It was a hot day, and the last thing I wanted was a job that involved the outdoors. But I was put in charge of organising the cars on the parade square — a last minute job thrown at me that they expected me to do and do well. Seeking some respite from the heat, I sought shelter under the roof of a covered walkway. On the covered walkway was set up a couple of tables and benches, one of which my friend was sitting on. I took a seat next to him.
In front of him was a most peculiar thing, at least in the Singaporean military context. That peculiar thing was a Bible. You don’t see many of these things around camp, not even in private spaces, less still in public, where we were. Curious, I asked, rhetorically of course, if that was a Bible, after which he replied in the affirmative.
“Catholic,” I replied. You might be wondering how we could be friends and not know each other’s religion. I guess “friend” might be a little overstating our relationship, which might be more to do with work than anything personal. But nevertheless, I always thought he was a nice guy, and I presume he thought the same about me.
“You read the gospels?” he asked. I said I did, though I always thought “gospel” meant the Bible, and not, as I was to learn later, of the four separate accounts of Jesus’ last days, each written by one of his disciples.
“You mean the gospel as in the Bible, right?” I said, pointing to that book in front of him.
“No, the gospels as in the four interpretations of Jesus’ crucifixion and his subsequent resurrection.”
“Oh, then, no. Not really anyway,” I said, feeling a little embarrassed, “but I have read the Bible somewhat.” I hadn’t really read the Bible, other than a little bit of Adam and Eve, and a few other “books” in it. Most of my memory of Bible stories come in the form of cartoons and movies.
“Which books did you read?”
“Job,” I said, “is the one I remember best. Had an impact on me.”
“Job? Wow, that’s one of the hardest to understand. What did you like about it? The way he was tormented and everything…”
At this point I got a little apprehensive, I didn’t want him thinking I was that into religion, understanding something beyond what most people understand. I looked away and said, “something about not looking at a girl with lustful eyes. Something like that.”
“You got issues with girls?” he asked, innocently enough, but it was a question I would rather he not have asked. It was also at this point that I felt really vulnerable, like I was on a psychiatrist’s chair, being psychoanalyzed against my will.
An embarrassed smile, tinted with the subtlest hint of annoyance, came over my face, and I replied to his “issues with girls” question saying, “maybe a little.”
Wanting to move on, I offered to show him the quote about the lustful eyes, the quote that I found applied to me as much as I believe it applies to most other men.
“If I’m not wrong,” I said, “it’s Job 3:16,” though after some searching, realised I was wrong, and must have gotten it mixed up with John 3:16, or maybe, to my great embarrassment, Stone Cold Steve Austin of the WWE, who had a similar catch phrase: “Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass”
In the end, I gave up and passed the book back to him. Probably understanding the predicament I was in, he offered to change the subject by showing me some of his favourite quotes.
“You go to Church?” he asked, after he seemed satisfied that he had shown me all his favourites.
“No. Used to, not anymore.”
“Don’t know,” I said, not really not knowing, but knowing that the reasons why were too many, often too subtle, and impossible to put into words.
“I just stopped. I do go during Easter and Christmas though,” I said, hoping that perhaps this might relieve me of some of the sin of not attending church. I felt I had to justify myself to this person sitting opposite me, almost as if he was God himself who was seeking my answers.
There was silence for a while, as we looked on into the heat of the day. It was surprisingly cloudy, but within the clouds were gaps, and where the gaps were, the sun would be too.
“You believe in the Bible? As in, the Bible is factual?”
I shook my head. I was going to say that the Bible to me is like a story with good intentions — written by people to prompt others into a certain action that aims at improving the human condition, and not a factual, historical account of what happened back then. But before I could say anything, I was interrupted by his claim that the Bible is a factual, historical account of what happened back then.
“Did you know that there have been studies that back the factual claims of the Bible? It’s true. Scientists have studied the Bible and it’s proven that many of the things in the Bible actually happened.”
Two words went though my mind when as soon as I heard this: oh no.
I do not like discussing religion’s fact vs. fiction. It is to me a very personal thing, something which everyone has a different interpretation of. I respect all interpretations, there is no right or wrong. But when someone seems intent on changing my views even though I resist wholeheartedly — as it so happens almost everytime I speak to a Christian — I tend to get rubbed the wrong way.
“If you see this…” he went on, flipping through various passages in the Bible, giving me the reasons why the Bible is factual, as opposed to a story written by a little jew.
One of the passages he elaborated on at length was that of the piercing of Jesus’ side, in the gospel by John. In the gospel, “blood and water” flowed out of the wound.
“If you just read that, you might be wondering how it can be blood and water. If you pierce somebody, that person should just bleed — it should be simply blood that flows out of the wound. But in the Bible he specifically mentions blood and water. How can this be, right? Doctors have been asked about this, and the reasoning is that when a person dies, blood and plasma separates. When Jesus was pierced, the blood that flowed out of the wound was plasma, which is water-like, and blood, indicating that Jesus had really died on the cross.
“Why would somebody who was trying to convince others about the validity of events write ‘blood and water’ when he could have simply written ‘blood’ and be more convincing? Obviously John wrote what he saw, paying close attention to the details and being as factual as he could. Back then they wouldn’t have known about the separation of blood and plasma, but he wrote what he saw. ‘Blood and water’ clearly proves that what has been said in the Bible is the truth.”
After I had heard this and other similar arguments for the validity of the Bible’s historical truth, I was very tempted to stand up walk off. The ease with which he used the word “prove” was too much for me to bear. One cannot prove that everything in the Bible is true because of the attention to details in the crucifixion, as much as one cannot prove that ghosts exist because of Shakespeare’s gift in making his characters in Macbeth seem so real.
I was also tempted to rebut him, but knowing how sensitive people are to matters on religion, I contained myself and shut up. I nodded my head courteously and stared out into the oven conditions in front of me. It was at this point I was asked to take up position in the parade square, so I excused myself and walked off.
I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.