Friday, January 30, 2009

an honest look at compassion

"Compassion is the virtue of being moved to action by the sight of suffering" [oliver o'donovan]

there is such a strange conundrum when it comes to the issue of compassion. it comes from our nature to judge the appropriateness of need.

For example, no one can argue that children living in the slums of Africa deserve compassion. However, what about the unstable woman of wealthy Andover who calls the church in desperate need of money b/c she blew it all on nose jobs, gambling and possibly drugs? a woman who has never known "need" and who is in the position she's in only b/c of her own poor choices? Does she deserve compassion, and if so can we say that it is the same compassion deserved by the African child who has never known anything but utter poverty, hunger and need?

i personally struggle with this. my heart aches for the poorest of the poor in Africa. i sponsor a child, i've been on a mission trip to Kenya and would go on a million more. but when it comes to a woman who has been irresponsible with her means, i am not as easily "moved to action". of course, i listen to her as she goes on and on, i promise to connect her to a pastor and to help her in any way we can, but my level of sympathy is very low. she questions the presence of God and His provision and it is so hard for me not to tell her to wake up and get a grip. she calls her situation "dire" and i want to yell in her ear that she can't even begin to know what "dire" actually is.

what i did tell her was that God does provide, but not in the way we always expect. He won't dump money in your lap but He might give you the opportunity to take an odd job here and there. after saying this, my mind immediately went back to the poor person in Africa who may not even have that chance. is it ok for them to question God's provision under their circumstances? How does God provide for the impoverished? does He?

and i digress...

there is so much that is hard to digest. when you mention volunteering at a local soup kitchen you hear a story from someone who works in that town and says that the people there get plenty of funding and government assistance but they squander it, and therefore her claim is that they are not truly needy.

when i was recently in arizona, we drove through a lot of indian reservation land. there was sadness b/c of all the run-down trailer homes, but raised eyebrows at the amount of nice cars outside them. we heard from several locals that the native americans on the reservations no longer work, but depend on checks from the government and the casinos. they receive a free car from the government at age 16, and are eligible to receive multiple replacements. most are alcoholics. i found myself torn between being upset and disappointed that they could live like that, abandoning the work ethic of their earlier generations who would farm that land– and frustration with the root of the problem, which our government started in the first place.

how do we deal with two-faced issues like these? how do i deal with the people that come in the church asking for money and food- and they drive away in a nicer car than i have, or they come back a different day with a different story and you know they are lying to you? i have to admit my first reaction is anger. how can they be so selfish and lazy and lie to a church just to get a couple bucks?

the only thing i can come back to is Jesus. what did He say about this? He said: "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'(from Matthew 25)

when have i been "moved to action"? am i willing to help anyone, so matter what the circumstance?

clearly, i've failed at that. or i have helped, but with a sour attitude.

there's been a few incidents when i've heard the holy spirit tell me to do something compassionate for a random stranger. most of those times, i refused to act on it. it was in those moments that i missed Jesus.

i refused to help Jesus.

out of all of those times, i can't really remember all the ones where i did obey His voice, i am only haunted by the times i didn't.

compassion is an everyday opportunity. the real dilemma is not if we agree with the reasons that make a person "needy", or trust their motives, or have the audacity to think we can decide if they are deserving of our compassion (as i am guilty of), but rather how we are going to act towards them in a way that is Christ-like, as if they are Christ himself.

the truth is we are all needy- we all need Jesus and that is the greatest thing we can share. without Him, we are all destitute, and our situation is indeed "dire".


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