“The number of homeless people in the UK has increased to at least 320,000, according to the charity, Shelter. That represents a 4% increase on last year’s figures – equivalent to 36 people becoming homeless every day.” According to the Food Aid Foundation, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year and some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth”. We see statistics like this every day. Sometimes they are sensationalised in the media and sometimes they are used to score political points. There is so much bad news in the world that we typically read stats like these as information. We may pause to think about it for a few seconds and then, get on with our day. On a few occasions, we may even give money to the charities tackling one of these problems and if you are like me, you feel good about yourself for doing so and then, get on with your day. Could I do more?
The other question is, “How does God feel about a homeless person, or a child dying of hunger when He has provided enough for everyone?” Every man, woman or child is “fearfully and wonderfully made” [Psalm 139:14] and known by God even before they were conceived [Jeremiah 1:5]. Furthermore, like Paul, God has laid a specific purpose on every human life [Galatians 1:15]. I believe God mourns for the suffering in this world. Jesus, when He walked the earth, mourned with those who mourned. No one is just a statistic in the sight of God because like a master workman, He crafted each of us uniquely [Ephesians 2:10]. That applies to Jeff Besos and Bill Gates, just as much as it applies to a starving child somewhere in the world. However, so often, we tend to see human beings less than God sees them and so easily, they can be a statistic to us.
Another question is, “why doesn’t God do something about the pain and suffering in the world?” The truth for every Christian is that He has. Jesus redeems us from a life without God [Matthew 20:28]. When we accept what Jesus did for us, we are adopted as children of God [Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:14-17]. As children of God, we literally become the visible representation of God on earth, the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:27] and we are to pass on the love, mercy, kindness, goodness, etc we have received from God to others. Or as Paul puts it “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” [Ephesians 2:8-10]. Essentially, God has delegated His redeeming work in the world to the Church. That is not a building or a denomination but you and I who call ourselves followers of Jesus. For being a follower of Jesus must include doing God’s work.
However, especially in the West, we Christians often suffer from what some have termed “Middle-Class Christianity”. Rather than asking, “what can I do for God”, we focus on “what can God do for me”. There is a preoccupation with us, our lives and our problems which oftentimes cast such a large shadow that we do not have space for others or their problems. Aeroplane safety instructions warn that in the event of an emergency, you should put off your own mask before helping others – self-preservation. This is generally how the world operates. We see a me-first attitude in our workplace, in politics, in our neighbourhood and so on. This is not the gospel of Jesus, the Bible repeatedly warns us against self-preservation [Matthew 16:25] and calls us to imitate Jesus’ who gave up Himself for others [Ephesian 5:1-2, 1 John 3:16]. Paul words to Timothy are worth remembering: “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” [1 Timothy 6:8]. Maybe if we could be content with and manage well what we already have, we would be able to look up and see the needs of others and offer up ourselves as God’s vessels to meet those needs. God is ready to partner with us but apathy can prevent us from being useful to Him.
William Temple once said, “the Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” For me, this applies to the cooperate gathering as well as to individual Christians. A church gets bloated and ineffective in sharing the gospel when it doesn’t use its resources first and foremost for the benefit of the community within which it exists. If everything it does is inward-looking, how can it evangelise? When a church is outward-looking, the gospel is experienced more powerfully in deeds instead of words, then it becomes effective. The same applies to Christians. I must confess, I often struggle to see the resources God has given me as His. As such, I tend to use them for myself and my own needs or problems. I seldom ask Him if He would have me use it differently. Yes, we will have problem, but let’s not forget that great promise our Lord Jesus gave us before His death: “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [John16:33]. Let us not be so blinded by our own problems and trials that we forget that our primary purpose in this world is to do God’s will. Often that requires us to meet the needs of others and sometimes, put the needs of others over ours [Philippians 2:3]. This requires a conscious effort from us daily.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another while apathy is the lack of concern. Without empathy, it would be very difficult to carry out the necessary good works which are the outward signs of God’s Spirit at work in us. Paul tells us that “we have the mind of Christ”, therefore we know how God feels about the poor, homeless, widow or orphan, anyone in need of our help. The Bible also tells us this in Deuteronomy 10:18 for example. Additionally, when we act to meet the needs of others, we are affirming that we care and they matter, to us and to God. That in itself is a powerful message. So, you and I must resolve to ask God what He wants us to do about the next ugly statistic we see and how best to use the resources He has given us to serve others. Don’t let the suffering of others just become statistics to you because it isn’t to God. As His physical presence in the world, we are called to act on His behalf [Galatians 2:20] and meet the needs we see.