Written By Eudora Chuah, Singapore
As a Singaporean, I’m well-acquainted with the fact that I live in a “first-world country.” This in turn means that I’ve had my share of “first-world problems.” For example, taking the subway during peak hour.
When I step on the downward escalator, I can already see the crowd pooling at the bottom. The line waiting for the train snakes beyond its marked boundaries, and I wonder if I have to miss more than one train before finally being able to board.
The wait seems like a big deal at the time—though sometimes it also strikes me that I could have done something about this. When getting on the subway is a challenge, I chide myself for not leaving the house earlier. The thought of taking a cab sometimes crosses my mind, but I dismiss it in the name of financial prudence. Regardless, when this happens, you can be sure I’m figuratively flailing my arms, going, “What now?” The disappointment in myself is real.
But perhaps “first-world problems” in and of themselves aren’t the actual problem. Perhaps the real question is how we respond to them.
In the overcrowded subway, it’s tempting to nitpick at small annoyances—and I’m definitely guilty. That person needs to move further into the train; we’re all getting squashed here. That person needs to lower his volume; we can all hear the conversation and it’s really annoying. That child needs to stop yelling; we’re all equally uncomfortable in this crowded train! Although I’ve never voiced them out loud, I’ve definitely thought mean things about the crowds and scolded them in my thoughts.
Different people respond impatiently for different reasons. When things don’t go my way, it’s tempting to focus on myself and my discomfort. Hence, the tendency to complain about things I might otherwise not bat an eyelid at. I wish I could say this was a habit of the past—but I still respond this way even now.
Yet, the Bible tells us that first-world problems aren’t problems with eternal consequences. On the contrary, the world’s first problem—and the only one with eternal consequences—is the problem of sin. A sinful response to the crowded subway is much more serious than the minor delay it causes me.
The book of Romans tells us that sin is the inability to stand righteous before God. Not only that, but every single one of us is sinful (Romans 3:9-12).
At its core, sin isn’t a matter of what we do (or don’t do), but the desire to take charge of our own lives instead of trusting that God knows best. Not only do we live in sin during this present life on earth, but because of sin, we are not able to live with God for the rest of eternity, and instead would be eternally separated from God—this is what we refer to when we commonly talk about heaven or hell. See what I mean about long-lasting consequences?
So, we need rescuing from sin, but we are unable to save ourselves. After all, who among us can just stop sinning, and start living a perfect life? I know I can’t!
Thankfully, in God’s good and perfect plan, He has provided a solution to the problem of sin—through the person of Jesus. The Bible tells us in Isaiah 53:4-6 that God has promised a Savior who makes salvation possible for sinners and for all who trust in Him.
This promise has been fulfilled in Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection—Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). And as He intercedes for us, we are enabled to live lives increasingly pleasing to God (1 Peter 2:24).
So how do we live in light of this knowledge?
While the Bible doesn’t give direct or specific answers on how to respond to first-world problems, it does teach us general principles of how to live in light of the gospel. As Paul told Timothy, all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We are Christians who have glimpsed and understood God’s redemptive nature in saving us, and as such, we respond to those around us with justice, kindness and faithfulness (Micah 6:8), whatever the problems we may be facing.
To say I’m unfazed by first-world problems would be a lie: I am human and imperfect. Nonetheless, this is a journey of growth and I am a work-in-progress. It’s not that these problems no longer faze me, but that I acknowledge their consequences as temporal, not eternal. Knowing that being a couple minutes late ultimately doesn’t matter much, I now attempt be more kind and faithful in my interactions with other passengers—instead of grumbling and silently berating those around me.
When it is difficult to adjust my attitude, I remind myself that Jesus is the only answer to my sin. He is able to overcome what I cannot. This is such great news! I am spurred to share it with others, whether through personal conversations, or larger ways such as inviting non-believing family and friends to evangelistic events. For me, this takes a lifetime of leaning on God’s strength, but I will persevere in His strength as He empowers me.