In the context of this site I want to share how the Good News of the Injil became meaningful to me. I think this will allow you to better understand my posts on this blog. My article on what this website is NOT about will also help in this regard.
(Oh and the basic info stuff… I live in Canada. I am married and we have a son. I studied at University of Toronto, University of New Brunswick and Acadia University. I have Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Forest Engineering. My professional engineering experience was largely in mathematical modeling of forestry situations)
Restlessness in a Privileged Youth
I grew up in an upper middle-class professional family. Originally from Sweden, we immigrated to Canada when I was young, and then I came of age while living abroad in several countries – Algeria, Germany and Cameroon, and finally returning to Canada for university. Like everyone else I wanted (and still want) to experience a full life – one that is characterized by contentment, a sense of peace, and of meaning and purpose – along with connectedness to other people, especially my family and friends.
Living in these diverse societies – of various religions as well as very secular ones – and because I was an avid reader, I was exposed to different views about what is ultimately ‘true’ and what it took to get a full life. What I observed was that though I (and most in the West) had unprecedented wealth, technology and freedom of choice to meet these goals, the paradox of our time was that they seemed so elusive. I noticed that family relationships were more disposable and temporary than that of earlier generations. I heard that if we can get just ‘a little bit more’ then we would arrive. But how much more? And more of what? Money? Scientific knowledge? Technology? Pleasure? Status?
As a young person I felt angst probably best described as a vague restlessness. Since my father was an expatriate consulting engineer in Algeria, I hung out with other wealthy, privileged and western-educated young people. But life there seemed quite simple with few outlets to amuse us. So my friends and I longed for the days we could return to our home countries and enjoy TV, good food, opportunities, with the freedoms and ease of western living – and then we would be ‘satisfied’. Yet when I would visit Canada or Europe, after a short while the restlessness would return. And worse, I also noticed it in the people who lived there all the time. Whatever they had (and they had a lot by any standard) there was always need for more.
I thought I would find ‘it’ when I had a popular girlfriend. And for a while this seemed to fill something within me, but after a few months restlessness would return. I thought when I got out of school then I would ‘get it’… then it was when I could get a driver’s license and drive a car – then my search would be over. Now that I am older I hear people speaking of retirement as the ticket to satisfaction. Is that it? Do we spend our whole lives chasing one thing after the other, thinking the next thing around the corner will give it to us, and then … our lives are over! It seems so futile!
I continued my schooling in Germany and through this time I believed in Allah (God) in spite of the West being mostly secular and even atheistic. It seemed too unbelievable to me that this whole world and all that is in it arose from chance. I studied all these atheistic theories and even today I am quite up-to-date and knowledgeable about them. But in spite of this religious belief, I kept experiencing inner turmoil as I tried to satisfy my restlessness which I had described above by doing, saying or thinking things that ended up filling me with shame. It was like I had a secret life that others did not know about. But this life was full of envy (I wanted what others had), dishonesty (I would shade the truth at times), quarreling (I would easily get into arguments with those in my family), sexual immorality (often what I was watching on TV – and this before there was internet – or reading or contemplating in my mind) and selfishness. And I knew that though many others did not see this part of my life Allah did. It made me uneasy. In fact, in many ways it would have been more convenient for me not to believe in His existence because I could then ignore that guilty sense of shame before Him. In the words of Dawood in the Zabur I was asking the question “How can a young man keep his way pure?”(Psalm 119:9) The more I tried religious observances like prayers, self-denials, or going to religious meetings it did not really remove this struggle.
The Wisdom of Suleiman
During this time, because of this restlessness that I saw in me and around me, the writings of Suleiman made a deep impact on me. Suleiman, son of Dawood, was a king of ancient Israel famous for his wisdom, and he wrote several books that are part of the Zabur (His father Dawood wrote more of the Zabur but Suleiman continued adding to it) where he described this same sense of restlessness that I was experiencing. He wrote:
“I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good’. …my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself … I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone … before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone … before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me…. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-10)
Riches, fame, knowledge, projects, wives, pleasure, kingdom, status … Suleiman had it all – and more than anyone else of his day or ours. You would think he, of all people would have been satisfied. But he concluded:
“…when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun… So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. … This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? … This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11-23)
Death, Religion & Injustice – the Constants of Life ‘Under the Sun’
Along with all these issues I was bothered by another aspect of life. It troubled Suleiman as well.
Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21)
All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. … they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:2-5)
I had been raised in a religious family and had lived in Algeria, itself a religious country. Could religion be the answer? The problem was that I had ‘inside’ experience of religion and it was not always positive. I think for many of us, religion can be superficial – only dealing with outward ceremony – but not touching our heart. How many religious observances like prayer and going to church (or the mosque) must one do to earn enough ‘merit’ with God? Trying to live a religiously moral life was very tiring, who had the strength to constantly avoid sin? How much was I supposed to avoid? What did God really expect of me? Religious obligations could be burdensome.
And really, if God is in charge why is He doing such a bad job? I asked myself. It does not take much looking around to see the injustice, corruption and oppression happening in the world. And this is not just a recent turn of events since Suleiman also noticed it 3000 years ago. He said:
And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there… Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died,are happier than the living, who are still alive.But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 3:16; 4:1-3)
For Suleiman, as is also clear to us; life ‘under the sun’ is marked by oppression, injustice and evil. Why is this so? Is there any solution? And then life simply ends in death. Death is utterly final and reigns absolute over our lives. As Suleiman wrote, it is the fate of all people, good or bad, religious or not. Closely linked with death was the question of eternity. Would I go to Paradise or (more alarmingly) would I go to a place of eternal judgment – Hell?
Searching in Timeless Literature
These issues of achieving a lasting satisfaction in life, the burden of religious observances, the oppression and injustice that have plagued all human history, as well as the finality of death and the apprehension of what would happen afterwards, bubbled within me. In my senior high school year we were given an assignment to simply collect one hundred pieces of literature (poems, songs, short stories etc.) that we liked. It was one of the most rewarding exercises I did in school. Most of my collection dealt with one of these issues. It allowed me to ‘meet’ and listen to many others who also wrestled with these same problems. And meet them I did – from all sorts of eras, educational backgrounds, lifestyle philosophies and genres. There was Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Time by Pink Floyd, and Ozymandius by Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, W.H. Auden, Shakespeare, Frost, and so on.
I also included some of the sayings of Isa (Jesus) in the Injil. So along with the literature as mentioned above were teachings from Isa like:
“… I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10)
It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, here was an answer to these issues that Suleiman, these authors, and I were asking. After all, injil (which until then been a more-or-less meaningless religious word) literally meant ‘good news’. Was the Injil really Good News? Was it reliable or was it corrupted? These questions grew within me.
An Unforgettable Encounter
Later that year some friends and I were on a skiing trip in Switzerland – a beautiful skiing region. And after a great day of skiing, and having that energy that comes with youth, we would go out clubbing in the evenings. At these bars we would dance, meet girls, and have fun until very late into the night.
The ski resorts in Switzerland are high up in the mountains. I vividly remember stepping out from one of the dance halls very late in the night to go to my lodge. And then I stopped and gazed up at the stars. Because it was so very dark (I was up in a mountain where there was little human-made ‘light pollution’) I was able to see the grandeur and majesty of all the stars. It actually took my breath away and all I could do was stand there and gaze at them in reverent awe. A verse from the Zabur came into my mind that said, “The heavens declare the Glory of God…” (Psalm 19:1).
In gazing at the majesty of the starry universe in the very dark night it was like I could in a very small way see the majesty of Allah. And in the quietness of that moment I knew that I had a choice. I could submit to Him or I could continue in the way I was going, having some form of godliness but denying its power on all my life. So I fell on my knees and bowed my head to the ground in the stillness of that black night and prayed to the effect, “You are Lord. I submit to you. There is so much I do not understand. Please lead me in your Straight Path”. I stayed with my head bowed to the ground in submission admitting that I had sins in my life and asking for guidance. No other human was with me in these minutes. It was only me and Allah with the star-filled background around 2 AM outside a ski resort in Switzerland. It was an encounter I will never forget and even in trying to recount it words fall short.
That was an important step in my journey. I submitted to His choice when I was at that point where I wanted some answers. And answers started to come to me as I researched and submitted to what I learned. Much of what I will put on this website is what I have learned since that night. There is a very real sense that when one embarks on this kind of journey one never totally arrives, but I have learned and experienced that the Injil does give answers to these issues that I asked in my life. Its main intent actually is to address them – a full life, death, eternity, freedom, and practical concerns like love in our family relationships, shame, guilt, fear and forgiveness. The Injil’s assertion is that it is a foundation that we can build our lives upon. It is possible that one may not like the answers provided by the Injil, or fully understand them, but since this message came from Allah in the person of Isa al Masih it would be foolish to stay uninformed of it.
If you do take time to consider the Injil you may find the same.