In the animated Stone Age, whenever Pebbles was curious, she would crawl and babble to Wilma or Fred Flinstone. She would point to the stars, the moon, that giant toothpick from a bone of a dinosaur’s hind leg. She would ask about anything that sparked that firefly in her head.
When dictionaries and encyclopedias were in circulation, learning somehow became self-aided. There were already references that we ourselves could wash our ignorance away with – the evolution of man, the food-producing process for plants called photosynthesis, and the synonym for gobbledygook (which actually means “nonsense”). So when potentially hemorrhagic, “nosebleed” questions were dropped on us, the bookshelves in the library suddenly became our best friend.
But further into the consciousness of man, into the digital age, the internet was born. And along with it were Yahoo, Google, Mozilla and Safari. From huge super computers that looked like refrigerators when strapped to the back, the process of question-and-answer was reduced to gadgets we can put in the pocket, wear around our wrist, and bring with us anytime, anywhere. The answers to our questions are now a click of a finger away. It seems like there is nothing search engines like Google cannot answer. They can crack open a Pandora’s Box for even the craziest and most absurd question, such as: “Do ants fart? Are they a threat to the ozone layer?” No wonder Adele was a hit; her “Hello” could be a riveting reaction to today’s technological advancements.
In 2015, the most asked question on Google was: “What is zero divided by zero?” A mathematical equation that could easily be solved by a first grader. But it was made complicated by the response of Siri to her bored iPhone bosses: “Imagine if you have zero cookies and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See, it doesn’t make sense.”
The answer sure doesn’t make sense. And even if it came across senseless and ridiculous to something that was forced to breed some genetic composition, I asked: “Siri, do you believe in God?”
Like a philosophy major throwing a cerebral tantrum, she detested: “I eschew theological disquisition.”
Hoping to uncover Steve Job’s spiritual ideology, I implored further: “But, Siri, who do you think is God?”
Siri played safe. Like what Google does on your desktop screen, she pulled up a Wikipedia article which describes God as the “Supreme Being” and “the principal object of faith.”
(Forgive me if there is anyone here who is a namesake of Siri.)
Let me ask all of you. “Who is God?” “Do you believe in God?”
The theme for this semester’s University Christian Life Emphasis Month is “Journeying with Christ, the Way”. This theme offers an opportunity for us to reflect on who we really are and why we are here on earth. This is most fitting as it comes at a time when many of the young have grown too independent and convinced of their potential that all their achievements today and their successes in the future seem to stack up pogi and gwapa points for them and them alone. It is all about them. That explains why today’s youth are described as the “me” and “selfie” generation.
As Siri puts it: “I eschew theological disquisition.” Siri seems to avoid discussions on matters related to faith. Why so? First, she is a robot. Pretty much all of what she is and what she can do are configured in a way that she really has no choice. Second, faith is more of a belief, a commitment to what you don’t necessarily see. What Siri (or her programmers) does not see holds no purpose for her robotic composition to expound on.
But you and I are not Siri. We can do anything we want, anytime we want it, and wherever we want to do it. While God has laid down His plans for us, we are on earth freely able to maneuver around what He blesses us with. We have the wisdom to breathe life to a conviction, to a feeling, to a devotion, to a Christian faith. We all stand at the same starting point and are born with the same blessing to break the finish line and transport ourselves to the same destination. The problem is, not all of us know the way. Some of us are lost at pit stops; they are whisked to the wrong path and continue treading downward spiral. Others have given up on their faith journey.
Google Map is not the way. Your GPS is a waste. Siri is as much useless. I asked her if she knows the way, she turned sarcastic: “This is about you, not me.”
Indeed, the way to a good life, to our redemption and salvation, is all about us. It is not about Siri. It is not solely about the person we are seated beside, or the people that we are with. It is about us. But much of it being about us, the way is also about others. How we are able to find the way by finding God in and through them, by building our faith around our ability to be a blessing to others, by becoming a source of love, care and inspiration for others.
Proverbs 3: 5-6 reminds us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your way, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
The biblical text highlights the importance of “way”. That actually is an acronym that stands for your appreciation of yourself in this world. WAY – W stands for who, A for are, and Y for you. Look in the mirror and ask your reflection: “Who are you?”
God knows us as His children, created in His own image and likeness. Despite our sinfulness, He continues to embrace us. In our pains and fears, in our happiness and celebrations, even in our failures to acknowledge Him and our abject neglect of His will for us, He is with us looking over us.
But the world today is filled of temptations, of distractions, of materialism that push God back even with His arms tightly clamped around us. We have invested more of ourselves in tangibles – those that symbolize success, accomplishment and self-gratification for us. We dream of a nice car, a big house, a huge bank account – all these we see as symbols of what can make us truly happy in life. But they blind us from the real joys derived from knowing Christ more, from seeing Christ in others, and making others see Christ in us. We have become too fixed on symbols that meet the eye that we misinterpret unmet expectations as a form of God’s abandonment.
This is the reason why when roadblocks pop up despite our careful planning and hard work, we question: “Lord, why me?”
We hardly take the punch and reassess our actions. We become emotional and grow bitterness as we justify why we do not deserve such trials. We become self-righteous, comparing ourselves with others: “But how come you did not punish him when he is more sinful that I am?” We take the easiest route of blame to preserve our pride than go through to self-introspection. Like a mother or father longing for that embrace, God also calls us back to the right path: “My child: Where are you? Why have you left me? Come back to me, please.”
The sheer desire to be the best and brightest, the competition to always be ahead and the first, the addiction to generate the most number of likes, comments and shares to feel good about our posts on Instagram and Facebook – these are human tendencies that we fall into. They cause our faith to falter and put on the line our relationship with God. They blur the value of family, of friendships, of being that person that others can rely on.
To some of us, the adrenaline rush to be Number 1, the praises, wealth and power that we accumulate put us on a certain kind of high; but certainly not high enough to get us closer to the Kingdom of God. The thrill, excitement and bliss are all momentary and superficial when they do not overflow from a grateful heart for the Giver of Life. Yes, all the bling and shimmer might render us floating in Cloud 9, but they leave us contending against the pull of gravity made stronger by our inability to answer wholeheartedly the question asked of us come judgment day: “Who are you?”
In your lifetime, the way is Christ. And the way to Christ is through your faith made flesh in your ability to allow for others to see the way to Christ through you.
Worried that I might not get past the checkpoint mid-way to heaven, especially after witnessing an accident on the road, I asked Siri: “Sir, when I die will I go to heaven?”
Perhaps fed up with me, Siri makes a final pitch: “I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that question.”
If only Siri can be of more help. If only the answer is just a Google away. If only as early at this stage in life we have an idea already of where we are going – “up” or “down”, so we can double up on our good deeds.
If only we learn to trust Him and surrender ourselves to God, we don’t have to ask. We just know The Way. We know Jesus Christ.
(Sermon delivered during the All-College Convocation held 13 January 2016 at the Silliman University Church in celebration of the University Christian Life Emphasis Month.)