Trials and tribulations

This Merdeka and Malaysia Day, celebrations seem a little more subdued. How is it possible to celebrate wholeheartedly when so many people around the world have been hit by the coronavirus, when so many have perished?

Sep 06, 2020

By Anil Netto
This Merdeka and Malaysia Day, celebrations seem a little more subdued. How is it possible to celebrate wholeheartedly when so many people around the world have been hit by the coronavirus, when so many have perished?

That’s not all. Many, many people are losing their jobs. One survey indicated that almost half of manufacturers in Malaysia are expected to lay off up to 30 per cent of their workforce by the end of the year.

That would be devastating for so many households, already struggling to cope. Many are now working with pay cuts, with the prospect of reduced or zero increments and bonuses, even reduced working hours.

How are all these people going to make ends meet, especially if more jobs are lost? What happens if they are unable to repay their bank loans or vehicle instalments once the moratorium is lifted?

The economy is in the doldrums, while household debt has skyrocketed.

To make matters worse, the political situation is sharply divided along racial and religious lines. Racial and religious political parties from the old days are trying their best to stay relevant with their divisive rhetoric.

Yes, the nation is suffering at so many levels.

At a household level, many people are also suffering in their own lives, whether from prolonged illness, stress, domestic abuse and violence, or financial hardship. During the recent lockdowns, women’s groups reported a spike  in the number of calls to their domestic violence hotlines.

Where is God in all this turmoil? Why does He allow suffering to happen even among “good people”? That is the eternal question.

The book of Job tells us that even an upright and faithful person like Job was not spared distress and suffering. His friends abandoned him, even his wife could not understand his suffering. God seemed distant, while the afflictions were all too real and painful.

To compound matters, not all prayers to relieve suffering are answered in the way we hope for or expect. Even Jesus’ anguished prayer in Gethsemane to be spared the cup of suffering was not heeded.

But that does not mean God has not heard the prayer or is not in control. In the case of Jesus, the Father used the suffering and death of his son to vindicate all that

Jesus stood for. Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the chasm between humanity and the Father and healed the broken bonds between us and our fellow sojourners, and between us and all of Creation.

With Jesus moving on from the scene, it was time for the Spirit to descend and spread the message, this time not confined to a geographical location like Judaea and Galilee. Inspired, infused and energised by the Spirit, the Apostles were able to fan out across the world to spread the Good News of a new kingdom.

Fast forward to the present. The suffering is at so many levels — in our world, in our nation, in our households. Even the invisible bonds that hold Creation together are frayed.

We don’t know how the Father will harness the suffering in the world and in our own lives to heal Creation, which is “in labour”.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of suffering and many deaths. Again, the question rings out: why did God ‘allow’ this to happen? He didn’t will this affliction on us. But it happened.

The pandemic has also exposed a lot that is wrong in our world. It has placed in stark relief the structural, socioeconomic, environmental and personal sins we have committed in this world, both the sins of commission and those of omission.

Yet, perhaps we can also sense a divine hand at work. The restricted movements and reduced economic activity have given nature a breather and allowed us some time for much-needed reflection. It has put the brakes — at least temporarily — on a world hurtling towards irreversible climate change.

The pandemic has taught us who really matters in our world when the going gets tough. Was it the CEOs, the high financiers, the politicians who usually receive the lion’s share of media coverage? Or was it the unsung healthcare personnel, the food delivery personnel, the restaurant staff, the convenience store cashiers, the household waste disposal personnel?

This time of tribulation has reminded us of the importance of community solidarity — even if sometimes hate speech and selfishness returned to grip segments of society.

It has rekindled in us the importance of working towards a more inclusive nation.

Our reflection should point us to a saner path towards sustainable development and a more egalitarian distribution of wealth.

So while we acknowledge the suffering and do our best to relieve the pain felt by ourselves and our neighbours, let us always remember that the Father is always there, waiting to heal our land, our broken bonds with creation, and our personal pain, if only we turn to him. This piece is dedicated to the memory of my dear aunt, Elgin Corray, who passed away on August 28

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