Dr. Samson Gandhi
Executive Director Person to Person – Institute for Children Counselling Hyderabad
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” – W. B. Yates
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” saidKing David. His wise son, King Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” I believe many people have problems not because they have a low Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) but because they foolishly believe they can live and find life without God. Many do not openly deny that God exists but live as though there is no God. We make choices that reflect godlessness. Modern living is marked by such foolishness, more than at any other time. No wonder, then, we dive into the frothy waters of foolish living and come up with sand in our mouths.
The Foolishness of Finding Life in Dubai
I grew up in a locality that was predominantly Muslim. I had wonderful friends from these families. In fact we were tenants in a portion of a large house owned by a Muslim gentleman who was a respected Town Planning Officer in the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad. He was a devout man never missing his Namaaz (prayers) at the appointed times. Even as a boy I had great regard for him because he was very humble although he held a high position in the government.
In those days, it was common for beggars to come home asking for food. Most times he would ask his wife to give something to those beggars. When there was nothing they could give them, he used to apologize to the beggars by saying, “maaf karna” (forgive me). He treated even beggars with great respect. That is a lesson I will not forget. The entire family was so loving that I even learnt the Islamic Kalma, something like our Apostles Creed. I had a kindred spirit with the Muslims of that locality.
Growing up in that locality, I used to play and then hang out with my friends. As we talked about everything and nothing, I used to overhear the conversations of those older to me who were in their early twenties. Most of them were high school drop-outs or had barely managed to pass a degree. As a result they were not confident of getting a good job (read a Government job). Therefore, most of them planned to go abroad, especially to Middle Eastern countries.
Around this time, in the mid-seventies, there was an oil boom in the Middle East. Many, including these older friends, were dreaming of going to Gulf countries to become rich. Often, I used to overhear them say: “Boss, agar mai Dubai chele jaon to mera life banjaye ga.” (If only, I can go to Dubai, my life will be made). They dreamt of landing a job in Dubai. Their immediate concern was to get a passport, track an agent who could get them a job and make plans to raise funds for their ticket. Over a period of time many of them in fact made it to Dubai and earned well.
Twenty years later I visited this locality again. I went to my landlord’s house and met several old friends. Most of them regretted that their strategy for life had not paid off. They confessed that though they were able to go to Dubai and earn enough money, they had lost their families. They felt that their marriages were no great success, and because their children had lots of easy money without parental control they messed up their lives. Somehow they didn’t seem to be happy even after realising their financial goals. They bought into a lie of finding life in Dubai. Their conviction was so strong that they made it to Dubai against all odds but lost out on life itself. Instead of finding life, they believed, they actually lost what little life they had here. They had deep regrets about their foolish choices.
. . . And Other Things
Like my friends who pursued riches in Dubai, there are others who pursue recognition in sports, academics, fashion, politics, or what have you. There is nothing wrong with riches, academic achievements, sports accolades or political positions. But when people believe that such achievements would give life or satisfy them, they are sadly disappointed. This is because these people unconsciously believe that their chosen strategy will bring life, but unfortunately, in the end they realise that in spite of achieving what they pursued they lacked the joy of life and fulfilment. There are others whose motivation is not from within but from others who are their role models. Again to no avail.
We are all familiar with the idiom, ‘Keep up with the Joneses.’ or perhaps, in the Indian context: ‘Keep up with the ‘Kumars’ or ‘Living up to the Ahmeds’.’ The miserable catch is that when you try to measure up to the ‘Kumars’ then there are the ‘Guptas’ to catch up with and this goes on without end. Life becomes an eternal catching up game. As an economist put it, many people fall victim to the ‘demonstration effect’ – people demonstrate their lifestyle and others try to copy them. Those who copy rich lifestyles most often end up with serious financial problems.
Collective Problems of Foolish Societies
Modernisation, urbanisation and globalisation have added to the stresses and pressures of life. While modernisation has brought us many physical comforts, it has added unmanageable and harmful stress. Doctors tell us that more than seventy percent of our diseases are psychosomatic – what affects our mind affects our body. Stress beyond a point interferes with the smooth functioning of our bodies and causes diseases. In fact, someone put it humorously that we have pollution and stress related ABCD diseases – A for Asthma, B for Blood Pressure, C for Cancer and D for Diabetes. Sleeplessness is another major problem of this fast-track generation. Even young couples complain of lack of sex and sexual satisfaction in their lives. Many of them turn to counselling to share their problems and find resolution.
Urbanisation has uprooted us from being close-knit communities in pastoral settings and set us in alienated, nuclear families in concrete jungles. As a result, we live in thickly populated localities, but are totally disconnected from our neighbours and are lonely denying us critical emotional support systems. People spend a lot of time commuting to work under trying conditions. Living conditions are claustrophobic, unhygienic and unhealthy. Due to the high cost of living, women too feel compelled to work. This again puts emotional pressure on the couple and the family. Children grow up as ‘latchkey kids’ without much attention and care. Cases are not rare where children in such families are at risk of being sexually abused at the hands of the caregivers, unscrupulous neighbours and others. The TV is yet another factor that has destroyed family ties. Television has become the modern day nanny and the pacifier replacing the loving mother and the caring grandmother.
