Sometimes the scale of tragedy is so great that we can only identify with it by focusing on details.
Genocide, crimes against humanity, natural and manmade disasters that leave innocent people devastated leave you feeling angry, helpless and frustrated, don’t they? I can’t get my mind around why God allows this kind of thing. I have grappled with the various arguments (theologians call it theodicy) about why a good God permits evil. Some of them make sense—sort of—until you are confronted with the specifics. I know that in God’s good time, off in the future, all suffering and death will be conquered, and there is some comfort in that.
Some, but not enough. I want to do something about it now.
Like when the earthquake leveled Port au Prince in Haiti two years ago. I have many Haitian friends, and my church sponsors a school there. We wanted to do something—anything—to help. So we began to take up a collection of small change to help the school keep going. Every other week, the little children in our congregation pass around mugs and we all toss in the week’s small change. It adds up to thousands of dollars in the course of the year. Our little bit of support cannot make all the difference, but it makes some.
Taking even a small step leaves you feeling better. I don’t mean it lets you forget about the larger problem. But it prevents the frustration from developing into hopelessness.
Just before Jesus Christ began his ministry, John the Baptist told all who would listen that a Savior was coming. “Every valley shall be filled in” he prophesied. “Every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:4-6). In symbolic language he showed how Jesus Christ and his kingdom would one day overcome every obstacle that stands in the way of peace.
Many ordinary people asked John what they could do to be ready. “Be generous,” he said to those who had more than enough. “Be honest,” he advised potential white-collar crooks. “Don’t misuse your power,” he cautioned those who wielded a little authority (see verses 7-15). Just small steps that bucked the trends in what was becoming an increasingly greedy and corrupt society.
Do we get the point? “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God is forcefully advancing,” said Jesus in Matthew 11:12 (NIV, 1984 edition). It is certainly not yet here in its fullness, but for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, its presence can be felt.
Kind, generous and thoughtful acts are solid, positive and irreversible strides into the world of the kingdom of God. God, for reasons that one day we will understand, may sometimes seem to have a strange and frustrating “hands off” policy towards suffering, but he has never had a “hearts off” policy, and his unswerving plan of redemption, salvation and restoration is evident in every tiny step taken by every caring heart. As Jesus said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
John Halford, 2011