Coming from a Chinese diaspora family in Malaysia, I was given a master plan early in life:16583599_s

  1. Work hard in school so that you can get good grades in your examinations.
  2. Good grades will enable you to get into the best universities and qualify you to take the best courses, courses like medicine, law, accountancy, engineering and dentistry.
  3. Work hard in university.
  4. Graduate and get a good job.
  5. A good job will give you financial security and status.
  6. Marry the princess/prince.
  7. Have many children and let them know the master plan as early as possible.

The master plan does not work anymore. A recent article in the Economist confirms what many of us already know — “a university degree no longer confers financial security” (Schumpeter, “Angst for the Educated,” The Economist, September 3rd–9th 2011, 59). Son Stephen graduated with an honours degree in Marketing from a top Australian university and couldn’t find a job based on his university degree, for one and a half years — a harrowing time for the family. There were many precious lessons learnt and we are grateful that the Lord provided in the end but it was just another example of the failure of the master plan. The Economist article gives two reasons for this — the ever-increasing supply of university graduates, and the impact of technology on the world of work. What it means is this: a good degree no longer guarantees you a job.

On one hand I am glad that this “master plan” has been seen to be false. It defined “heaven” in terms of money and status and sought “salvation” in hard work and education. It left God out of the picture or reduced Him to a bit player — “pray that God will help you get good grades.” My only fear is that it leaves young people with no master plan at all, and that means no “metanarrative,” no big picture to define life, leading to uncertainty about the purpose of life, and a loss of hope. This may account for the alarming suicide rates among the young in places like Korea.

South Korea’s figures for 2009 show more than 40 people killed themselves each day, more than double the number who committed suicide a decade ago and is a five-fold increase since 1989. Its 2009 number, 22 deaths per 100,000 people, was the highest suicide rate for the 31 wealthiest nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)…

Some suggest the increase is among younger age groups, where some are using the Internet to create suicide groups… Among possible stress factors for younger people are the educational arena, a highly competitive environment, and the job market, according to AFP. (Lynn Hermann, “Suicide rate in South Korea doubles in last ten years,” The Digital Journal, September 5, 2011,

But the loss of false hope is not necessarily a bad thing if it opens the way for people to start searching for true hope. The stars shine brightest when the night is darkest (Philippians 2:15 -16).

It does mean that if we are serious about reaching the young for Christ, we must understand their struggles with their search for meaning and purpose. We need to take their struggles seriously. The growing number of suicides among the young is a horrific reminder that we shouldn’t dismiss their struggles as just youthful angst. And with the global economy in turmoil it is not the young alone who struggle with issues of hope and purpose.

As Jimmy Long reminds us:

…our communities and individuals continue to search for purpose, meaning and hope. Although people no longer have a sense of being in control of their lives, they still seek meaning, personal empowerment and inner direction. We as a church community cannot give people an earthly hope, but we are called to offer a heavenly hope. We should point people to the new reality, an eschatological reality where tears and pain will not exist. (Jimmy Long, Emerging Hope, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004, 216.)

What we are offering is not “pie in the sky by and by when you die.” We are inviting people to get connected to a story with a joyful ending, God’s story, and join an adventure that begins now. In the meantime, the church should also be a loving, hopeful community that provides a foretaste of that life yet to come. As Long challenges us:

In our words of compassion and deeds of caring, we can show…that although (people like) Kurt Cobain was not the emerging culture’s savior, it has one in Jesus Christ. He (Jesus) does have all the answers, and he can take on all our pain. People in the emerging culture may have come to a place where they are willing to receive Christ’s hope (Long, 216).

In Romans 12:12-13, Paul tells us:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (NIV)

Anchored in hope, may we be lighthouse and harbour to a generation that struggles increasingly with hopelessness.