Globalization, a fairly recent phenomenon, has robbed us of our culture and long cherished values. In the process of the East aspiring to ape the West and the South wanting the affluence of the North, local cultures have been lost. This has seriously dented our sense of identity. Take for instance, work culture at the multinational companies (MNCs). Our promising youth become glorified telephone operators. At these call centres, they take on a western name, put on an American accent, put up with rude customers and end up unwinding at the pubs. Their first salary is more than what their fathers earned at the end of their careers. They have an ill-defined freedom that goes against the values of their culture. In this freedom they explore the dark pleasures of a society that has lost all values. Teenagers smoke hookah, drink beer and have pre-marital sex. TV, Internet and mobile phones have done more harm in this generation than the entire century that has gone by. All because the youth have found unlimited freedom without responsibility.
While it is foolish to ape others, it is a good thing to have role models who practice good values. Most people are aware of the values but fail to put them to practise. They scan their immediate social circles to see if there are examples which will inspire them. The blips on their radars are rare if at all. People are being sucked into the powerful vortex of a collective compromise. There are hardly any examples that can be emulated. Such an atmosphere suffocates hope and stifles aspirations.
The Thirst of Our Soul
When things go wrong God is the last refuge for a man of average faith. Most people seek to make a connection with God through god-men. However, people are losing faith in God because the god-men who mediate between god and man do not reflect the goodness of God. Religion has become institutionalised, devoid of the personal touch. It has become a tool in the hands of unscrupulous religious men and women. People are replacing God with their pliable personal gods to satisfy their carnal pleasures and allay their frightful fears. Intimacy with God is a forgotten discipline. Therefore, when the creature is disconnected from the Creator, the human soul disintegrates. This is the bane of modern living.
There are two kinds of people who go away from God and lose out on life and joy. One kind are those who are close to God and yet are far away. These are people who know the tenets of faith, who are sincere seekers after God and have a religiosity about themselves, yet are far from God. Take for instance, the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-23. He followed the commandments of God carefully from the time he was a boy. Jesus loved the boy’s sincerity. But sincerity was not going to save him from impending doom. He was required to make the hard choice between love of riches and the love of God. The rich, young man went away sad as he loved his riches more than he loved God. He was sincere in his intentions but not sound in his actions. No wonder as someone put it, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
The second kind who miss the bus are those who blatantly reject God and move away from Him intentionally and deliberately. The prodigal son almost missed the bus. He demanded and took his share of inheritance even before his father had died. He literally moved away from his father, indulged in reckless, sinful and promiscuous living and squandered all he had. He almost lost his life, but recalled the goodness of his father, repented of his foolishness and returned to life and the abundant love of his father. Read Luke 15:11-32.
The similarities between the elder son and the rich young ruler are too glaring to miss. On the other hand, it is interesting to make a comparative study of the rich young ruler and the prodigal son. One was religiously good and the other was contemptible of all mores and norms and lived a debauched life. Both, the rich young man and the prodigal son, had an issue with money. One refused to let go of his money for good and lost out on life. The other, blew up his money on sinful living and later found life. No wonder Paul says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It turns out that both acted foolishly, something we are prone to do. But one realised his foolishness, repented and returned to life but the other in spite of godly counsel refused to accept the truth and held on to his foolishness. How tragic!
Finding Fault with God
However, when God speaks into people’s lives, when He offers them an opportunity to set their affairs in order and make peace with Him, they still make an enemy out of Him. I have seen that when God is the only person who can make a difference in people’s lives, they are at loggerheads with Him. They perceive Him to be their arch enemy or a disinterested God, and who even takes pleasure in the plight of a crying soul.
Take the example of the two thieves who were crucified, one on each side of Jesus on Calvary. The thief on the cross on Jesus’ right side (let’s call him Repentant Raj) represents a section of humanity and the thief on the cross on Jesus’ left side (let’s call him Bitter Kumar) represents the other section. Repentant Raj realised that he had gone on the wrong path, deserved the punishment that was meted out to him and recognised Jesus and His divine authority. Therefore, he was able to appeal to Jesus to remember him when He would come into His kingdom. On the other hand, Bitter Kumar, questioned the claims of Jesus and tested His authority in a disdainful manner and demanded an immediate remedy. Neither received any immediate relief but Repentant Raj inherited Jesus’ rest and Bitter Kumar lost all hope. Likewise, many distance themselves from God by finding fault with Him, testing Him and questioning Him. Such people do not grow mature – their attitude smacks of childishness: “I want it, I want it now and I want it the way I want it.” Very few are willing to patiently and penitently inherit the kingdom of heaven. Modern living is a naming and claiming religion.
For many, modern living is foolish living leading to mental tension and emotional distress. In a rush to name, claim and possess, people have abandoned God and His truths. We pay lip service to God and sacrifice our souls on the altars of this world. What we are left with is a shell of a soul empty, floating about and tossed by every little wave and wind. We must realize that only Jesus can calm our storms and bring peace into our souls. Let us invite Him into our boat as the Captain and heed His instructions. Then we can face all the ravages of our modern living and enjoy the peace that passes all understanding.
Dr. Samson Gandhi, M.B.A., D.Min. Executive Director, Person to Person – Institute for Christian Counselling. He is an author and an International Speaker on Christian Counselling and Christian Leadership. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Christian Counsellig at IBC&S, Kerala and SAIACS, Bengaluru. Email: [email protected] (The above article is an extract from his latest book: Counselling Without Offense – Christian counselling in a secular world).