Have you tried praying?
The last couple of months have been marked by more than ordinarily distressing news headlines. On the international front there is the slow creep of Ebola through western Africa. Further abroad there are the deteriorating situations in Gaza, Syria, Ukraine and the race riots in the United States. Here at home we have our familiar news stories of corruption, the ongoing strikes and service delivery protests in the public sphere and in the private sphere the stories of murder and rape continue unabated.
In the midst of all this darkness it is easy to understand how people may despair, and especially to find it hard to believe in a loving God. We see footage of children killed in missile strikes, or lying waiting to die in isolation from a terrifying disease and it offends our innate sense of what is right.
For myself, although I am not directly affected by these terrifying situations, still knowing of them and reading about them has a profound impact on my life of faith. I am easily cast into a desolate sense of there being no hope, when I look at the enormity of these problems.
This reminds me of when I was a student at the time of the Rwandan Genocide, and feeling then also a terrible sense of helplessness. I knew that in truth there was very little I could do, as I had no useful skills to offer, I did not speak any of the local languages and I was a student living many miles away.
Some years later, when I was slightly more skilled, I encountered in my ministry of spiritual direction some Rwandan refugees. At this time I noticed in myself a far greater sense of God’s loving presence. All those whom I encountered had suffered horrifically, yet they had been sustained by a sense of hope and now they were rebuilding their lives. Central to my conversations with them was the passion of Jesus. Although I was supposed to be the one listening, I remember this as a time of deep growth for me. I came to trust God’s love in a new way, by seeing how Jesus knows from his own experience the depths of our human ability to suffer. I came to more deeply believe in the redemption that Jesus offers us in his own suffering and death.
There is no easy answer for what we should do to aid our fellow brothers and sisters who are in need, but there is a biblical injunction that we should do something. At the very least we should be aware of the pain in the world. We should know what is happening. Finally I am reminded of a story told of Archbishop Tutu during one of his trips to the United States, he was asked what people there could do to help end Apartheid and his reply was to ask a question in return; ‘Have you tried praying?’