Last week, I drove by a bunch of protesting college students. They were on a main road, next to a particular Christian college, and they were holding up signs for Haiti. The signs were basically saying, “Remember Haiti’s not better just because they are no longer in the 24 hour news cycle.” My immediate response was to think, Haiti? That was 3 natural disasters ago.
But they are right. Haiti hasn’t just magically improved because our cameras stopped filming. A huge portion of the Haitian population still sleeps outside. Their infrastructure is still badly damaged, only now there aren’t major celebrities pleading their cause on national television.
Haiti is so 2009.
Because now we are seeing the pictures of the devastation that Japan is suffering from a massive earthquake and a subsequent Tsunami. And if we have any kind of heart, we find ourselves asking new questions…that feel awfully familiar to ones we’ve asked before.
I still remember what it feels like to find a pair of kids shoes buried in rubble from the Tsunami of 2004 (see above picture). I remember being angry with God for allowing it to happen. It was 3 months after the Tsunami when it stopped being a abstract problem and started being one that I was holding in my hands, but the anger was fresh for me. It’s what happens when ideas become personal. Non-profit leaders have long known this, if you give someone a statistic about suffering there isn’t a compelling tug to do something, but if you show them a face…if that number is connected to a person, then there is a much greater chance that you might just engage the problem.
Bono, the lead singer of U2, once said, “15 thousand people are dying needlessly each day from AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, mechanics, children. This is Africa’s crisis. That it’s not on the nightly news, that we do not treat this like an emergency…that’s our crisis.”
Sociologists have coined a term for a recent phenomenon. They say that the average Westerner suffers from what they call, “Compassion Fatigue.” We are overwhelmed with need, and limited with resources. And since we can’t do something for everyone, we are tempted to not do anything.
This is the holiest week of the Christian calendar. It’s the week where we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But this holy season comes on the heels of some of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Even the coldest cynics are starting to think that maybe the Mayans were right (kidding). It seems that the world is starting to come unraveled. So what does this week have to say about that?
There is a time in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is walking along and some people bring a man who was deaf to him. They want Jesus to heal him, but the guy can’t really even communicate with Jesus. And what Jesus does with this guy seems bizarre. He takes him aside, and spits on his hands and touches the man’s tongue. Then places his fingers in his ears. It’s the only time that we know of that Jesus’ gives someone a wet-willy.
But why does Jesus do this? He doesn’t heal anyone else like this? He doesn’t need to put on a show for this to work, does he?
Tim Keller points out that this was Jesus entering into the man’s cognitive realm. In other words, Jesus is not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for the man. He’s communicating with him non-verbally, in the only way that the man can understand. And furthermore, he has taken him away from the crowd. The guy has probably been mocked his entire life, and Jesus refuses to let that happen again. He is going to give him his life back…
But first, Jesus sighs.
Actually, the word there is a rare Greek word that isn’t used much. It means that Jesus’ hurts for this guy, there is some deep compassion that is going on in this moment. But a better translation of this would be that Jesus’ groaned. I love that idea. The Son of God, the one who has come to redeem the earth is groaning with us.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible, is in Romans 8. It’s where Paul is starting to get worked up about what the Resurrection actually means. That death and decay no longer have a place in God’s good and new world. Because deep in our bones we know the world is meant to be better, we were meant to be better. Tsunami’s and Earthquakes, AIDS and TB, those belong to death, and death does not belong.
And then Paul says something that fascinates me. He says, “So all of Creation is Groaning, longing for this day when everything is set right.”
All of Creation, from Jupiter, to the Grand Canyon, to white blood cells that are too many or too little, Creation anticipates being set right. It groans for it.
And Mark tells us, Jesus is groaning too.
He knows that he is about to give this man back his life. But it’s not enough for God to just give back what death has taken, he refuses to stand aloof at our suffering.
He groans with us.
He suffers with us.
He dies with us.
And then God gives it all back.