A couple weeks ago in response to fellow workers recent loss, a co-worker said to me and those within earshot, “Humor equals tragedy plus time.”, a statement that I told him was probably one of the most ignorant things I had ever heard. I know that he was quoting Mark Twain, that doesn’t change the way it made me feel about what he said. Days after a co-worker lost a grandparent it was tasteless and rude to say. What bothered me the most is how un-shocked and desensitized he seemed to have become to other peoples sufferings.
Last Sunday I spoke about Nehemiah, specifically Nehemiah’s response to the destruction and ongoing state of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been in a state of ruin for hundreds of years, but time didn’t separate the grief that Nehemiah felt when presented with the truth of it’s ruin. In Nehemiah 1:4 (ESV) it says
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah was deeply affected by the tragedy of the city of his fathers, he wept, fasted and prayed for many days. He was wrecked by the grief and sadness. But his sadness would not fix anything in Nehemiah 2:5 he dresses the king and says
“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
Nehemiah didn’t stop at sadness, he took action. He asked the king if he could go and do something about it, and even asked for all the materials needed to complete the task. Nehemiah saw a need, was moved to grief by it, and moved into action about it.
Sorrow, tragedy and suffering are parts of everyday life, some more poignant than others, but all weigh heavy on God’s heart.
In his 1943 novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis writes of a mans journey to Venus, where he finds a perfect Eden like environment, no death, no evil, no sin. It is all interrupted when another visitor comes with the express purpose of introducing sin and corrupting the Queen of this innocent world. The main character, Ransom, humble upon a horrifying sight. A frog, brutally injured and left to suffer. The first evil done in a sinless, innocent world, Lewis writes this of Ransom’s thoughts at the time:
“It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.”
Ransom was so devastated by the brutality and suffering he sees, that he wishes that nothing had ever been created, if it meant that this heinous act could have been avoided.
Sometimes, I think the same thing. Sin has brought such pain and suffering into our world, sometimes it seems it would be better if God had never even created us.
In 2015, there were for 14 recognized military conflicts, and 396 recognized terrorist attacks. 783 million people on this planet do not have access to clean water. 795 million people do not have access to food to maintain proper nourishment. Sin has brutalized this world, sin that mankind brought into it.
As Christian’s we have two possible responses to this. First, we can be sad and bemoan the state of the world and its godlessness, casting all blame on those who don’t believe, Satan, or even the government. Secondly, we can do our part.
In Perelandra, Ransom doesn’t stop and sit in a quiet puddle of his tears. He gets up and moves on, finding more and more of the same brutal work, until he finds the man responsible talking to the Queen, trying to convince her that his ways are better. Ransom steps in, and does what he can to remind the Queen that the innocence of life, and the wishes of her Creator are far better.
You don’t have to go around the world to know people are suffering and have it break your heart. Nehemiah had never even been to Jerusalem, yet he mourned over it. People are hurting in your nation, your city, your church, even in your own homes. What is your response going to be?