Originally appeared as Yoursfaithfully column in Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent local newspaper) on 23 March 2011
War and civil unrest. Airstrikes. Earthquake and Tsunami. Nuclear threat. Recession. Record unemployment. The news headlines make depressing reading, don’t they? Add to this the ongoing suffering that many experience, which is either “old news” or is never deemed to be newsworthy enough to be brought to our attention; and it is possible to feel completely overwhelmed by all that’s happening in the world.
Our natural reaction to this vast suffering could be to go one of two ways – either to switch off the news, bury our head in the sand and pretend none of this is happening, or to fall into such a level of despair that it paralyses us; we want to do something but have no idea where to start, so we end up doing nothing.
How would God have us respond to the need that is so evident in our world? Jesus said that one of God’s top priorities for the way we should live is that we love our neighbour (see Matthew 22:37-39). He also told the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (where a Jewish traveller is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road, ignored by two people who would have been expected to help him, before being rescued by a Samaritan – one of the arch-enemies of the Jews), to remind us that God’s love extends to all people, and that as his followers, we have a responsibility to reach out in love to all those in need.
We cannot simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend that none of the suffering is happening; to do so is to ignore that basic command to love our neighbour. Neither should we believe the lie that tells us we are too small and insignificant to make the slightest difference. The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates this. He saw a man in need and acted immediately to help. His actions probably did little to address the dangers faced by travellers, but he made all the difference to that one man.
God calls us to love our neighbour; to care for the world that he so lovingly created. We cannot possibly save all of those whose lives are threatened by war, natural disasters, disease, or famine, but we can play our part. Most importantly, we can pray – pray for those in need; and for ourselves, that God would show us how we can help. We can ask God to place a particular person, family, charity or country on our heart. Then we can act – by giving our time or money to help address the pressing needs that we face. It may seem like our efforts are miniscule compared to the vastness of suffering that we encounter, but if everyone played their small part, it would make a massive difference. One snowflake on its own melts, but together snowflakes can stop traffic.
The well-known story is told of an old man who was walking on a beach strewn with starfish washed up by a storm. A little boy was picking up the stranded starfish one by one and tossing them back into the sea. The old man smiled indulgently and said, “You’re wasting your time, child. There are so many doomed starfish on this beach. You can’t save them all. What difference will it make to save a few of them?” The little boy looked at the starfish in his hand, and as he sent it sailing toward the water, he replied, “It will make a difference to that one.”