On December 28, 2019, the earth began to shake in Puerto Rico and did not stop for weeks.
On January 7, 2020, at 4:30 in the morning, it shook like never before (a magnitude of 6.4), particularly in the southwest area, in the municipalities of Guánica, Guayanilla, Ponce, Peñuelas, Utuado, Yauco, Adjuntas, Cabo red, Jayuya, Lajas, Maricao, San Germán and Villalba. The shaking was felt in the capital and in the northern area. The rates of fear and panic shot up in people, particularly in the elderly.
The electricity, Internet, and water services collapsed, and even where they were restored, they continued to be interrupted because it was necessary to make charge relays. At the time of this writing, the services have normalized, but the infrastructure is fragile in the face of another similar or worse seismic event.1
News agencies have reported that in Guánica, one of the most affected municipalities in the south, 52% of the properties have to be demolished, and there are more than 8,000 refugees. News Univision reported that there are 3,200 people in 24 shelters, not counting informal camps.2
On a visit there, the reporter narrates that he observes a woman who is praying alone, sitting on a military cot, which is her bed. In response to the reporter's greeting she replies, "I ask the Nazarene, but he doesn't answer my prayers." She is obviously a believer and afraid of God.
Her answer is understandable. Puerto Ricans in the Southwest are experiencing emotions and feelings of loss, sadness, depression, anxiety, anguish, and helplessness, facing an unexpected situation, so it should not surprise us that this sister implicitly expressed that God has forgotten or abandoned her.
There are events that make us vulnerable, vacillate, and even doubt what we believe. However, that is not a sign of weakness, but evidence of our humanity.3
We remember John the Baptist who, while in prison, questioned if Jesus was really the Messiah; Elijah who, under the threat of Jezebel, became discouraged, suffered depression, and literally escaped to save his life; Moses who spoke impulsive and wrong words to God; Abraham and Sarah who had no faith that God would provide them with a son; Peter who struggled between faith and fear, and denied knowing Jesus; Thomas who struggled with the truth of the resurrection, and did not accept it on faith; and the other disciples who thought it was crazy to believe that Jesus was alive when Mary and the other women came and told them of the resurrection.4
The Bible tells us in Mark 9:23-24 that the father of a sick, demonized, and convulsed boy takes his son to Jesus and asks if Jesus can help him. The God Speaks Today edition, tells us that Jesus asked:
21 Since when does this happen? The father replied: Since he was a child. 22 And many times that spirit has thrown it into fire and water, to kill it. So, if you can do something, have compassion on us and help us. 23 Jesus said to him: How can you? Everything is possible for the one who believes! 24 Then the boy's father shouted: I believe. Help me to believe more!
Jesus knows that the father hesitates in his faith; that is why he says, "To him who believes everything is possible." But what most attracts my attention is the honesty of the father when he responds asking for help to have an increase in his faith, with the words “I believe. Help me to believe more!”
The case of Gideon:
In Judges 6:13 we are introduced to a young man named Gideon, who is visited by the angel of Jehovah:
13 And Gideon said to him, Ah, my lord, if Jehovah is with us, why has all this come upon us? And where are all his wonders, which our fathers have told us, saying: Did not Jehovah take us out of Egypt? And now Jehovah has abandoned us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
We can infer that Gideon was vulnerable in his faith; he felt that God had abandoned him, and had similar questions to the woman interviewed in Puerto Rico: "If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?"
Vulnerability: The common denominator
The common denominator of the sister in the news story and the biblical characters is that we are all vulnerable when faced with a problem, situation, or an unexpected event, and we may experience resistance to recover.5
We are not angels and we are susceptible to being vulnerable. This vulnerability can be translated in many ways: doubts, crises, hesitations in faith, thinking that God has abandoned us, and even fear. Even the Master Jesus said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”6
Adventists and vulnerability
Given the events that took place in Puerto Rico, I shared the experience of the woman in the news story with my local church. I was surprised when I heard some brethren affirming categorically that they were not afraid of the seismic event but rather, were happy and "spiritually prepared" for the Coming of Jesus. They showed no vulnerability, possibly because their homes had not been damaged or lost.
