Denial and despair

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Last week I started reading the book of Ezekiel of the Holy Bible but it’s only after the strong earthquake rocked Bohol and Cebu last Oct. 15 that I read again the introductory statements in that book. It has greater impact now.

The introduction states that “catastrophe strikes and a person’s world falls apart. People respond variously, but the two more common responses are DENIAL and DESPAIR.”

When the ground shook last Tuesday at 7.2 in the Richter scale (some said it was even an 8 in Bohol), did you deny what’s happening or were you in despair?

Denying is refusing to acknowledge the catastrophe. I know I didn’t. I was crouched on the floor helplessly looking at shaking floors, walls and hearing glasses break everywhere. Everything was so clear to me that I couldn’t shut tight my eyes and instead looked up to see how the ceiling was holding up. I didn’t look the other way. My voice boomed with “God save us!” alternating with “Praise God, alleluia!” and “Have mercy on us, Lord. Forgive us!” I didn’t pretend that everything would be all right. I was accepting the inevitability of death at that moment.

On the other hand, the introduction to the book of Ezekiel explained that despair is “paralyzed by the catastrophe and accepts it as the end of the world.” It did cross my mind that the earthquake may be the end of everything as many prophets of doom have tried to predict. But I think I was in the despair spectrum because I was still willing to do something out of the catastrophe if God wills me to still live.

Despair is being “unwilling to do anything”… concluding that life is over.

A world about to die. A famous cartoon character’s line best describes this feeling: “We’re doomed. We’ll never make it.”

These introductory statements are apt for this book in the Bible. Among the biblical writers, Ezekiel is a master of dealing with catastrophes. It was the 6th century BC, when Babylon invaded (and later captured) Israel. Ezekiel was among a people so stubborn that they refused to see what was right before their eyes (in denial) and with some who were unwilling to see anything other than what was right before their eyes (in despair).

Israel was besieged. Her people were killed, properties grabbed and freedom taken. Catastrophe with a capital “C.” But Ezekiel the prophet continued to shout God’s message that He was at work in this catastrophe, that He was showing them the catastrophe so they could come closer and embrace Him more in this worst of times.

But the people refused to see the significance of the catastrophe and didn’t involve God. Instead they worked out their own ways thinking they can make things all right.

On the other hand, the people in despair stopped doing anything and thought life was no longer worth living. They didn’t see that God would create a new people out of the catastrophe, that He was and would be at work in the wreckage.

Are we not so different from them today?

The recent earthquake could make us lose our identity as Cebuanos or Boholanos if we face it with denial and despair. Worse, we could have lost our identity as people of God when we saw big and historical churches crumbled. The churches were always there as a refuge for calamity victims. Today they are the victims themselves.

The destruction was so widespread that no one ( the poor up to the highest local official) and no place (from small huts to churches to expensive buildings) were spared. It was hard to shelter others when your own place can’t even shelter you.

But we are not a people of denial and despair. I was touched by Boholanos talking on national TV about hope and the will to rise again as a people.

I also heard fellow Cebuanos say the same things. Nothing can put us down and we can overcome all these.

I just pray that we look beyond surviving and rising above the ashes by our own will and ability. We should look up to God to cause our survival and emerge as a stronger people from the catastrophe.

If there’s one thing I am sure of, it is that God wouldn’t let anything bad happen to those who love Him and call on Him. We think it’s bad from our own perspective because we fail to realize that it is God’s way to work out a miracle for us so that we can all remember Him and go back to Him.

Our lives started with God and He wants our life to end with Him. If we see this eternal perspective, we won’t be a denying or despairing person.

When catastrophes strike, our fears are channeled towards God whom we know will pull us out. We may worry but it should be a short-lived feeling because we know how to call on Him to see us through.

At the point of our misery or even death, we accept and not deny that God’s hand will keep us close to Him.

When we survive and continue to run our lives, we do not despair that God will let us have a more miserable life that you’d wish you’d be better off dead instead.

Life is still worth living. We are a work in progress. And God is still at work…sovereignly using the disaster to create a new us.

Don’t ever doubt that!

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