Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Where is God?" amid economic troubles

Hardly a day goes by without someone in the media talking about hard times to come. When I was in Charlotte last week, the locals were still lamenting on the loss of their home-grown bank, Wachovia, which has since been taken over by Wells Fargo. Discount stalls like Walmart and Dollar stores are doing relatively well. When I walk through the malls, I can get a sense of gloom and lacklustre sales, even among the big retailers. Back in Canada, even the federal government is not spared of the depression. This week, they unveiled a C$64 billion deficit over the next 2 years. In British Columbia, one of the headlines is the troubled Olympic Village, that also needs an emergency financial loan from the provincial government. Singapore has for the first time in history, dipped into its reserves, slaughtering one of its sacred cows. A good friend of mine shared with me a shocking picture of how much the world's largest banks' market capitalization have shrunk. Ironically, one of Britain's largest tax-payers, RBS, whose many contributions to society were virtually wiped out overnight, with one bank rescue effort by the government.

I think far too many societies around the world has adopted 'bailout-thinking.' An ingenius beer-seller has concocted a 'Bailout-Bitter' beer that is catching headlines. CBC reported it as well as the company, Howe Sound Brewery's Press release.I am not a beer drinker. However, this new beer just launched catches my attention because of its sheer ingenuity and the way it is used to capture the mood of the times. I believe that more needs to be done rather than simply identifying with the times. Unfortunately, leadership is lacking, apart from handouts, which will eventually run-out.

There is not much credible direction from leaders as to what is best to do. The typical man in the street will simply let the present crisis run its course and pray for recovery to come sooner rather than later. My concern, is for leaders, can we simply wait? Here, I argue that leadership is even more critical in times like these. The first question that many Christians will ask is: "Where is God?" Interestingly, this question is asked most often during times of turmoil and hardships. What about those periods when we are having financial windfalls, prosperity and economic wellness? Some pious Christians will label 'Praise God' or 'Hallelujah' across every positive news, but staple their lips when negative events occur. Where is God? It reminds me of the situation where the word GODISNOWHERE has two possible readings. Pessimistically, it reads: "God Is Nowhere." In contrast, it can also be read as "God Is Now Here." Where the letter 'w' is spaced in, makes all the difference. In this aspect, where is our 'w' in our spiritual life? For some of us, it is 'wailing' in self-pity or depression. This is the pessimistic option. For others who react against it, it is an opportunity to 'win' as crisis is also an opportunity to make good. Both solutions are not optimal. The former pessimism does not help to lift the gloom. It may lead to severe depression and suicide. The latter sometimes may be acts of foolishness made in the name of risk-taking. Gordon MacDonald made an interesting case for leadership. In his article, "Beyond Pessimism or Optimism," published in Leadership Journal, he argues that hope is the reason to go beyond these 2 narrow options. He writes:
"It's a spiritual battle some times. I have to continuously remind myself that my eye must first be upon God's purposes, not on the progress of stimulus packages."
Written sensitively, MacDonald shares his similarity in struggles like:
"Occasionally I assess my own financial situation. I muse on questions like: Will I be able to continue to generate income into the foreseeable future? How should I spend, save, and give away what I do earn? Will I be able to help our grandchildren pay their college expenses? What happens if there are unexpected medical costs down the road?"
He adopts a 2-prong approach, namely to be awakened from the materialistic mindset toward a more heavenly mindset based on hopefulness.

I agree. Hope is something that is more needed than cash injections. Hope is long-term in perspective while bailouts are short-term. We cannot be victimized by the problems of today, to the point of giving up permanent values for temporary survival. It is true that in some situations, one may wonder how they are going to survive another day. I will concede that in life-and-death situations, emergency transfusion may be necessary. However, I will also argue that worrying about the present, and mortgaging our future hopes in exchange for a temporal respite for continued material indulgence is not a fair transaction at all. Being hooked on material lifestyle is like drug addiction. Everything is seen as a means to buy the fix for a moment of ecstasy. The problem is, such things do not last.

NT Wright's latest book, "Surprised by Hope" argues for a new view of heaven in terms of hope in the future resurrection in the coming of the kingdom of God. In his typical scholarly brilliance, he contends that the way to live well in the present is directly related to how we see the future. Our perspectives of "Life after death" directly impacts our current life before death. The Apostle Paul yearns to be with God, but chose to be with the church despite its ill. That is because he has learned to live heavenly on earth. Jesus has also taught us, that we need to pray that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Wright's "life before life before death' brilliantly ties together heavenly hope with earthly living. This way, we will not be living defeated lives while wearing a gospel that shouts victory in Christ at all angles. Indeed, we all need to be pleasantly surprised by hope. Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit, to help us do greater things. The greater thing is NOT any miraculous recovery of the economy. It is not even the sudden ushering of Armageddon on earth, like what we see in the movies of mighty dramatic battles. Instead, the greater thing happens within the deepest crevices of our broken hearts. It has to do with a hopeful disposition, looking forward to living heaven on earth. Elizabeth Barrett Browning describes such a mood aptly.
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit round it and pluck blueberries."
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Which are we going to be? The one who recognizes the presence of God, and immediately remove his filthy shoes so as to revere a holy God? Or are we going to be people looking out for berries, ignoring the presence of God, constantly repeating the mantra: "Where is God?" If one keeps asking this question, even in the presence of the Almighty, one would have become like stubborn Israel, who were people who have eyes but do not see, or ears that do not hear.

May the Lord grant us eyes and ears that WILL see the glory of God in the midst of all these worldly confusion.


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