Things are falling apart. At least that’s how it often seems. Open a paper, scroll down your Twitter or Facebook feed, watch the news, listen to the radio, and after a few minutes you’ll probably feel suffocated by the trauma and fragility of our world.
The battle between Israeli forces and Hamas brings destruction, death and suffering in Gaza. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue in the wake of the MH17 plane crash that killed 298 people. The deadly Ebola virus tightens its grip on west Africa.
Around 3,000 Christians are forced to flee their homes in northern Iraq after jihadist Isis militants issue a fatwa ordering them to convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death. The three-year conflict in Syria rolls on, with over 2.5 million refugees and an estimated 170,000 fatalities so far.
Meanwhile, ongoing waves of violence between rival militias in Libya keep the country tottering on the precipice. Civil conflict in South Sudan and Central African Republic tears communities and lives apart. In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram militants continue their violent campaign to create an Islamic state. And the kidnapped schoolgirls are still missing.
When it all finally gets to be too much and you switch off from the news, it doesn’t end there.
Things are also falling apart for people closer to home; for our friends, relatives, neighbours: unemployment, relationship breakdown, money problems, depression, life-threatening illness, loneliness, divorce, bereavement, addiction, eating disorders, abuse.
I don’t know about you, but if I stopped worrying about things long enough to reflect on them,
I’d crumble under the weight of it all. I live in one of the world’s poorest countries: every day I see or hear or read something that threatens to break my heart; every day my reserves of empathy are severely tested.
Truth is, sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the scale of people’s suffering that I want to run and hide. I want to get myself cryogenically frozen with a label attached: ‘defrost when it’s all over’. I feel the tendrils of ‘compassion fatigue’ begin to wrap themselves around my heart, threatening to squeeze all the love out of it. And it scares me.
Of course, nobody has the emotional capacity or headspace to worry/talk/pray/tweet/campaign about all of the world’s problems at once. But does that mean we should retreat to our caves, shut it all out and wait for Jesus to come back and put us out of our misery? No.
The other day I was browsing my Facebook newsfeed, and nestled in among the plethora of updates about babies, weddings, engagements and summer holidays, there were some posts with some very timely comments from some very wise Christians:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr
“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” – St Augustine
“What we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return to at evening.” – G.K. Chesterton
And that’s when it hit me: it’s not about whether or not I can be ‘bothered’ to care. It’s about realising that I have a duty to care. It’s about realising that this isn’t the way it’s meant to be; it’s not the way God wants it to be. Oppression, war, conflict, poverty, sadness, injustice, hatred, loneliness, sickness: that’s the stuff Jesus called us to challenge in his name, with his help, on his terms, so that people can enjoy freedom and justice and peace and love and joy and hope.
And that’s why we can’t stay silent. That’s why we can’t settle for it. That’s why we can’t be indifferent. That’s why we have to keep hoping and praying and acting and serving. We have to keep believing things can be better. We have to keep doing whatever we can to help put the world back together.
Because when we stop trying, when we lose hope, when we give up on the world – that’s when things really fall apart.