Where is love in all of this?
I think I’m a bit of a news addict. With so many channels available covering just about everywhere on earth, I can stay informed about all the wars, threats of war, invasions, kidnappings, crimes, and political manoeuvres as they occur.
At the time of writing, the brutal murder of 148 students and staff at the Garissa University in Kenya is an unfolding ‘top story’, and as the days pass, more bodies are discovered. How do the parents of those students feel? How do they cope with the knowledge that their precious son or daughter has just been murdered? What if he or she is still missing? It’s unthinkable! A stream of bad news like this prompts me to go into a kind of emotional self defence mode. I take a walk around the complex where I live, or phone a friend, or browse through my family photo albums. But this only provides temporary relief. Sometimes I even feel an inexplicable sense of guilt. How can I enjoy a cup of coffee while all these terrible things are happening? But whether it’s a terrorist attack in the Middle East, or crime in my own neighbourhood, there is nothing I can do.
Accustomed to violence
Clearly nothing good comes from such negative thinking, and I remind myself that Jesus told His disciples not to be troubled, and that He had overcome the world. But it also brings to mind His words in Matthew 24:12. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold...” (NIV). Most? That’s scary. Could that be me too? Can I become so bombarded with violence, bloodshed and terror that I just take it in my stride? Yet another bomb blast and any number of people killed! “Thank you God that it happened thousands of miles away, not in my street. I might as well switch to another channel and watch a chef stir up trouble in his kitchen.” Perhaps this is wildly exaggerated, but like the frog immersed in cold water and heated up slowly, we can be unaware of the rising level of our indifference.
Whenever I read Jesus’ message to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, I can’t escape the feeling that it’s easy in the 21st century to become like the Christians at Laodicea. Jesus described them as ‘lukewarm’, something He would spit out of His mouth. Certainly no compliment! There is so much to entertain us and divert our attention away from reality and God. When life is reasonably comfortable, it can become second nature to feel that we are ok and don’t need a thing.
The evil in this world can either plunge us into fear and depression or help us grow a thick skin of self righteousness, and even a false sense of immunity to danger and harm. So how do we as Christians guard against indifference to suffering without falling victim to misery or depression?
Blessed are the unhappy?
Jesus pronounced a blessing on ‘those who mourn’. The word ‘mourn’ goes beyond mere sorrow, it actually means to ‘experience deep grief.’ He said such people would be comforted, and that is the assurance we have – the comfort of the Holy Spirit. When led by the Spirit, we are able to see beyond the mess that this world has become. We can know for certain that God’s Kingdom, already present in Christ’s followers, will one day fill the whole earth, and all crying and tears will be something of the past (Revelation 21:4).
The prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was able to look forward to this time of restoration. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted...to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair...” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Yes, I can mourn for the evil and suffering in the world, I can plead with God to ease the pain and send relief to this planet. I can, and do, get angry when I see little children killed in the crossfire of gang warfare, toddlers raped and murdered. Our God is an emotional God, and He was very angry with those in Israel who offered their firstborn as a sacrifice to the god Molech by casting them into a fiery furnace. He hates the sin and the suffering it causes, and shares in our sorrow and mourning.
I can get weighed down by this continuous stream of bad news, but I have a powerful antidote in the Comforter. It is the Holy Spirit who enables me to set my mind on things above, to avoid being anxious about anything, and to make my requests known to God. (Philippians 4:6-7). Personally, I like to do some inspirational reading before going to sleep.
And the promise is that the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard my heart and mind. Though I can mourn for the evil, I can at the same time be assured it won’t last forever.