Andrew Chan and The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life is the title of a privately distributed communication from Andrew Chan to the Indonesian Church a few months ago. (Excerpts below retain the original wording.)

Personal Matters

execution-cross-01I have a sense of deep sadness about the world with which God must deal. The case of the recently executed drug smuggler and confessing Christian Andrew Chan is difficult to process with impartiality. With great rarity across the political divide Australia’s parliamentarians are firmly united in condemning as “cruel and unnecessary” and “senseless and futile”(Tony Abbott/Bill Shorten) the killing of two prisoners who by common consensus were reformed and a positive influence on other prisoners.  Was their Australian lawyer correct then to protest, “To execute these prisoners now will not achieve anything.”, or has a deeper divine purpose been at work? Since we worship a predestinating God “who works all things….for good…. according to the purpose of his will” Christians cannot believe in any ultimate uselessness (Rom 8:28 – 29; Eph 1:11). God’s purposes through the execution of Andrew Chan can be discerned in his message distributed amongst the Indonesian churches. The message of our brother his to the Church in the nation of his condemnation also contains a lesson for us. To hear what the Spirit is saying to the Australian Church we must think outside the limits of justice and mercy normally applicable to situations of daily life. We must see through the lens of the cross the eternal purposes of the Father of spirits who in this sort of world must often deal very painfully with those he loves (Heb 12:9).


Various accounts of Chan’s Bible inspired conversion can be found online; but it was hearing the judgement of the death penalty that seems to have opened up something deeper in his heart, “When I got back to my cell, I said, ‘God, I asked you to set me free, not kill me.’ God spoke to me and said, ‘Andrew, I have set you free from the inside out, I have given you life!’ From that moment on I haven’t stopped worshipping Him. I had never sung before, never led worship, until Jesus set me free.” Subsequent to this transformation Chan became the worship leader of the English service in his Bali jail. This spirit of true worship remained upon Chan who led other prisoners in singing “Bless The Lord O My Soul” at the moment of execution. Near the end he testified to one of those he brought to Christ; “Fear not, you can kill the body, but you cannot kill the soul.” Andrew Chan’s spirit has passed into the presence of his Father (Luke 24:46). Despite the wrath Chan’s death has incited amongst us our response should not be measured out in the realms of trade, aid, holidays or defence cooperation but must be about the glory of relationships. Chan’s legacy is about the pure love that remains in a relationship when judgement has been taken away. This is the heart of his letter to the Indonesian Church.

The Message

Chan’s letter, “The Meaning of Life”, has as its foundational text Ephesians 2:10, which speaks of the powerful transition from a lost state of sin and death and judgement to being graciously raised up and seated with Jesus in the heavenly places. Chan no doubt saw this text as a mirror of his own life transformation. Why though is his message to the Church not request for prayer but an exhortation about Christian Unity?

Speaking to believers in the nation who judged him worthy of death Chan links spiritual growth with our unity in Christ; “growth only comes through unity and about being in one”. We can hear him praying that trusting one another means not judging each other and that this is how we mature spiritually. Here are a few other excerpts; “Pray for a revival, pray for a breakthrough….like you never prayed before. Push on and persevere….for me it took a while to build unity in the church here [Kerobokan Prison] now today the church has united into such a way that great love for one another…a community that was once divided, but now we are a community talking with one another, sharing, praying and even playing one own lives in front of each trend.” (John 15:13)…”I became a Christian in prison but the good news cannot be imprisoned but will live within him forever.”

The Spirit revealed to Chan that Jesus didn’t die to save a mob of self interested criminals herded together in a prison against their will, but to create a community held together in the purity of an all forgiving love. Men and women imprisoned for their sins have a great advantage over a respectful society skilled at denying transgression and used to judging each other from a higher moral ground. The walls of Kerobokan Prison are temporary but the walls of self-righteousness will imprison multitudes forever. The Spirit used the unavoidability of his impending judgement to crystallise to Chan that ultimate reality is filled with a single family walking in pure love knowing that through Jesus nothing is beyond forgiveness.

Chan the Martyr

In Greek “martyr” simply means “witness”; only after the New Testament writings did it develop the sense of being killed for one’s testimony. Andrew Chan told one of his Indonesian pastor friends he believed he would die as a seed for revival into an Indonesia that he had come to love deeply. Wherever his testimony has been shared many Indonesian Christians have repented of their anger at foreign criminals and have started to cry out to the Lord for forgiveness….and for unity. Since Andrew Chan continued to the end to testify to Jesus’ great prayer for a family where “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.””(John 17:26) he is indeed a martyr of Christ and a martyr of Christ can never die an “unnecessary” death. Jesus repeatedly told his closest followers that as part of the predestinated plan of God he “must” die a cruel and unjust death (Mark 8:31; Luke 24:26; John 3:14; Acts 2:23; 4:28). He knew that in this sort of world such a mode of death was the indispensible way for grace to come beyond judgement. Suffering for the greater glory of God is at the heart of the gospel (Eph 3:13). Anyone who understands this, as Andrew Chan progressively did, will move beyond that self-righteous anger which underlies human judgements against others and into the purity of a love for which Christ prayed and died. This was his message to the Indonesian Church in their anger against people like him, and it his legacy to the Australian Church in its anger against the Indonesian nation.


Andrew Chan is neither an anti-hero slaughtered by an unjust system nor a drug dealer who got his just desserts but someone who in the saving purposes of God was predestined to die. His voice is a prophetic voice from the grave of a man who has now passed beyond completely beyond all human judgements. But in Christ this is true of you and I; ““whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me…does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”” (John 5:24). Whilst the death of Andrew Chan and others has laid bare the heart of our nation in a huge cloud of self-righteous judgement a unique opportunity presents itself for the Australian Church (Luke 2:34-35). The Spirit of Jesus who inspired “The Meaning of Life” can inspire us to die to all our petty judgements to enter into the unity of pure love for which Christ died. As it was said long ago, “See how these Christians love one another.” may it now be said of us (John 13:33-34; Tertullian).

John Yates

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