Monday, March 2, 2020

Sometimes we really are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. In those moments, it is crucial that we entrust the process and the end result to faith that requires a certain degree of levity.

In all clear cut situations, it is relatively easy to make the right decisions and the correct paths to take in life.  The writer of the Book of Deuteronomy shows this so vividly when we are told “… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life”.  Everyone, to a man, would in every clear-cut situation want to choose life.  These either/or choices may be clear, but if we are frank and honest, most of life’s decisions and choices are not so clear, not so black or white, not so ‘life or death’.  They often lie in the ‘grey’ area, where the end result could go either way. 

One clear and very relatable example of this is when the chief shepherd of our Archdiocese of Singapore Bishop William Goh made the decision to have all public Masses suspended on 13 February, in order to prevent our large gatherings in the 31 parishes across the island from becoming clusters where the coronavirus could become sources of uncontainable spreading and further infestation.  Although many Catholics in Singapore lauded the Bishop for making this decision, there were some (and there always will be) who not only believed that he did the wrong thing, but to also then accuse him of being a man who had very little faith in God.  Some of the vitriol hurled at him was far less charitable and courteous.  This is thus a very clear example where the end result is one that is ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’.

What do we do when we are faced with such a situation in life?  When there is a lot of time to prepare for the decision before coming to making it, one has the ‘luxury’ of taking it to prayer and seeking light and wisdom from God, perhaps even seeking some counsel from others, and to see if our ponderings are in line with God’s divine will.  But what if something comes along rather unexpectedly and catches us off-guard? What if the event or situation is a ‘black swan’ – a term given to mean an event that is unpredictable and beyond the expectation of anyone, with its consequences being notably severe and serious? Sometimes these situations catch us off-guard and leave us with only one foot on the ground, if at all.

It is in those times that our faith in God is about the only thing we can depend on and cling to.  But how does this faith look like?  Just saying that we need to have faith can sound a bit cheap and platitudinous, akin to how a well-meaning nanny would stroke the tresses of a frantically wailing child under her care and say “now now, it will all be better”. And if that is so, it not only doesn’t help, but can be something that is rather condescending as well.

But what marks a person of faith can be detected in the way that we allow things to happen,even when they go a bit awry, and letting this happen sometimes even requires of us to not take things too seriously.  

I know it seems like I am advocating a certain cavalier attitude towards everything and treat even serious things like a joke.  I am not at all advocating this.  But I am saying that real faith is what equips us to handle and to face whatever travesties and tragedies that life can present to us, and to not treat it as if it is the end of the world.  Faith is the power that enables us to not be overcome by the unexpected ways that life can turn out, simply because faith assures us that no matter what may happen to us in life, no matter how anxious things may seem, no matter how ‘damned-if-you-do, and damned-if-you-don’t’ things are, they can never rob us of the promised eternal joy that awaits us after we die.  This should be the difference between the way a person of faith handles such situations versus the way a person without faith in God would handle it.  

As the coronavirus situation spreads its ominous tentacles across the globe right now, it is evident that the stock market is going into a nosedive.  If the fear and anxiety in you is predominantlycaused by the bleeding situation of the stock market and share prices, it only reveals one thing – that this is your god, and this god is way more influential and powerful in your life than the God of Jesus Christ.  But our ‘god’ may not be something to do with finance or economics.  It could take the form of our family, our loved ones, or our health.  It may sound harsh, but the evidence is plain for all to see.  Putting our eggs in the correct basket of life doesn’t seem to be an important thing until we see how fragile and flimsy the basket is in times of volatility and turbulence.  Understanding this, it should bring us to a new appreciation of Jesus’ instruction that the most important commandment is ‘to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind’.  Being able to do this gives us a blessed assurance.

Having this kind of assurance is gold in those times when there are unexplainable loose ends no matter how neatly and precisely we have cut the cloth.  Having this kind of faith is what gives us the confidence to not have a meltdown in any crisis situation because our faith is not so much in the confidence that God will make things better, but that even if things don’t become better, God is still ultimately in control, and God’s will is being done.  

But of course, what undergirds all this has to be that each day we have been training ourselves to be in communication with this God in whose hands is everything, because nothing can happen if he isn’t allowing it to.  It means that we have to have been constant and consistent in our prayer life, and have established a lasting and solid rapport with God, and not only love God, but also are assured again and again that this God loves us unconditionally.  

If we do not have that as our supporting foundation for our faith, we may be trying to smile while we are in the midst of a storm, but that smile is probably just a shallow façade that doesn’t have a good reason for its existence, other than that we don’t want others to see our true face of panic and despair.  

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