Combating the Calloused Heart in a World of Suffering
The 2016 election cycle (more than almost any other) has elicited a great deal of conversation over the state of war in the world – and all the more this week, as news from Mosul has filled news headlines.
As expected, most of the discussion centers on “strategy” and “plans.” Yet, in the midst of statistics, our news screens pour out graphic images of men and women, boys and girls, whose lives are being tragically affected by the realities of this war.
As I read the reports from Aleppo and Mosul this week, and saw the images flooding in, it hit me. Most of our students have never known a world without war. Since 2001 and the start of the war on terror, our students have only ever known a world with fighting, bombing, and random acts of terrorism.
It was a sobering reality as I realized that our students have grown up in a world where horrific scenes, such as those out of Aleppo and Mosul, are commonplace. It was also sobering to realize that, as a student leader, I have the charge of teaching this generation to faithfully follow Christ by truly weeping over the brokenness of the world, and loving with the sort of love Christ commands in Matthew 25:36-40.
As leaders and parents, we are tasked with the arduous responsibility of training our students up in the way they are to go (Psalm 22:6). This means we must prepare them to follow the Lord in the good and in the bad, through joy and through pain. Yet, there is so much that seems too intense, dark, or tragic to discuss with our kids. We want to shield them. But is protecting our children from suffering – suffering which no person is capable of avoiding forever – the best way to prepare them as disciples?
If the answer is no, then how do we possibly walk with our students through the atrocities in our nation and the world in a way that does not breed fear, but rather faith in God’s sovereignty and compassion for God’s creation and people?
Here are a few places I believe we can begin.
Part of the glory of the gospel is that now, because of Christ, we can confidently run to the throne of God in prayer. The God who is sovereign over all of creation is the same God who desires to hear the prayers of His saints. Yet, something as big as war can often leave us feeling inadequate to even begin praying. How can our prayer really matter in a situation where we have no control? That is exactly why we pray! Christ commands us to pray and exemplifies it for us. His words, “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and “be alert and mindful, praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18) carry so much weight. Not only are we to pray for our fellow believers around the world who are suffering and being persecuted, but we are also to pray for those who are persecuting them.
This can seem like an impossible order. Yet, in the midst of our weakness, Romans 8:26 reminds us that our advocate – the Holy Spirit – will indeed intercede for us. What a load off!
This is why we pray, and lead others to pray – to turn our hearts from their nominal state, and faithfully surrender to God’s sovereign reign over all creation.
Romans 12 reminds us that a mark of true love is to “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
So often, when tragedy strikes, our first reaction is to offer quick answers, to stop the pain, and to seek justice. While these responses all have an appropriate time and place, may our first gesture in the wake of tragedy be to simply to pause our quick-fixing hearts, to weep with those who are weeping. In this simple action, our hearts are oriented outside of ourselves, to care for those who are even half a world away.
The Christians heart aches over a world that is torn apart; we have the true knowledge of its source – which is not merely the actions of evil individuals – but the root of all evil, which is sin.
Knowing the only One from whom true freedom is found, may we be driven into a deeper love for our neighbors. Let us display the beauty of the gospel to the world through our ability to grieve – not as ones without hope – but as ones with the hope of a victory already won.
One of our greatest witnesses to the world of a God who has already overcome is our ability to respond to tragedies out of faith and not fear. It is so easy to fall into the pattern of the world, focusing more on what “could” happen instead of carrying with joy the message of what has already happened.
Let us not give ourselves over to the fear of the world. Instead, let us wholly give ourselves to the One who has already overcome the world (John 16:33). We should not be surprised by the suffering all around us. Instead of keeping ourselves safely away from suffering, instead of glossing over it with our kids, let us boldly go into these difficult places and glorify God in the midst of it.
May we never become calloused to the pain of the world around us. Instead, may our lives bear witness of the glory of God to a suffering world in need of a Savior.