I have been thinking about the “Why?” question a bit lately: Why must the innocent suffer? Why is so little done to protect those innocent ones? Why do the guilty not suffer? Then, by implication, why am I not suffering?
There are big theological answers to these questions, such as God does all things for His glory, suffering and all. Judgment will come and the guilty will be punished and those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.
But those are not the sort of answers I am seeking. The question I am really asking is, “when someone in my life is suffering and I am not, why have I been given the undeserved blessing of health and wellbeing?” What is my responsibility with the fullness of life I have been given? Further, am I going to fulfill my responsibilities? Will I give what it is that others need from me, rather than just giving the left-over bits of my life that are the equivalent to spare change?
What is my responsibility toward those who are suffering — am I obliged to help everyone? The story Jesus told about the good Samaritan touches this topic; a man helps a total stranger from a group of people he would never normally associate with (Luke 10:25-37). Yet even in this story the issue is simplified by physical proximity (the injured man was lying beside the road) and in-your-face knowledge of the man’s need (the Levite and priest both saw him and chose to look the other way). What about the people we hear about or see on the news?
It seems to me that my obligation before God is based upon knowledge and ability to respond, both of which are limited. My knowledge is limited, but if I am aware of a need, I should respond and try to alleviate that need (see James 4:17). My ability to respond to all the needs I am aware of is also limited, I cannot sponsor every child I see advertised as needing sponsorship, I cannot heal the sick people, feed the starving or stop child abuse. But I can sponsor one child, I can at least care for someone I know who is sick even if I cannot heal them, and maybe by being supportive to one struggling family I can help reduce the risk to a child.
I think that Paul’s words to the Corinthian church also apply here:
For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
(2 Corinthians 8:12 ESV)
Yet we are called to give sacrificially, as the story of the widow’s offering shows (Mark 12:41-44). Such sacrificial giving goes way beyond money, as the superlative modern example of compassion liked to say:
“Love until it hurts.”
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
I think this begins to move me in a constructive direction regarding my response to suffering. Regarding evil, I must leave that to God because human justice is, at best, flawed ( Romans 12:19). As to why I am not currently suffering — mercy and grace are the only reasons I can think of ( Luke 13:1-5). Maybe I too will suffer in my life, in the meantime I think I also am called to love until it hurts.
The question that remains is, will I?
Sorry about all the questions, I think these are things we should ask ourselves more often than we generally do, that’s why I am posting them for all to ponder.
Image of Mother Teresa: Wikimedia Commons