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Of Christian trust and fatalism in gloomy situations

IN A global climate whose fluidity and uncertainty could bring devastating consequences to our small economy, there is an urgent need for us to make changes and adjustment. This is a painful reality when our pockets are hit, our comfortable lifestyle needs drastic tuning and our personal God appears remote when our supplications do not bring immediate relief.

Someone told me the other day that “one must trust in God, the Lord will provide”. Is this a doctrine of providence that helps us to devise a comfortable heaven-sent formula in times of difficulty? Is it an illusion that enables us to bypass responsibility with regards to material concerns?

As Christians, we have a vision of a better future that prevents us from any misunderstanding arising from divine providence. But one must also recognise a dualism between Christian trust and fatalism in these current gloomy situations.

On the one hand, providence means that we can continue our lives trusting God who sees beyond our horizon. Carry on doing our jobs in a cheerful manner, without anxiety and concern. We are required to think, seek or even create opportunities for survival lest we fall into the trap of fatalistic thinking that, on the other hand, promotes “everything will take care of itself”.

Do not be deceived by the slogan “Being the children of God, the Almighty would act on our behalf!” This is a false sense of triumphalism that endangers us to see everything “spiritual” and blinds us from our reality. It creates a new symbolic world, one that invites us to do nothing and negates our social responsibility to participate in our economic restructuring.

Comforted and assured of the presence of God, the individual Christian needs a change of heart. Things may not change, economic threats may not recede, and emotional stress abounds. But our vision of God and trust in His providence has made everything new. Sufferings should not generate the cry of “Apocalypse, Now!” Instead, we must trust in the assuring words that “all things worked together for good” (Romans 8:28) and maintain the koinonia, a communal fellowship that the Church should encourage.

Our mutual support of active listening, praying and searching the truth provides the practical support for our spiritual recovery. Pastoral care and advice should help us to move from a period of noise to silence, leading us into an active period of seeking God, the source of our hope (Psalm 62:5).

The Church is also responsible for teaching our believers to heed the call to return to their traditions, especially the Methodists, to keep their social vision and theology alive. In a culture increasingly dependent on visible images, our penetration into our neighbourhood to deliver our social care and concerns would become the more visible “word” than that delivered from the pulpit. In the words of Martin Buber, “we expect a theophany of which we know nothing but the place, and the place is called community.” (Between Man and Man, 24)

Living out a Christian vision is our responsibility. In a time of uncertainty, Christians should not be discouraged by experiences that shatter their dignity and crush their hope. For those who are spared of unwanted trauma, a mundane life should not bore them by its dullness and drab. Rather, they should remain conscious of the spiritual beauty that is present. We need to recall our Christian vision, one that is epitomised in the oracle of Balaam, son of Beor (Numbers 24:15-16):

The oracle of the man whose eye is clear,
the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty.

Reading the Bible would inspire and awaken us in the presence of the Almighty. The psalmist reminds us that “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Our destiny is clear (Psalm 2:7-8) and our happiness assured (Psalm 119:1-2). This would not only encourage us to stand up in the midst of difficult circumstances, but also remind us that a Christian is a child loved dearly by his Father.

Looking forward to an ending in the future must coincide with the teleological understanding of divine existence. Making that connection is crucial for us to look beyond our circumstances. Living that vision everyday is crucial in maintaining a proper Christian perspective.

Chan Yew Ming is a lecturer at Trinity Theological College. He is a member of Fairfield Methodist Church.