Last year, I was able to make a trip to Legazpi City, Albay, Bicol—southwest part of Luzon. A strong typhoon just passed by the area so when I set my feet, I was welcomed by the darkness due to the citywide power outage. During my entire stay, I hoped for a chance to see the Mayon Volcano’s full beauty. But she remained elusive as she hid herself behind the clouds. However, I was able to stroll around the place to visit some of the region’s famous landmarks. A Bicol trip won’t be complete without visiting the Cagsawa Ruins. The place still holds the remnants of what supposed to be a Franciscan church buried under the ground after Mayon’s violent eruption in 1814. The event claimed many lives and the cold church belfry testifies to that grim catastrophe.
However, the Bicolanos now look to the tower as a symbol of the local people’s resilience. Aside from living under the shadow of the fatal beauty, the region also suffers from frequent storm visits. The rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of the recent storm serve as a testimony to the folks’ attitude towards calamity.
How do we define ‘resilience’? It is the ability to recover quickly after something bad has happened. Given this definition, the world put too much confidence on the human soul. Some settle for the Stoic resolve, and sing, “que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.” Others tap sentimentality to provoke a sense of comfort. But all boils down to this—man should muster the strength that is in him to be able to ride along the tides of life. Just believe in yourself. But, such confidence is hanging on a thin thread. What if I start to doubt my ability? Where should I go? When circumstances corner me like a pack of wolves, to whom should I call for refuge? Such foundation is built upon sinking sand.
Conversely, those who are in Christ are standing on solid ground. The Christian’s resilience has its foundation in God. But this does not mean that the Christian will not be assailed by worries. After all, we are pilgrims who are still on the way. There will be moments when we will complain to God like the prophet Habakkuk: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Far be it from us to shake our fists at God and blame Him for all the bad things that are happening to us! At this point, we should repent of our doubts and cry out to God, “I believe, help my unbelief!” There will also be times when sin will knock us down. Just look at the Lord’s disciples. Even while they enjoyed a close communion with our Lord, they fled and left our Lord at the night of his arrest (Mark 14:50). These are the very same disciples who said, “even if we die, we will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35).
They got knocked down. But, they got up again (pardon the Chumbawamba reference). At the face of an impending crisis, Habakkuk spoke of his joy in our God of salvation. After our Lord’s resurrection, the disciples became bold witnesses who proclaimed the gospel. It pleased the Lord to have these weaknesses of His servants be written and preserved for posterity so we could see His glorious work in these weak vessels. It’s like as if He’s telling us, “If I restored them into life in spite of their failings, what makes you different?” And yet, this makes us different from the world on how it sees resilience. Instead of just keep on pushing and believing in ourselves, we are reminded to lose confidence in ourselves. Instead, we find ourselves being redeemed by the Lord. The will to go on is not harnessed by reaching down inside our selves but by reaching toward our Father in heaven. We are fortified not by our sheer prowess but by the strength of our Almighty God.
Well, as for example, we could look at the life of the apostle Paul who said that he is “able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). This is the Paul who received forty lashes less one from the Jews five times. Thrice he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. He was shipwrecked three times and remained afloat for one whole day (and I complain about the daily traffic). There’s danger whenever he went. He experienced “toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Yet, this is the very same Paul who said that he is “troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (4:8-9). Why? It is because he knew the grace of the Lord. Much more, the Lord knew him. (5:11). And thus he also knew “this light momentary affliction is preparing us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (4:17).
This is the heavenward perspective that the apostle Paul would like to instill in us. “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In Romans 8, Paul listed the things we already possess and the things we will later receive fully. And because God is true and faithful, we can truly hope in Him. Hope in God fuels our resilience knowing that “in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
One thing is certain in this side of the cross—troubles and problems will always be on our way. The apostle Peter forewarns us: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Even our Lord has said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). But, after he gave a warning, he assured us “But take courage; I have overcome the world.” He conquered sin and death. He endured all His sufferings for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). And that is why Peter continued in his letter, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). Why should we rejoice? “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made live in the spirit” (3:18). What is there to rejoice about? “After we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us” (5:10).
We look past our troubles and know that in the midst of them God is working in us for our good and His glory. Our resilience lies in our assurance that God will deliver all of His promises. Our resilience is rooted in God’s faithfulness. And this resilience is not from us, it is not found in and of ourselves, but from the One who endured the cross. So, we press on and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
We can look at Christ and say to ourselves, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). Just as we share in His sufferings, we will also share in His comfort. And because we are of one Body, we share with the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in faith. And to the extent of our resources and abilities, we are encouraged to build each other up and to comfort others as the Lord comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:4-7).
Even though we live in the shadow of this valley, we can sing “With Christ in my vessel, I could smile at the storm.” And in our battles and struggles, we could sing along with the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
P. S. As of this writing, the rehabilitating efforts in Bicol are still ongoing. Let’s continue to pray for the welfare of our fellowmen in the areas that were affected by the calamity. May they also find hope and comfort in our Lord Jesus Christ.