They also expressed that the tremors in PR, the terrible events in the world, the fires of Australia, the coronavirus pandemic, are all punishments, judgments of God, prophecies of the end times, or the beginning of sorrows that illustrate the imminent return of the Son of God.7
They did not mention our need to work with the Holy Spirit to preserve our faith, and that the Most High through his Holy Spirit will restore us as individuals, restore our families and the Church, prior to the event that every eye will see. There was no talk of the dependence we need on the Most High in order not to fear and that God is our strength. No one expressed emotions or feelings of helplessness or vulnerability. All demonstrated feelings of self-reliance.
For some mysterious reason not yet understood by me, some generations in my local Church find it very difficult to demonstrate emotions and feelings of vulnerability towards others, particularly when witnessing or trying to understand the vulnerability of the other. There is a fairly widespread attitude of rejection of emotions. Emotions are perceived as a sign of weakness.8
What are we really projecting?
Many people, whether already Christians or not, visit us and then do not return. It is possible that the human root of the problem is that we project some arrogance or moral superiority when we talk, preach, or testify. We do not bring new souls to the feet of the Master, because people do not identify with us. The Holy Spirit can touch the hearts of these people, through the message, but we move them away with our behavior.
Recently I heard a Pastor of an Evangelical Congregation on the radio. He talked about giving the world the message of a God who loves you, gives you mercy, and restores you. He mentioned (without calling us by name) that he could not understand a certain religious congregation; that its members spoke as if they were angels. He said that in the congregation the brethern did not seem to feel the furnace of affliction in the world; they boasted of their doctrines and that they claim to be the people of truth; in adoration they were extremely sparing and sober, to the extent that they worshiped sitting and without raising their hands. Although he did not identify us, I could painfully infer that he was talking about us.
We Adventists have a moral compass called Christ Jesus, but that does not mean we have moral superiority.
When we study the Holy Scriptures, Revelation, the history of the Church, the writings of Ellen White, we can affirm that the Most High has given us an identity of being within the People of God, a Remnant.
However, something has happened in which God's will with respect to that identity has been transformed into a false moral superiority. Every day we become more and more sectarian, superior, and exclusive, in the way we relate to people from other denominations and to those who are not Christians.
It seems to me that something similar to what happened to the People of Israel is happening to us. Fundamentalism and legalism have taken root in the Church in such a way that we see ourselves saved and what we have to do is wait for the Second Coming.
There is a generation that seems to believe that they are already in heaven and when they speak they project that they are already saved. They do not understand the path to be traveled through the Holy Spirit: A path of Restoration and Conversion of the soul and heart every day, until Christ comes. It is when Christ comes again that our character will be purified, but this generation seems to think that they do not have to ask the Holy Spirit to restore their character, because they are already noble and elevated.
That typical behavior of a generation worries me. The scriptures say that the death of entire generations of Israelites was necessary to reach the Heavenly Canaan. Those who entered were not those who left Egypt.9
Is that what awaits us before the second coming of Jesus? Do generations of Adventist brothers and sisters have to die who, like the ancient people of Israel, are in murmuring, in judgment, in moral superiority, and do not do the will of God?10
Moral superiority negatively affects the Great Commission
One of the things we have to do as Adventists to bring souls to Christ is to testify to others (other congregations of faith and/or people who are not yet Christians) that Adventists are finite, we have crises, and we experience doubts in our faith, as any person would do in situations of suffering, pain, or affliction. The biblical characters mentioned above were not exempt from doubt, and neither are we.11
We have to introduce ourselves to others, with our weaknesses and imperfections as Gideon, Peter, Elijah, and Ellen White did; men and women of flesh and blood, vulnerable and susceptible to being manipulated by sin. It is not right to glorify ourselves with affirmations or self-sufficiency. The Scriptures indicate that our strength comes from Jehovah, not from ourselves. That moral superiority hurts us a lot.
We must be humble and accept publicly, when we bear witness (to the one who sees and listens) that before certain events, we are vulnerable, that faith sometimes falters, but that we hold on to a power greater than ourselves called Christ Jesus. This understanding is what helps us to face the situation of loss, death, crises with children, illness, dismissal, separation, divorce, economic bankruptcy, addiction, fear, and hesitation in faith, and will give us victory in the crisis.
That testimony, from a perspective of humility, will make the listener conclude that Adventists are not infallible, but rather people they want to meet, who will comes to their aid and help them to face affliction, suffering, anguish, and pain. And it will come at the feet of the Master.
