The feature film Nanti Kita Cerita tentang Hari Ini (One Day We’ll Talk About Today) is one of a number of quality Indonesian films that have recently caught my attention. (Caution: spoilers ahead.) The film tells a simple yet touching story of a family: a father, mother, and their three children, Angkasa, Aurora, and Awan. The father is overprotective of Awan, the youngest child in the family. He demands that Angkasa, the eldest, take care of her and put aside his own interests. At the same time, Aurora, the middle child, sometimes feels neglected and ignored by her father.
The plot reaches its climax when it is revealed that Awan had a twin who passed away. It becomes apparent that this is why the father has been so overprotective. Having just learned about this, Angkasa explodes at his father. This family, which had seemed so harmonious, splits up. The mother, who has stayed largely in the background, begins to speak up in an effort to reunite the family. The father then works to make peace with himself and his family, learning how he might divide his attention equally among his three children. The film ends with everyone coming together.
I saw this film two months before the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Indonesia and kept returning to it after we entered lockdown. Each character’s individual response to tragedy helped me empathize with the variety of ways I saw people coping with the pandemic around the world. Further, the film helped me realize that these reactions could become a story to tell in the future, whether as silly distractions for our grandchildren or cautionary tales for our community.
The Bible is filled with stories of people experiencing God in their lives in both good and bad ways. If we look at our lives as followers of God who are trying to understand Him, we will find that our stories are just some of the many that He has given us as living testimonies.
Taking inspiration from One Day We’ll Talk About Today, here is the first draft of what I imagine I’ll one day be telling others once the pandemic is over.
“Life is funny. The things we look for disappear … the things we chase after run away from us … the things we wait for go away. And just when we get tired and give up, that’s when the universe works. Some things appear as expected, some much better than planned. The Creator is very kind.” —Awan
Here, Awan expresses her feelings for a character named Kale. Awan wrongly thinks that Kale wants something more than friendship because he has been paying attention to her. However, when Awan confronts Kale to see what their status is, he turns her down.
In life, most of us have experienced the loss of something we had hoped for. I experienced it when I lost my father. I should confess that before he passed, I was not a child who felt much for her father. You could even say that I was the most rebellious member of my family and had turned my back on him. Everything I had done until that point had been in reaction against him, including my wanting to go to seminary. However, once I was in seminary, God allowed me to see and understand the many ways I had gone wrong. When I made my peace with my father and restored our relationship, God soon called him back home to heaven, regardless of how much I needed him.
My father's passing brought about deep feelings of sadness. However, I have no regrets because God was the one who brought about our reconciliation. There are no longer any problems between me and my father. Understanding this made me believe even more in the beauty of God’s design. With this knowledge, I was able to get through this time of loss with an open heart.
Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve seen many people have their expectations dashed in other ways: people who were extra careful contracting COVID-19 and others who didn’t believe the virus even existed coming to believe in it only once they’d contracted it. It seems as though the more we’ve tried to avoid the virus, the more rampant it’s become. It’s even mutated multiple times, rendering once-effective lines of defense null.
It’s interesting that something so small, invisible to the naked eye, has proven more powerful than any one person in terms of changing the times we live in. It is through this invisible virus we can witness firsthand the helplessness of humanity in the face of the almighty power of God. Beyond anything that has occurred, the Creator has remained sovereign. Even though He is invisible, He is at work in our lives and makes use of everything according to His plan. What C. S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain remains true: suffering is God’s megaphone; it makes us realize His importance in our lives.
We have experienced a large number of losses throughout 2020 and 2021: sudden death of loved ones and acquaintances, loss of work, reductions in income, the boredom of having to stay at home, among many other things. We still don’t know when this pandemic will end. We are without clarity or certainty.
On the other hand, life is filled with a diverse array of possibilities, especially when it comes to religion. Christians have not been the only ones to experience this. Prior to the pandemic, all religious activities tended to occur indoors at houses of worship. However, now, as a result of lockdown measures, we have had to learn to worship from home. There is currently no need to gather in a sacred place. The meaning of house of worship has changed. The pandemic has altered how we worship.
