It’s not an easy day to live in the world. Not if you’re paying attention.
Perhaps that’s an ungrateful thing to say. Where I live and work, it is sunny and 74 degrees. Student athletes moved in yesterday, so the campus is alive with activity for the first time in months. Despite a few inevitable grumbles and annoyances, I have a truly terrific life.
But I can’t stop thinking about places where things aren’t wonderful at all—places like Iraq and Honduras and Gaza and Sierra Leone, where people are desperate and hopeless. I’ve read accounts of children being murdered by religious fanatics. I’ve heard news reports of the ebola epidemic. I’ve seen pictures of children who, unaccompanied, have traveled 2200 miles from home, only to be screamed at by anti-immigration zealots at the US border.
It’s all second-hand. It’s a long way away. But it’s the same world as mine. I share this planet with those who are killing and those who are dying. Some days I can shake that fact.
Today, not so much.
I know these sort of things have happened before. Happen all the time, when you take the long view of human history. Assyrian pillage. Roman oppression. Black Death. Spanish Flu. Nazis. Khmer Rouge. Innumerable thousands of catastrophes. It occurs to me that believing in a loving God in the face of it all boils down to a stubborn act of will.
To pile on even further, I am painfully aware that all of these atrocities belong in my NADTICDAI file, where I store things I have no way to deal with. I’ve filed them and gone about my day, and how have I spent my time? Smiling at students. Giving polite directions. Saying my prayers. Being nice.
And how does that address the problems?
NADTICDAI. Not a Damn Thing I Can Do About It.
I might as well sit in my corner and pout.
Which is where this line of thinking takes me. Which is a place I know I can’t go. Not and still live out the faith I profess.
I will likely never be able to address any of the world’s big problems directly, at least not on a large scale. I can look for ways to help, of course, and I am bound by creed to do all the good I can, whenever and however the opportunity presents itself. But in a realistic sense, I doubt I will ever make a peacekeeping mission to the Middle East, or that I’ll have the knowledge to treat an ebola patient, or that I’ll negotiate a truce in the Holy Land. Whether because of previous choices or providence or some cocktail thereof, these are not courses available to me.
But I have to live somewhere. And I have to live some way.
At Dakota Wesleyan, I see people wearing bright blue shirts that say “Believe there is good in the world.” But the text is highlighted in such a way as to embed a second message. “Be the good in the world.”
This afternoon, when I grudgingly approached my devotional reading, the opening prayer made me angry. It says:
“Lord Jesus Christ, hasten the day when all of your people may know the joy, peace, and harmony of your kingdom. Grant unto me this day the power to live within your kingdom. In the name of Christ. Amen” (from “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants” by Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck).
It seemed at first like such a stupid thing, to be so reduced by scope and geography that I can respond to urgent suffering with a trite prayer for joy and peace and so forth.
But as I think more about it, the prayer isn’t trite. It is an act of humility, admitting my limitations. At the same time, it is an act of faith, placing broken hearts and a broken world in God’s loving hands.
Believe there is good in the world.
And maybe what I do in my own context today matters too. Maybe there are minor tragedies to be averted through simple human kindness. Maybe my actions among the people I meet today will produce someone, even five or six degrees down the line, who does have direct impact in a matter of global importance. No way to know. Jesus never promised knowing. He did say love your neighbors.
Be the good in the world.
It’s not an easy day to live in the world. Maybe it never is.
But it’s still a day to live in the world, and to live well in it. It is a day for prayers and service, however small, and for simple trust in a God who has seen it all and has not turned away.