by Alex McKellar
None of us will get from the cradle to the grave without facing seasons of pain brought on by the death of someone close, an illness or an injury, the breakdown of a close relationship, or the longing for a child that never comes. Suffering is an intrinsic part of the human experience. It is terrible but inevitable.
When we see others in distress, our natural instinct is to want to ease their pain, put a stop to their heartache and make things right again. But stopping suffering is complicated. It’s not always possible. Stopping suffering on a larger scale is expensive and complex. And there’s so much of it all around us - which issue do we choose to focus on? Will our efforts make any difference anyway?
And then it becomes all too hard, and we switch off the news reports, and turn away because we don’t really know what to do and we definitely can’t fix it.
I get it. I’ve done it myself so many times. Sometimes we know when we just need to retreat a little in order not to despair.
But there’s a little problem with that. In Proverbs 31, we read the advice of a mother to her son:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice”.
The son, whom these words were spoken to, was believed to be a king – someone of influence and responsibility. And when I read those words, I am reminded of my own responsibility. You see, I don’t live in a king’s palace, but a three bedroom house, and yet that still places me in the top one percent of the worlds wealthiest. I got to finish high school, and pursue tertiary studies. I am blessed to have a job, and a car and free healthcare. Many of us who live here in Australia have these same privileges.
And that brings me to another verse - “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return…” (Luke 12:48)
Just like the king in Proverbs, I have been given privilege, and as the verse challenges us, with that privilege comes responsibility – the responsibility to face suffering in our world and to do something about it. So how can we do this well?
1. Find an issue that grabs your heart. We are often most effective when we try to focus on one issue, learn a little about it and find a productive way to jump in and get involved.
2. Have realistic expectations. You are just one part of the puzzle – God calls us to walk alongside and speak up for those who suffer, but we can’t just “fix things”. Solutions are complex. We aren’t the hero that is going to magically make things right.
3. Be in it for the long haul. Whether you are called to walk alongside an individual, or be an advocate for more systemic change, be patient and committed, and you will see good things happen over time (often over a long time!)
4. Know that God is in it with you. God never ordains suffering, but when people suffer, He is with them in their midst. Whenever we choose to face situations of suffering, we are entering into a partnership with God in which He longs to bring hope and restoration, but wants to do it through us and with us. God has also gifted us with the Church and when we as a community can face suffering together and then try and tackle it, it becomes so much easier than going at it alone.
Whatever you choose to do, don’t turn away. Challenge yourself to face the suffering of others and look for God in the midst. He is never far from hurting people and broken dreams and will meet you there if you’re willing.