Instead of proclaiming control, repression of our feelings, and hiding our vulnerability from a position of moral superiority, we must humbly say yes, that we are vulnerable, that we are even afraid, that emotions and feelings are overwhelming us like any other person, but we have the faith and confidence that the Holy Spirit is with us and we place our vulnerability, our fears and problems in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, that is one reason why Christ left us with the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us, comfort us, give us direction, support, shelter (as Christ did physically when he was on earth) so that our faith would not decline.
We must focus on the moral Compass that is Jesus Christ and spread to others his love, his grace, goodness, mercy, compassion, and his promises, particularly those that appear in the Holy Scriptures in Psalms 75 and 46.
Psalm 75:3 (NLT)
When the earth shakes and its inhabitants live in chaos, I am the one who keeps their foundations firm.
God is our refuge and our strength;
He is always willing to help in times of difficulty.
2 Therefore, we will not fear when earthquakes come
And the mountains collapse in the sea.
3 Let the oceans rumble and foam!
Let the mountains tremble as the waters rise!
Let's focus on the moral compass that is Jesus Christ, let's hold on to the eternal rock in these difficult days. Let us open our hearts to the Spirit of God to restore our feelings, emotions, and character, and cast aside the thoughts that we are already saved and therefore have no more need for Him.12
1. At the time of writing the essay, it has been identified that the Electric Power Authority operates with a deficit of 1,000 megawatts and there is no certainty that it will continue to operate.
2. The victims have placed camps in front of their residences, because their residences are cracked or they are afraid that the house will collapse on them, so they sleep and stay outside. The number of people in shelters and in informal camps has been increasing.
3. It can happen to all of us and it happens to us. There are events that can make us wobble or challenge our faith, regardless of what we say, do, or project, so the scripture says in 1 Corinthians 10:12: "If you think you are firm, be careful not to fall." When the 6.4 earthquake occurred, I experienced all kinds of emotions and feelings: confusion, anger, and a feeling of helplessness that led me to question whether God had abandoned us.
4. Luke 24:10-11 (KJV)
5. Wikipedia defines vulnerability as the degree to which people may be susceptible to loss, damage, suffering, and death, in cases of disaster or loss. It occurs based on physical, economic, social, political, technical, ideological, cultural, educational, ecological, and institutional conditions. Vulnerability is related to the ability of an individual or a community to face specific dangerous or harmful events at any given time.
6. Mark 15:33–34: “At noon, the whole country grew dark until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus shouted loudly, "Eloi, Eloi, sabachthani motto?" Which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
7. At the time I write this essay the Australian territory is burning in fire; rumors of war between the United States and Iran continue; and an outbreak or epidemic has emerged in China (coronavirus) that has spread to the world and the United States. The common denominator of those who expressed themselves that way is that they are brothers of many years in the Church, and that they understand in good faith that they are already saved.
8. It may have something to do with an interpretation that has been transmitted orally in the Church, that feelings and emotions betray the human being. That interpretation emphasizes that we must be governed by the frontal lobe and by reason excluding emotions and feelings, without making distinctions that there are positive and negative emotions and feelings.
9. We make ours the position and point of view of Taylor G. Bunch, supporter of the 1898 movement, in his essay Forty Years in the Wilderness: In Type and Antitype.
10. Work cited: Taylor G. Bunch, Forty Years in the Wilderness: In Type and Antitype. The author added in the quotation the concept of moral superiority.
11. Ellen White, the Inspired Pen, had a crisis of faith. According to some manuscripts dated 1919, she admits that she felt that God had abandoned her. Spectrum Magazine, particularly Denis Fortin and Michael W. Campbell in his new book on the 1919 Bible Conference have developed on this theme.
12. Revelation 3:17: For you say: I am rich, and I have enriched myself, and I have no need of anything; and you don't know that you are hapless, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
Edison García-Creitoff taught ethics and communications for 15 years at Private Universities of Puerto Rico. He is a Social Worker, Conflict Mediator, and Lawyer (J.D.). He has been Elder, Director of Missionary Work, Director of Home and Family, Deacon, and Sabbath School teacher in the Adventist Church of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Reach him by email at [email protected].
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