I don’t watch the evening news, but I’m still flooded with the sometimes unspeakable suffering across our globe.
Haiti is suffering the aftereffects of a major earthquake. Japan has experienced an earthquake, floods, landslides. Potentially devastating storms from tropical depressions and hurricanes hit our coasts. Horrible stories are coming out of Afghanistan, with more to come as the Taliban takes over.
And these are all on top of the long-term worldwide pandemic we’re still dealing with, made worse by the division over how to respond to it. Several friends have had COVID, some severely. A nurse friend tells of staff exhaustion and patient suffering in the COVID ward of her hospital.
As Christians, we’re concerned that our country and world are ebbing ever further away from biblical truth. We wonder what kind of world our children and grandchildren will face.
Plus we have personal concerns. A friend is taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s alone. A dear older lady is in the hospital with severe pain from an old hip replacement. Others have varying issues to deal with.
All these things weigh heavily. How are we supposed to go about everyday life with so much suffering and wrong in the world?
Well, maybe we aren’t.
There are times in life to stop everything, pray, fast, mourn. The 9/11 attacks here were like that. Everything stopped as we watched the news coverage, grieved, and prayed for those affected and those helping.
But at some point, the needs of life intrude. Laundry must be done, the family must be fed, family members must go to work.
Perhaps our concerns can guide how we do our tasks and how we think while we do them.
The world’s news can:
Inform our perspective. Disappointment over an activity canceled due to weather pales when I learn that Afghani Christians are being killed if a Bible app is found on their cell phones.
Remind us how small we are and how much we need God.
Remind us to pray. We can’t save the world. The sheer magnitude of suffering and sorrow in the world is overwhelming to us, but not to God. Some years ago I received this prayer guide from Voice of the Martyrs:
Remind us to weep with those who weep. Particularly concerning those believers undergoing persecution, Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”
Remind us this life is not the end. The world isn’t getting better and better until we reach utopia. Jesus said there would be wars, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, persecution. Heaven will be a place of no tears, pain, or sorrows, but on earth we’ll have plenty of each.
Remind us God cares for our sorrows. He “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33, KJV). Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) and wept with those who grieved.
Remind us to cast our cares on Him. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). I love Octavius Winslow’s phrasing in his poem: “Nor fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds.”
We need to remind ourselves as well that though it sometimes looks like the world is in chaos, God is still in control. As the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Olympic runner Eric Liddell became a missionary in China. As the Japanese army committed atrocities leading up to WWII, Liddell wrote, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love” (Eric Liddell, The Disciplines of the Christian Life [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1985], 121–122).
Why does God allow these things then? That would be a question for another post. He has many reasons for allowing suffering, and we can trust that He has a purpose. As Joni Eareckson Tada has often said, “God permits what he hates to accomplish what He loves.” Sometimes God is not as concerned about removing calamity or persecution as He is about accomplishing His will in people’s hearts through them.
While we wait for His purposes, timing, and help, everyday life can be wonderfully grounding. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that in the aftermath of her husband’s death, she would sometimes feel overwhelmed not only with grief, but with new decisions and tasks she had to take on as a jungle missionary without her partner. She was helped by an old English poem which said, “Do the next thing.”
The poem says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.” That is a wonderfully saving truth. Just do the next thing.
There may be tangible ways we can help those suffering. James reminds us not to just wish people well, but to give what they need. (I would caution great care, however, about the charities that seem to spring up overnight to help the most recent calamity victims. Research organizations or ask for recommendations from people you trust.) Sometimes even our small everyday tasks help towards meeting someone’s need.
But sometimes there’s nothing we can physically do to help someone. We can pray along with Jehoshaphat, “We are powerless . . . We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
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