“They just want to look out of the window and believe that everything is alright with the world”
This was how a friend described the attitude of someone who had avoided engaging with a difficult situation. Yet she could easily have been describing me, and I felt selfish and hypocritical.
In our world of many instances of deep injustice and suffering, I can find myself trying hard to ignore reality. I want to live my life as though everything is ok. Perhaps if I protect myself, don’t look too deeply into the things going on around me, and come up with quick rationalisations for painful situations: “it was a freak accident”, “they brought it on themselves”,” that could never happen to me because of x”. . .then I can feel safe and at peace?
And so I harden my heart, restore my equilibrium and move on . . . for a while.
A Problem We Can’t Ignore
But it gets more and more difficult to preserve the illusion that everything is ok! And even if things are going well for me, will I preserve my peace at the expense of helping others? No one is immune to suffering, and more and more I encounter situations that I don’t have words or wisdom for.
I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I’m a Christian, and the Bible tells me right from the beginning that everything is not ok! This world is desperately broken and so are we. We are rebels against the God who made us, and our ‘freedom’ from him has cost us dearly. No quick fixes, denials, or sentimental hopes are enough. We need rescue.
So when I refuse to see the world for what it truly is, I also ignore the reality of the hope and rescue that the gospel provides. It’s not a vague uncertain hope, or wishful thinking. It’s a guarantee, long promised, won in blood and death, and sealed by life and the Spirit!
If I refuse to engage with suffering, I miss out on seeing God’s power at work in the world, and I may be ignoring the command of my Lord to take up my cross and follow him, and to find my life by losing it for his sake. (Matthew 16:24-7)
Here are some of the biblical passages that are enabling me to boldly engage with compassion:
The whole of Psalm 46 is worth meditating on, it speaks of God, who is the shelter and strength of his people in the midst of suffering: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea . . .7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Lamentations 3 describes what it is like to suffer and even to feel as though you have lost your hope in God, and yet ultimately it speaks of Jesus’ suffering and ends with these powerful words of hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. . . 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
Isaiah 41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Luke 6:47-8 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.
These are just a few of the rich promises that give us the courage to leave our comfort zones and boldly minister to those who suffer.
Need of a Heart Transplant
And yet we mustn’t resolve to find more inner strength, or to develop a more charitable disposition. We must ask for the work of God to transform fundamentally self-centred and fearful hearts into those that love Jesus and serve him trustingly – hearts that follow the narrow way of the cross. Then we can throw open our windows with their rose-tinted panes and curtains of self-protection and proclaim hope to those who need it, helping to carry their pain, because Christ bore ours.
We serve in situations of suffering with the certainty that the gospel is our only hope, that it is a sufficient hope, and that the redeeming power of God is at work in this world through us, as we wait for Jesus’ return.
I’ll finish with a quote from John Stott:
“The Son of God did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven. He emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. . .he entered into our pain, our alienation and temptations. . . he bore our sins in his own innocent person. . . “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” John 20:21″
Loving because Christ first loved me