Kingdom, the things of God, then we will get everything else we want. Let’s disabuse ourselves of this notion. If we seek the Kingdom for the sake of these other good things, then we are actually seeking these other good things, and instrumentalizing the Kingdom. In this case, we get neither the Kingdom nor the good things. To truly receive good things, we must earnestly seek the Kingdom for its goodness itself.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

            The Kingdom seems abstract enough, but perhaps this is how we tell when we have found it: when our attention on the Kingdom is healthy, then we will suddenly become alive to the true goodness of the good things in our lives. C.S. Lewis, in his essay “First Things”, said: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things.” We seek the Kingdom because its goodness shines forth from all the good things that are already around us, and by seeking it, we receive the ability to enjoy the good things we already possess. These good things shine in their roles as sub-luminaries, declaring and announcing the final, ultimate, singular, perfect Good: The Good King himself, returning to reclaim his Kingdom.

Thanos and Theodicy: Why don’t we just fix the world? (Part 1)

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Imagine that you are given a glove that granted you magical god-like powers over all of human life everywhere. You would only need to snap your fingers, and it would in some way make the world perfect. It would be whatever version of perfect you choose. Minmax human suffering and happiness? Done. Eradicate systemic oppression and inequality? Done. Eliminate scarcity of everything, everywhere? Done!

If this sounds like some purple giant from the latest Marvel’s Avengers movie, and if you knew the plot of the movie, you would be suspicious of this line of questioning. “But we all know that Thanos was crazy, after all, if we had that kind of power, we would surely use it for good. It would be unreasonable, irresponsible not to. After all, isn’t that what being at Yale is all about? Making the world a better place? Fixing the injustices of the world?” In fact, this is also one of our perennial gripes with the idea of an all-powerful, loving God, that he hasn’t already fixed the world. This is theodicy: answering why is the world bad if God is good. I am going to argue that if we take the question of Thanos’ glove seriously, we might not have a solution to theodicy, but we will ask the question of theodicy differently.

For the uninitiated, in the latest Marvel Avengers blockbuster, Thanos gains the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove grainting sovereignty over Soul, Reality, Mind, Space, Time and Power. The wielder of the glove gains god-like dominion over the universe. Our purple giant Thanos uses this unrestrained power to exterminate half of all life in the universe in order to end the suffering caused by overpopulation. You can complain about Thanos’ failure at Economics 101, but Marvel chose to portray him as basically altruistic. Thanos, unlike almost every other character on the good side, sacrifices his emotions in favour of his ideals. He sets aside his own interests, for the sake of what he thinks is the higher good. Regardless of how we feel about those ideals, we are led into admiring his methodical and relentless pursuit of his goals over the last gazillion movies. Now this is the kind of pursuit that Yalies can resonate with.

Thanos’ unyielding and unswerving determination confronts us with the potential problems with our own expectations of the perfect world. We all think we could do better than Thanos, but we seldom stop to consider that in his position, we might do far, far worse. That the world is not yet prefect is clear to everyone. Yet, if we press the the more rigorous flipside of the theodical question, “what is a reasonable version of the best possible world?”, there is unlikely to be any consensus at all! We might all agree that a marginal increase in freedom, a marginal increase in equality, and a marginal decrease in suffering are all good things, but our imagination fails us when we try to take the limit of those ideals. All our utopias turn into dystopias. We trust the old adage that good things can be taken too far. We criticize Thanos, but cannot really offer the perfect alternative.

Since it seems impossible to concur on what to do with Thanos’ glove, we ought to ask the questions related to theodicy with at least a sense of our lack of complete knowledge. The question: “Why does evil exist?” is still valid, because it is apparent that evil does indeed exist! But that hardly puts the nail in the coffin for the an all-powerful, benevolent God – because we ourselves are unable to articulate what exactly we would expect an all-powerful, benevolent God to do! In effect, we are left with a mystery: we don’t want things to stay as they are, but we do not know what we want them to become. If we are seekers of the truth, then we need to confront that mystery, not use it to explain God away.

We will think about what that mystery suggests to us in the second half (yet to be published) part of this article. For now, as privileged and empowered people, we need to be conscious that of our desire “to seek, to strive, and not to yield” after our ideals. We only imagine that we might do good, but we are all always wearing Thanos’ glove- will you snap?