Although we often feel we would like to live in a bubble protected from the distresses around us, news of drought, flood, fire,
famine and danger screams its way into our homes through television, social media and our direct connections with our neighbours. Certainly natural disasters are in the news as I write: wildfires in Greece have killed hundreds; flooding in Laos has immersed homes and destroyed lives and 90% of land in NSW is drought-ridden with stock dying and farmers facing impossible debts and loss of livelihood.
Yet alongside the stories of suffering and destruction, go parallel stories of those who give support. Not only those directly affected but global communities come in to rescue, rebuild and comfort. International aid agencies are in the thick of the dirty work of repairing the environment and the emotionally-draining work of healing broken bodies and offering consolation to broken hearts. We saw this most movingly in the rescue of the Thai soccer team, where the world waited with bated breath as specialist experts from across the world worked together around the clock. And in this case, the prayers and efforts were rewarded with much rejoicing.
We may argue at length philosophically about why a good God allows suffering and natural disasters, but as Job belatedly found out, we do not have the big picture, the final overall understanding. What we do have, though, is the example and command of Jesus Christ. Unlike many Hindus, who may say that such suffering is the karma they deserve, Christians look to Jesus who commanded us to ‘love your neighbour as yourself ’ and so, like our Saviour, we are committed to giving practical loving support to the afflicted.
It is a wonderful demonstration of God’s common grace to humanity when we see people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions pulling together to help others. That is why the impulse to thank a divinity is the right one in these circumstances.
The message that lives should be protected and help offered from the strong and capable to the weak and vulnerable, has swept the world so that now it is a commonplace attitude. That concept is firmly rooted in the Christian teaching that each person is made in the image of God and loved by God, so that each life is of worth.
God has put into all people an instinctive sympathy for our fellow humans. This grows and blossoms as we follow Jesus’ commandment to love those around us and to work with them to ameliorate pain. On the other hand, natural sympathy can be extinguished by choosing selfish lifestyles, to our own loss, for, as Jesus says, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
If the common grace of God spurs ordinary citizens to wonderful acts of self-sacrifice, such as the impressively humble service of the Australian doctors and divers in the Thai cave rescue, then how much more should we Christians work together with others in our neighbourhoods and church communities to serve others. We must never let differences, whether of church preferences, age, race or gender, inhibit our service, for when we put ourselves out for others, Jesus says, we are actually doing it for Him. (Matthew 25:40)