Winning battles, His way
I remember hearing the air-raid sirens for the first time when I was around four or five. I was playing with some toys in my room in our home in Taipei. An ominous, piercing sound cut through the air, and before I knew it, I was brought under the dining table in our living room.
“This is what you’ll do when you hear this. It means a war is coming.” My mom said.
I must have learned what wars meant by then because I remember being absolutely terrified. I imagined a military aircraft hovering above us, with a big loudspeaker attached to its tail blasting this unbearably scary sound. I imagined people on the street running around to seek safety. I imagined bombs falling from the sky. I remember feeling helpless, exposed, vulnerable, and scared.
Like every other kid growing up in Taiwan, that overwhelming fear soon faded away. We did what we were told to do during those drills, treating them as mere formalities. But in the last two weeks, the same feeling of panic came back. Now in my early thirties, watching the rapid escalation of conflict between China and the island on the news, I realised that these emotions were complicated by other fears and a hint of cynicism, perhaps symptoms of my already strained relationship with God.
It was probably inevitable to feel disillusioned with government leaders and foreign powers when all they seemed to offer were empty promises. It reminded me that puritans went through much worse during the English Civil Wars in the 1640s and the subsequent political turmoil. After living through the wars, the coup d’état of 1649 that led to the beheading of King Charles I, and in 1659, the sudden collapse of the Cromwellian regime, puritan preacher Edward Reynolds lamented: “We live in failing times, we have found men of low degree Vanity, and men of high degree a lie…. We trusted too much in Parliaments and they have been broken; in Princes and they have given up the ghost…we have been afflicted both with our diseases and with our remedies.”
Unreliable governments were frustrating enough, but what hurt more was friends’ seeming lack of concern. During those days when the military crisis in Taiwan dominated the headlines, my church friends in the UK seemed to have forgotten that I was Taiwanese and were completely oblivious of my anxieties. For a day, I checked my WhatsApp messages with resentment because none of them showed the slightest interest in what was going on in Taiwan. Coupled with these feelings of hurt was my painful questioning of God’s love. My friends’ silence seemed to mirror God’s indifference and passiveness. His sovereignty seemed cruel, His inscrutable wisdom arbitrary.
Turning my resentment towards God, ridiculous and unjustified as it might sound, somehow helpfully exposed my anger and sense of isolation that ran deeper. For some time, God seemed to be a cold, irresponsive sovereign who threw me a random set of problems without a real intention to solve any of it: broken relationships in the past; my singleness—or more accurately, my reluctant commitment to a counter-cultural, “chaste singleness”; and my imminent departure from Oxford and yet another round of settling in an unknown city, this time Singapore.
I knew that such self-assessment was uniquely my own. Financial security, a doctoral degree, and a stable job right after graduation. Those are blessings, too, my friends have said. Can’t you see that God is good to you, not just in the grand scheme of things, but in countless mundane, earthly ways? My friends were right, but I longed for a drastic, once-and-for-all, change—not only for the China-Taiwan crisis, but for a million other things for myself. I also remembered how my friends had relentlessly cheered me on and shown me Christ, even when I felt lonely and unloved and simply refused to be comforted. Instead of feeling abandoned by God and friends, either in my singleness, in the endless sojourning, or in the unusual predicament of not feeling able to plan a future back home, I was encouraged to remember that God has been intimately involved in everything that has happened. Christ is still my pillar of fire and, although it is hard to see what the future holds, He will certainly go before me. I am not roaming aimlessly in a cold, mechanic universe; I am heading towards a destination, or rather, being led to a place where I truly belong, not alone, but with Him.
What is often encouraging when reading puritans is that they were a hopeful people. No matter how intensely they suffered, they kept hoping without questioning God’s faithfulness. Puritans were also a fighting people. While frequently tempted by political gains and caught up in partisan conflicts, most of them never lost sight of a greater, invisible battle in which the visible ones situated and found their meaning. “True gain,” Reynolds so warned the wealthy Londoners in 1656, was Christ and the preservation of one’s souls rather than personal gains. Similarly, I am not to lose sight of the greater, spiritual crisis that plagues the world and the ongoing struggle between God and the devil. I can’t get too busy asking God to fight my battles that I forget the ransom He has paid to win over my life and my heart as well as my responsibility to join His spiritual warfare to win more souls.
So I fight as well, in my weak, deeply flawed way, often with tears but also with a lot of joy. It hasn’t been and will never be distraction-free, nor can I promise myself never to despair again, but I keep fighting His battle nonetheless, together with friends who drag me along with them at times, and I stay hopeful, with the ineradicable assurance that victory has been won.