I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
I know that what goes up comes down.
I know that if I don’t eat, I lose weight.
I also know that I was born as a man.
But when I talk about God and the life after death, I use the word, believe, — instead of know – because I don’t know whether God really exists or not. I don’t know whether there is life after death or not.
Then why do we believe when we really don’t know what believing does for us?
My answer is that when we believe in our abilities, we can become the best that we can be. When we believe in God, we find strength to go through life’s trials and tribulations, and also it gives us hope for life after death.
Jackie Robinson, a black baseball player, believed in his God-given talent as an athlete. He believed that he could be as good as or better than White baseball players. He was alone. When playing in the south, he could not go to a restaurant with white teammates. He had to use colored only restrooms. His team-mates did not invite him to social gatherings. He was threatened by the white players and spectators. But he never lost his focus on the baseball and became the rookie of the year in 1947. He became the MVP in the National league in 1949, and won the world series in 1955. Through believing in his ability and willing to risk his life, he broke the racial barrier in sports in America.
Dianah Nyad believed. Four times she tried to swim 100 miles of shark infested sea from Cuba to Florida and failed. But she believed that she could do it. Thirty five years later, at age 64, she tried again, her fifth try. And she made it. It took 53 hours. Her motto: Never give up. Never too old to chase your dream.
Now let me turn to the question on God. Why do we believe in God whom no one has ever seen? We don’t know whether God exists or not. Why do we believe Jesus as the Christ, the son of God. Why do we believe that he was crucified on the cross for our sins, that he rose from the dead for our salvation, and that he ascended into heaven for our eternal life?
We believe because our faith in God through Jesus Christ gives us the meaning for our existence and strength to march on through our life’s pathways – especially when we are faced with difficult times – the loss of loved ones, becoming unemployed, sickness in the family and many other happenings in life.
My father believed.
During WWII in 1940’s the Japanese forbade Korean Christians to worship in their churches by closing all the church doors. Instead, they ordered all Koreans to walk up to the Shinto temple and bow down to the picture of their emperor. They expected my father, a Christian minister, to do the same.
“Are they out of their minds, expecting me to go up to the Shinto Temple, and bow down to the picture of their emperor? No way,” was my father’s response. “My God is the God of Jesus Christ.”
“Do you want to end up in prison?”
“Yes, I am willing to die for my God.”
“OK, then you get what you deserve.”
The Japanese police took my father to prison.
Father had a stroke in prison and was brought home under house arrest. The police came to see whether Father was at home, any time of the day and night – without notice. It was really scary when the police banged at the door in the dark of the night when everyone was asleep. Shaking, Mother went to open the door; the police marched into Father’s office – the sound of his footsteps reverberating through the house. For three years we lived under the watchful eyes of the Japanese police.
WWII came to an end in 1945. The Japanese left Korea and the church doors were open again. Father started to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life,” Father recited the Bible.
“Come, my people. Let us give thanks to our God, who sent his son to die on the cross for our sins and who raised him from the dead for our salvation.”
Unfortunately, the peace lasted for only 5 years. June 24, 1950, the North Korean army with the support of Russian arms broke through the 38th parallel line, that divided the North from the South. Within days, the Northern army entered Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. For ninety days, we lived under North Korean control. All the church doors were closed again. North Korean officers started to arrest Christian leaders in Seoul.
Relatives and friends urged Father to go into hiding, but Father refused, saying,
“I have served my God of Jesus Christ all my life. I will not run away. My life is in God’s hands.”
He recited the Scripture:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,…? ….For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35 …)
I still remember Father singing his favorite hymn,
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New Heights I’m gaining everyday,
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
Lord, lift me up and let me stand.
By faith on Heaven’s tableland
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
One morning Father and I went out to the community garden near our house to pull weeds and water the lettuce and radishes. As we walked back to the house, we saw two young men talking to Mother at the gate. When they saw us coming, they approached Father, bowed respectfully, and asked Father to attend a Christian minister’s meeting to discuss church-related matters.
Then Father looked at Mother and me, and walked away between the two men. He never came back home since that day. He was probably shot somewhere along a dirt road and was left there to bleed to death.
Whatever might have happened to Father, I am sure that he was at peace in his heart, picturing God planting his feet on Higher Ground.
My mother believed:
Mother married a Christian minister in the land of Buddhists and Confucianists in the early 1900s. She bore ten children. Three of her ten children died before they could walk and talk.
During WWII, Mother was tormented by the Japanese police because her husband was a Christian minister and an educator. After the end of WWII, she was tormented by the South Korean police because her oldest son was a communist in the democratic South. She was tormented by the North Korean communists because her husband was a Christian minister. There were tension, frustration, fear, and sorrow in our family during those periods. Under such conditions, a mere mortal would have been crushed, ending up in a mental hospital or turning into a bitter person, angry at God, angry at the world, and angry at people. But Mother did not buckle. She marched on and led us onward with love and grace.
Mother gave thanks to God when everything around us was darkness and gloom. She gave thanks to God for His love for us while I saw no love — instead, only hatred and killing. She prayed for the well-being of others, even when our own well-being was at stake. She shared with our neighbor when we did not have enough food left even for us. During the refugee period, she fed me while she went hungry.
The life of my mother was suffering upon suffering. Yet her faith in God gave her the strength to lead her children with love and wisdom through her trials and tribulations. She prayed in the morning. She prayed in the evening. I found her praying in the dark of the night while everyone was fast asleep. She prayed, sometimes with her eyes drenched in tears.
Throughout my growing years, I marveled at the strength of her character, which came from her absolute faith in God. But often, I wondered, how she could praise Him when suffering was all around her. I wondered, how she could thank Him when there seemed nothing to be thankful for. I wondered, how she could sing about God’s wondrous creation when all I saw around me was destruction: scorched hills by the bombs from the sky, corpses on the roadways piled up like trash, and children roaming the streets without their parents.
Maybe, that is what Christ’s message is all about. To give thanks. To give praise. In spite of sickness and death of our loved ones. In spite of the darkness and gloom all around us. Believing that God is with us in our journey, not only through verdant meadows, but also through the dark tunnels of despair where the only things that we can feel are pain and anguish.
The Bible says,
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went….For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker was God
Many of the faithful died, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They desired a better country, that was, a heavenly country.
So my message today is
Believe and we shall live. Faith is like a light in the darkness. It helps us to see where we are going.
I believe that God’s love for us is total and unconditional. God’s love is like the warm sunshine that shines upon the all creatures on the earth. But to experience the warmth of the sun, we must get out of our cocoons, and let the warmth of the sun engulf us.
To experience God’s love, we must surrender ourselves to Him.
When we believe that God will take care of us, we can join King David and express our faith by reciting,
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow and death, I fear no evil.
For He is with me; His rod and His staff they comfort me.
He anoints my head with oil; my cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.