Posts Tagged ‘disasters’

The last twelve months, not unlike the twelve months prior…or the twelve months prior to that, have produced a slew of tragedies.  In just the first 4+ months of 2010 there have been earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Indonesia, Turkey, California, Spain & China – with an estimated 230,000 lost lives from these quakes.  2010 has brought avalanches in northwestern Pakistan, flooding & mudslides in Portugal & in Rio de Janeiro, & landslides in eastern Uganda.  There have been multiple plane crashes – the two with the most casualties include a Polish military jet going down and killing 96 on board & an Ethiopian flight crashing and killing 90.  If statistics are playing out as they have in previous years (and they are), then in the first quarter of 2010 over 2.25 million children will have died of preventable disease before their fifth birthday – half of them in Africa alone.  Within 24 hours of this blog post another 24,000 will have perished.

But there is another tragedy occurring – and it’s happening as you read this post right now. And it’s happening to me as I write this post.  It is the tragedy of being less and less moved by the loss of life, the destruction & the carnage described in the first paragraph. It is the reality that our hearts are burdened enough by the suffering in our own lives and most of us don’t have the capacity, the desire, or the will to allow ourselves to enter into the suffering of those outside our immediate context on a day after day basis.  We are saturated with the suffering of others as day after day images of tragedies flash across our TVs, our computer monitors & our iPhones.  Day after day we hear of tragedy.  Day after day we read of devastation, loss & sorrow…parents losing children… children losing parents.  Whole families wiped out.  Entire villages reduced to rubble.  The reality is that our hearts are frail and we simply grow weary of the information and grow calloused to the suffering.

We’ve even come up with a term for this reduction in compassion – it’s called “compassion fatigue.”  A simple Google search for “compassion fatigue” produces 163,000 results.  Our friends over at Wikipedia sum it up:

“Compassion fatigue, also known as a Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among victims of trauma and individuals that work directly with victims of trauma. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt.

“Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with decontextualized images and stories of suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering. Journalism analysts cite research which shows that visual images affect brain activity in demonstrable and measurable ways.”

As I’ve been noodling on this whole compassion fatigue concept, my mind took me to the question, “Does God experience compassion fatigue?”  I mean, does He become overwhelmed by the suffering?  Does His heart grow weary of the pain and loss?  Is it possible that He would check out…unable to handle what He sees on a day in and day out basis?

If you’ve spent much time in my personal blog, then you’ll know that my gut response to this question is no, of course not. His capacity to experience compassion is unending.  However, I wanted to go back to Scripture to verify that my gut response was indeed backed up by God’s word.  The Old Testament is full of passages that speak to God’s compassion (Ex. 34:6-7; Deut. 4:30-31; 2 Chronicles 30:8-9, Nehemiah 9, Lamentations 3:19-26, Jonah 4:2ff to name a few).  And when we get into the New Testament and see Jesus, who “is the image of the invisible God”, we get to see God, in physical form, live a life void of compassion fatigue.  Two (of the many) passages that most encouraged my heart were Matthew 20 & Luke 7.

  • Matthew 20:29-34: Jesus is leaving Jericho.  He has just told His twelve disciples that they are headed to Jerusalem and this thing they are a part of is moving towards a murder – His murder.  It is crowded.  It is noisy.  There is chaos just being near this man.  And in the throng of people sit two unnamed men – both blind.  Though they cannot see Him with their eyes, they can see with their hearts that this man is something special.  And so they cry out at the tops of their lungs – a loud and annoying yell – “Have mercy on us!  Have mercy on us!”  The crowd tells them to shut up.  But Jesus stopped.  Is He busy? Yes.  Is He overloaded with requests?  Yes.  Are there crowds of sick people that need His attention?  Yes.  Is He aware that His body is about to be ripped to shreds by a whip?  Yes.  Is He cognizant of the fact that, in a very short time, nails will be driven through His hands & feet?  Yes.  And yet, He stopped.  No compassion fatigue – just compassion.  And two men receive their sight.
  • Luke 7:12-15: Jesus is approaching the city of Nain & comes along a funeral procession.  In the coffin is a young man – the only son of a widow.  This woman has lost everything – no husband to protect her…no son to provide for her.  She is alone.  But in God’s sovereignty, her aloneness is about to be interrupted.  Jesus sees this woman through the crowds – both the crowd following Him and the crowd following the coffin.  He sees the coffin. He sees the pain. He sees the loss.  No compassion fatigue – just compassion.  And with a touch to the coffin and a single sentence uttered there is life restored where there was death.

If you want to see how God responds to suffering, you need not look beyond Jesus.  If you need proof that God does not experience compassion fatigue, then spend some time in the gospels and remember that you and I are the blind men on the side of the road.  We are the widow who has lost everything.  And yet, God, full of compassion, has moved on our behalf.  “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

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