Friday, March 23, 2012

Things are Not Well? It Never Has Been.

Things are not going well right now in Canadian society. The economy is struggling. The common man in the street is not happy. Workers in many public sectors are not happy. Families are not happy. From airline strikes to school teachers' job actions, it seems like the long arm of the struggling economy is suffocating the plans of many people. The wildcat strikes yesterday in Toronto by some baggage handlers working for Air Canada is only the tip of the iceberg. As management cuts costs, they are also making their employees unhappy, disgruntled, and downright angry. Over in British Columbia, the teachers union has said enough is enough. They are standing up for their rights. They claim that the Provincial Government has taken away their right to strike. By the way, gas prices are rising.

Things are not well in Canada, a first world nation. A country with solid AAA financial credit rating. A land of massive natural resources and people well known for being nice. For many newcomers to Canada, it is certainly an eye-opener of the extent of goodness the nation has. There is a universal health plan that basically ensures affordable medical benefit for all, even the most dire health conditions. There is free public education for children and needy people. There are community centers and recreational facilities that house some of the most modern equipment in the world. Come Summer, many outdoor events are free. The natural beauty is a sight to behold, and free to view. Libraries are free.

Yet, things are not well in the workplace. The ongoing strikes and labour problems occurring in many parts of the country are crippling the economy. People blame one another. Workers blame the government. Governments blame the economy. Analysts blame the uncertain global economy. Some blame God.

As the saying goes, money makes the world go round. I like to add that the lack of money runs the world aground. If there is not enough money, governments cannot do much with the budgets, except to raise taxes risking the ire of regular taxpayers. It is typically the case. When the economy is well, the good times roll. When the tide turns for the worse, the bad times grow.

Good Times Hide It; Bad Times Show It

I think the bad has always been there. Good times hide it. Bad times reveal it. Like the computer operating system that slows down over time as more programs are installed. People blame the slowness on the poor operating system. Some blame the hardware saying that it is time to upgrade. Relatively few people blame the badly written software program. Good hardware often hides the problems of bad software. Many programmers have been guilty of writing bloated software containing additional stuff that users hardly use. Yet, the entire software comes as one package. The latest and the greatest hardware will tend to hide these problems through its advanced technologies. New hardware do not solve the problem. They merely solve the symptoms. This is precisely the case for many things in life. Good times hide the problem. Bad times reveal it.

In the Bible, there is one condition that has afflicted humankind far greater than we acknowledge: Sin. The Bible declares:

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23)

Sin corrupts the soul. It interrupts our journey toward God. It disrupts our lives in many different ways. One of these is relationships. From the home to the workplace, schools to holiday places, sin lurks. It makes people suspicious of people. It breeds negative sentiments. It pushes evil agendas even under the guise of many 'innocent' platforms. Sin is pervasive. Yet, many of us cannot truly understand what sin is, without comparing it to a standard. Norman Wakefield calls sin as 'a destructive power that cheats, robs, and kills the guilty and innocent alike.' He adds,

"It whispers in our soul's ear, telling us we deserve the forbidden fruit that will bring us pleasure and fulfillment. Like Novocain, it numbs our brains so we function on pure passion. But in the end, we discover that we've played the fool and are left with a stinking cesspool in our soul. Though we look at David's sordid episode and lament, 'How foolish. How could he commit such a wicked act?' deep in our hearts we know that we have been hewn from the same tree and are capable of the same evil." (Norman Wakefield, Who Gives a Rip About Sin?, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002, 12-13)
Sin works best when it hides under a cloak of innocence. We all like to claim we are victims of a particular system. Truth is, we often can do more good than we choose to admit. Perhaps, what is needed for many of us is not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think more accurately about our conditions. If we are wrong, say we are wrong. Even if we are right, there is no benefit to trumpet our rightness. Humility urges us to retain gentleness and move only when we absolutely have to. Above all, the best antidote to sin is grace. Reflecting on Henri Nouwen's classic work on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Mark McMinn shares:

"I was captured by Nouwen's story and his book. He was right - sin and forgiveness were embracing. The father's lavish mercy could not be understood without the story of the son's outlandish rebellion and rejection of the father." (Mark McMinn, Why Sin Matters, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2004, 4)

Things are certainly not well with the economy, the people, and Canadian society at large. In fact, things have never been well in the first place, since the Fall at the Garden of Eden. This is because sin has gripped the world in more ways than we truly know.

One book I am currently reading for review has a perfect subtitle for today's reflection. It is called, "Glorious Mess - encountering God's relentless grace for imperfect people." I think about it, and I have to agree that we are sustained not by our acts of standing up for our rights, but by the receiving of God's grace to us. Jerry Bridges says it well in his book, The Discipline of Grace:

"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace." (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006, 19)

There is hope. Whether the times are good or bad, God does not want to merely address the external symptoms of our worldly problems. He is not interested merely in the facade of our daily living. He wants to reach out to our hearts, in both good times, and the bad, the ups and the downs, the joys and the despairs. Sin will deceive us. Sin will break us. Sin will destroy us.  It is ultimately God's grace that will save us from ourselves. Perhaps, in the light of the troubling events happening in the Canadian scene, I like to suggest 3 things that Christians can do. I call it UPS of life.

U - Understand

Read widely. Read with an eye to understand as many different points of views as possible. Whenever there is a strike, or a work disruption, there is often more than meets the eye. Workers do not strike without a reason. Companies do not make policies without rationale. Understanding the different points of view is key to any constructive actions.

P - Prayer

Christians are called to pray at all times, not just the bad. In fact, in prayer, we acknowledge that without God, we can do nothing. In prayer, we put our hearts' deepest yearnings before God. In prayer, we submit to the Sovereignty of God. In prayer, we be open to the leading of the Spirit of God.

S - Serve

We are called to serve wherever we are. Make every effort to do all the good that we can in our various communities. Work it. Share it. Blog it. Communicate the needs. Always do so by showing true humility to all people.

Yes, all is not well. Let us not make it worse. Let us not fight ourselves silly. Remember who the real enemy is.


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