We often hear of people whose homes, possessions and livelihoods have been wiped out in some disaster. Perhaps an earthquake has flattened the area where they live. Perhaps a flood or tsunami has washed their homes away. Perhaps they have had to flee because of civil unrest, war or persecution. Our hearts go out to such people. We want to help them in their misfortune so they can re-establish their lives and provide for their children.
External circumstances are not the only thing which affect people’s lives. Sometimes illness or injury prevents people from providing for their families. Just as with those who suffer because of natural disaster or social calamity, our hearts go out to those who are in need through no fault of their own. We have compassion for them. We do not like to see the innocent suffer.
We often reject the things people try to tell us. Why is this? Often it is because the information does not agree with the things we already believe or think we know. In order to accept the message we would have to revise our opinions, change the way we feel about something or re-examine our beliefs. None of us likes to find out that we are wrong. It is often much easier to reject the message than to admit we are mistaken.
Oftentimes we think we have our lives all figured out. We know what we want to do. We have decided our direction. We make all kinds of elaborate plans to achieve our goals.
At first, things may seem to go well. Our plan unfolds just as we determined it should. But then, things start to go wrong. We discover that there are factors involved which we did not take into account. Things we did not even know about suddenly arise. Our carefully laid plans no longer fit reality.
If you were to ask most people to whom they belong, they would probably answer, “I don’t belong to anyone. I m not a slave!” It is very true that we like to think of ourselves as free and independent. We control our own lives. No one can tell us what to do! But are we really independent? Do we really have no master, who controls or oversees our lives?
Human beings are born with the capacity to dream and imagine. We can envision things which do not yet exist. We can travel to other places in our minds. We picture ourselves solving the world’s problems, building new or great things and acting heroically in the midst of crisis. We often hear children say things like, “When I grow up I’m going to...” Even as adults we boast, “If I were in charge I’d...” or “When I get a little bit of money I’ll...”
Have you ever been in a situation where, no matter what you do, you will offend someone? Have you ever had to decide between two courses of action, knowing that either choice you make will have negative consequences? Have you been confused about what to believe? You hear two things; both seem reasonable, yet both cannot be true. To accept one means to deny the other.
We human beings are an inconsistent lot. When we have done something wrong, we want other people, and especially God, to show us mercy. On the other hand, when someone has done something against us, we want justice. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, it is not merely justice we want, we want vengeance. We want to pay others back for what they have done to us. We want to do more to them than they have done to us. We want to destroy them.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone rejected what you said or your expertise because you are not able to put the right “letters” after your name? “What do you know? You never went to college.” Society puts a lot of emphasis on degrees and credentials. It can be difficult to get a job unless you have been to the right school or have a certificate saying that you took a certain course. Many people equate the piece of paper with authority.
Has it ever seemed to you that you are being punished for doing the right thing? Perhaps you tried to help someone only to have them question your motives. Perhaps you told the truth only to be rebuked for it. Perhaps your honesty resulted in monetary loss. Perhaps people laugh at you because you won’t take a bribe. Perhaps people cheat you and take advantage of your integrity and righteousness.
Many religions teach that it is a good thing to fast. In fact, some religions require it. They set aside certain days or certain months when people are supposed to not eat as they normally would. Many people think that abstaining from food for a long period of time is an act of merit which will make them more pleasing to God. In exchange for not eating, they receive righteousness. But how does God view fasting? What kind of fast is truly pleasing to Him?