In the end, everything that happens on earth can seem like it’s part of a joke. What we hope for inevitably ends differently than what we expected. We can make plans and choose whether we want to be in line with God’s will or not. But in the end, God is sovereign, and we are reminded to accept it—whether we want to or not—with full openness, as Job rebuked his wife: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).
However, if interpreted correctly, a loss can show God’s inclusion and care, no matter how much we may suffer in the moment. This can take a number of forms: comfort from unexpected people, new opportunities for business, job offers from old friends, or opportunities to serve others who are also suffering. The suffering that comes from a loss can also help give us a greater appreciation for life and help us live in a more honest way. Time is precious, and there are no do-overs.
“Sadness sometimes takes us to a higher ground. The points on a compass can’t be controlled, but the direction of a sail can be.” —Kale
Kale says this to help comfort Awan.
We can’t reject the suffering or problems that come our way. Nevertheless, God has given us the ability to overcome these things. Whether our lives are miserable or filled with joy, what matters is how we react to the things that happen. As I discovered when I grieved the loss of my father, an event may be initially sad at first, but we may later find acceptance or even happiness. God can also provide what we need during a difficult situation, so that we can still be grateful even in the midst of our difficulties, as my mother and I experienced.
Two days before my father passed away, my mother saw her older sister laid to rest. As resilient as my mother is, I knew that these two events occurring one right after the other would be a struggle for her. However, I know now that God had designs for me to accompany her in her grief. As a result of the pandemic, it was possible for me to continue my studies online while being physically present for my mother as our whole family mourned. Despite my family's pain, I nevertheless bore witness to God's sovereignty and provision.
“Do you think life is like a button that you can keep pressing when you’re sad and suddenly you become happy again?” —Aurora
The eldest daughter’s words bring to mind the challenge of instantaneously turning sadness into happiness. Everything takes time: processing a loss, wiping away tears, healing from wounds, and even starting to feel happy again.
In the story of Job, three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, sit with him for seven days and nights (Job 2:11–13). Once the seven days pass, each friend begins to give Job advice. This is where a problem occurs: Job no longer feels comfort from his friends but instead the stress of his predicament. Job’s suffering has not ended, his wounds have not healed, his grief has not passed, and his friends have now burdened him with the complexity of his situation.
In all the suffering that we currently face, the most important thing is that we can still be grateful for the process. God is a lover of process. He appreciates how we try to process everything and make sense of our suffering. Impatience and fault finding only create new problems or make existing problems worse.
“There’s always a first time for everything, including failure.” —Angkasa
In this scene, Awan’s brother, Angkasa, tries to comfort her after she has just been fired from her job.
Failure, suffering, and struggle are all a part of life. When we face them, God want us not to give up but to try and rise again, to not be hopeless, to hold on to the hope that we have. Hope makes us resilient in the face of failure and suffering. It keeps us from sulking. Hope also makes us thankful that we still have the opportunity to enjoy life, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Perhaps in those few minutes, we can say goodbye to someone we love, tell others how thankful we are for them, or just let them know that we love them.
However, what’s most important is the basis for our love: Jesus Christ. Because of him, we can feel safe and still have hope in the midst of suffering. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thess. 5:9–10).
“And so, when will you be happy?” —Lika
Angkasa’s girlfriend, Lika, challenges him because she is troubled by how he always prioritizes his family over himself.
How would we respond if someone were to ask us this question? As Christians, our answer might be found in our ability to appreciate every small thing, no matter how simple, that comes to us while we’re alive: family, friendship, studies, even the opportunity to make a mistake and try to make amends. I have learned to appreciate the little things in life. I long to one day talk about what I’ve been through and say, “God is good.” In this way, I’ll be able to testify that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Vika Rahelia is a designer who takes inspiration from being an “imperfect seminarian” at the Indonesian Reformed Theological Seminary in South Jakarta, Indonesia. She likes to visualize her words through graphic design, hand lettering, and T-shirt prints. You can follow her on Instagram at @imperfectseminarian.
Translated by Adam Mele
Additional translation work by Jim Swartzentruber