Of Typhoons, Cyclones, Quakes and Things Contrary

Manunggal 2 (240x180)If you go through life without learning any lesson from cyclone Nargis or China quake or typhoon Halong, you’re not only doing something unthinkable, you’re missing something. Even the Burmese junta has capitalized on their national weakness to keep the US naval ship at bay, and would allow disaster to pile upon disaster than to accept aid from the enemy; that’s the lesson they learn. The loss of many lives in China, many of them children from one-child families, would perhaps make the Chinese government rethink about their forced abortion policy to keep the lid on their population growth; the quake should put an end to that one-child policy. Typhoon Halong on the other hand has kept the blogs and the emails running. Already there is an appeal for help from a preaching brother in Pangasinan.

They never stop blowing, these contrary winds of life. They keep inserting themselves into an otherwise peaceful landscape of our lives; and we keep exerting efforts to battle them. Jesus once restrained the wind, a project of great impact meant to teach His mastery over nature; today man’s little project of restraining the wind is by turning off the electric fans, making him the master of the switches. Contrary winds, they always come on days we never expect. God no longer restrains these forces but rather permits them to blow against us. But as He lets these winds into the landscape of our being, He also sends us moments of quiet, brief cessations, lest we be overcome.

Like the rain and the sunshine, the Lord of nature sends storms and tornadoes and hurricanes and cyclones and quakes to both the just and the unjust. Leaving Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and other isms and becoming a Christian will not make you escape these opposing winds of life, contrary to what the Pentecostals teach. Ancient history has been witness to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Christians had been burned or torched, fed to the lions, massacred wholesale, or sent to work in the mines until they perished. The more prosaic threats to a child of God keep on coming, and they are now legions: racism, hatred and xenophobia, misrepresentation and betrayal of trust, gossiping and character assassination, ostracism and church politics, government-imposed hardships. As contrary winds of life, all or any of these will blow against you, a child of God, in all its terror and fury.

Lest you be dismayed, as agents in the hands of the Lord, these forces, natural and economic, are meant for a purpose. Sufferings are meant to “bettering” you. Contrary winds prepared Jacob’s favorite son Joseph, victim of sibling jealousy and intrigues, and lifted him to a higher position as prime minister and grains administrator in one of the most influential governments in the ancient world. In doing so, he saved many Egyptian families from hunger; he also saved his own seventy-soul nation from peril, further securing for them a place of protection in the bosom of his adopted country. Joseph, late in life, understood why he was kidnapped and sold by his own brothers. The ten jealous siblings meant it for harm; God meant it for something much nobler and more profound.

Contrary winds, if meant as a trial of our faith, are a blessing to strengthen us and make us rely more heavily on Him and make us achieve His purpose in the world. Paul battled many winds and emerged from it victoriously, saying, “The things which has happened to has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).

But on the downside, shouldn’t these cyclones and quakes trouble us, shake the foundations of our continued reliance on our own national economies, and make us reexamine where we did wrong? No candles, no bended knees could appease heaven’s wrath. Instead of mourning only for the dead, why shouldn’t we rethink our policy mistakes also? Every nation has its share of the world’s misfortunes, delivered at its doorstep, meant to humble it and allow God’s entry into the hearts and souls of its people.

Just now I have received an email that a Christian group affiliated with us has been allowed entry into mainland China, in Beijing specifically. That group has been started by American missionaries. The church has been in Hong Kong for years, in an area that was formerly a British colony, but was never allowed into mainland China. China has started to open up.

Our group has been in Burma too for some years, but it has not been growing much because of the great opposition from the military junta who has been suspicious of Western influence, and from the Buddhists themselves who have been afraid of losing grip on the souls of thousands of fellow Burmese. In the aftermath of cyclone Nargis, they should be troubled and have a change of heart. Owners of Burma they might be, but God owns the whole universe!

Opposing winds too are meant to discipline us. Christians who have grown in the reality of their vocation should now be able to say, “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this, or that” (James 4:15). God knows we need to be chastised at times. But there’s beauty in it; and the beauty of chastisement should now defang it or take away the fear that it holds in our hearts: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Opposing winds are meant for our good.

This also we should know: Contrary winds are meant to strengthen us. God allows things to be fixed against us. Looking at them with the eyes of faith, we may set ourselves against them. If we won against them, we are just true to the fact that inside us there are potential heroes and heroines who will emerge victorious.

The God who allows you to do battle against adversity also allows you to find ways of escape. Shouldn’t this elicit gladness in your heart, you who are now suffering? “God is faithful,” says Paul, “and he will not let you be tempted [or be tried] beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Each day the Lord brings is new temptation day, a new trial day, but as you grow each day, you also grow over those trials, escaping it, enduring it. Then you emerge strong and stronger.

The battle against contrary winds may take years, if this is meant to turn one into a character acceptable to God.  A Christian mother once approached James Garfield, president of Hiram College, for the possibility of having his son enrolled in the school. (James Garfield it was who recruited a militia consisting mostly of members of the Lord’s church to fight for the Union during the American civil war, and went on to become president of the United States). She asked how long it would take to educate him and make him a gentleman of a preacher. Garfield answered: “It depends. For a squash it takes only months. For an oak, it takes years.”

Dear soul, your many years of suffering will find its profound meaning on that Day. Do keep on.

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