Like it or not, the world is at war. However most of the time, we don’t give it a second thought. We don’t have to, that is, until a crisis like that in Iraq or a protracted high-profile conflict like that which is currently taking place between Gaza and Israel (and is still happening in Syria and dozens of other nations throughout the world, especially throughout Africa, lest we forget!).
But what are we to do with all the world’s grief?
And what role, if any, is there for those of us ‘outside’ of these conflicts to play?
Is there a point at which we should just all ‘turn off’ the news and ‘disengage’ with the suffering of others so that we can get on with living our own lives?
The bible would certainly suggest otherwise, as we’re about to see.
In the middle of his teaching on what it means to live a life of ‘love in action’ (Romans 12:9-21), Paul instructs his audience that they should, “mourn with those who mourn.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear these words I intuitively think of the situations of mourning I’ve gone through, or am likely to go through, with those closest to me – friends, family, neighbours and members from my Church family. I’mless sure about how to treat this command by Paul when it comes to those I don’t know who are mourning. And yet I have this deep feeling within me that this command applies to them too.
Upon the hearing of some great injustice involving tragedy and the loss of lives, our first reaction is often shock, then disbelief, soon followed by demands for answers, which often gets mixed with a good dose of anger, finger pointing and even the calling for retribution (just look at the way people are engaging one another on social media over the Gaza conflict).
But Paul knew that unless we first mourned with those who were mourning – taking the time to do nothing else but to sit with them in their pain – that we would all lack the spiritual, mental and physical resources needed to carry out his further instructions to honour, serve and love those who are suffering.
There is strong precedence for this throughout the ancient Greek and Hebrew scriptures. When Nehemiah receives the news that Jerusalem has been ransacked and, “its gates burned with fire, ” his immediate response was not to plot against his enemy but to sit down and weep. In fact, we are told that Nehemiah’s weeping lasted ‘for some days’ before he finally turned and prayed to God. Only then did he set off, first needing to request from the King permission for leave (an act which in itself could have cost him his life) and then beginning the task of rebuilding the wall. Jesus too, as he stood taking in Jerusalem one final time, looked upon it and wept for it. And yet we know what he would go on to do for the inhabitants of the very city that was the cause of so much of his own personal distress.
But still you might say, “Well both Jesus and Nehemiah still ‘knew’ the people they were weeping over. They were their countrymen, connected by race, blood and familial lines.” And yet Paul’s commands when read in context are unequivocally determined that we should mourn with all of those who mourn, and this would seem to include even our enemies.
However, whilst those of us who are Australian can relate to the Australians involved in a tragedy like MH17, whose names and backgrounds we can connect with in order to mourn for (just as those of you with Jewish or Palestinian backgrounds are able to more deeply relate to those suffering in Gaza and Israel right now), it is much harder when it comes to mourning for those whose lives and stories we hardly know a thing about.
Unlike my friend from Syria who I was recently speaking too, I have never experienced the constant sense of anxiety that leads one to have to carry an AK-47 on an otherwise straightforward outing to the shopping mall with his wife. And unlike a beautiful family from the Democratic Republic of Congo that my wife and I have walked with since their arrival as refugees in Australia, our response to fireworks at a New Years celebration or school fair, would never be to dive for cover under a nearby marquee because the harmless explosions of colours above trigger a flashback to a time not so long ago when such cracks and popsoverhead meant that the rebels were storming your village.
But whilst I pray for me and my family that we will never have to experience the amount of loss and grief that these friends of ours have gone through, it doesn’t mean that I can’t stand beside them and the countless others whose stories are just like theirs. And I believe this starts with mourning for what they have lost – innocence, security, peace, family, loved ones and homes.
The choice to grieve for and with those you don’t personally know – or at least don’t feel any sense of connection or obligation to through ties of race, religion or nationality – is an ‘active’ one that only you can muster the will and desire to do.
Events like MH17 and Gaza don’t happen in a ‘vacuum’. They might come as a shock to us because until they happen, we don’t see ourselves as personally involved or connected to the tension and conflict in the world that creates them. But that doesn’t make it any less real. And if we want to live in a world where such occurrences are to remain ‘rare’ and not become increasingly common, then it is essential that we all learn to develop this ‘empathy that leads to action’, which Paul is trying to teach us about.
If we truly desire peace – not just for ourselves and our nation but for the millions of innocents caught in conflicts across the world – and are to find the kind of resolve needed for the long road ahead to achieving it, than we must first learn to mourn with all of those who mourn… and only then should you think about tweeting about it.
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- When you read the news, don’t try and ‘figure it all out’ right away. Instead, sit with the pain, recognise the loss, feel the grief and just mourn over it for what it is.
- Take the time to read the personal stories of loss and hardship for those suffering as a result of any war or tragedy.
QUESTION: What right (if any) do you think that those ‘outside’ of a conflict/tragedy have to play?