I was talking to a good friend not too long ago as she shared the events of her life that were troubling and discouraging to her. I found myself disconnected from her stories, and unable to identify or sympathize with them. I could sense that she was depressed and needed help, being burdened by her problems. As I sat there listening, I thought to myself, “What is my problem? I don’t even act like I care. She can tell. Wait, I don’t really care. Why don’t I care? She is a good friend and I should be more concerned about this.” She left, and I could tell that she could sense the apathy. I was very saddened that I acted so unchristianlike. How is it that I could be so disconnected from someone close to me, while she shared her weighty troubles that were burdening their heart? I had felt that my plate of troubles was so full that I could not fit anything else on it. But, if this were the case, how did it get so full that I could not come to the aid, in any way, with a good friend with whom I have been so close for years?
All of us have been overwhelmed by the images on the news. I can’t believe what we have to endure. To sit and watch as someone’s head is cut off is beyond disturbing, but it produces emotional rage and spiritual confusion. Yet, these images are being shown over and over, and I am sure there will be more to come. We all had to sink emotionally when we heard about Robin Williams. The pain that it takes to take one’s own life is transferred to us, when we imagine what it must have been like in his final moments. Not only this, but the way news travels, all day long we are inundated with every bit of bad news that happens around the world within minutes of it happening. We see the images of those suffering around the world. We get prayer requests on Facebook for God to intervene in tragedies of “friends” that we never thought we could have. I can’t bear all this pain. I really can’t. I makes me fall apart in every way, cowering in a fetal position on the kitchen floor. But Paul tells me to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The “law of Christ” in this context seems to be to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). But I can’t. My allotted emotional energy is spent before the coffee is even served. News can be overwhelming. Bad news is discouraging, depressing, and disillusioning. The dictionary defines “disillusioning” as “to free from or deprive of illusion, belief, idealism, etc.; disenchant.” To be disillusioned can be a good thing so long as the “illusion” that you are under is misleading, representing a state of mind that is not in accordance with reality. We should desire to be disillusioned from worldviews that discourage us from the focus or balance that creates stability. However, when we have a correct worldview, to have circumstances that create imbalance and instability–disillusionment–within that worldview affecting us in a negative way. . . Don’t get me wrong . . . I believe that today we are blessed with valuable technological advancements in communication that would have seemed nothing short of supernatural until one hundred years ago. In the day of Christ, to think of those in Jerusalem being able to have immediate access on demand communication of the happenings of people on the other side of the Roman Empire would have been unheard of. In order for one in Jerusalem to find out what was happening in Rome, they would have had to wait weeks or months to get the information. Even then, the information may not have ever reached your ears had you not been in the “need to know” audience. Certainly, people would have heard, if Rome had been sacked, if there had been a severe famine in a certain part of the world, or if the Emperor had died or been replaced, but you would not have heard any “non-significant” information that did not pertain to you. You would not have heard about kidnapping of the daughter of the everyday Roman citizen, a stolen chariot, or a robbery-murder that took place on the Ephesian Way. This kind of information, if it did reach your ears, would have been irrelevant and, at most, part of a minor rumor mill that would have died out very quickly. During that time, a person would limit the “headline” news to that which had happened in their own neighborhood. Worries and anxieties would have been limited to the here and now. For the most part, your worries and anxieties would have come as a result of you sitting around sweating about how you were going to pay the bills or the troubles of your family or your immediate community. Your daily news would have come from your community within a certain vicinity. Within this limited community (your family, neighbors, synagogue/church, your work place), you would have had a balance of good and bad news. For the most part, this news would not have been too overwhelming or disillusioning. If there were someone who had a daughter who died of suicide, it was probably the first time you had been exposed to such an occurrence and it would seem very tragic. If you were a good neighbor desirous to bear the burdens of the other, you would have been with the parents that day with your arms around them. The biggest problem you would then have is fear of the future. What is going to happen, tomorrow? What if one of my children commits suicide? What if my child dies as a result this disease or that ailment? What if I lose my job, as so-and-so did? What does the future hold? It is in this context in the great “Sermon on the Mount” where Christ brings perspective:
Matthew 6:31-34 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
“Each day has enough troubles”? This does not sound too encouraging. I would rather have heard Christ say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. God is going to take care of you.” Or “Don’t worry about tomorrow; for today has enough joys to keep you occupied.” I don’t really like “Today has enough troubles of its own.” Even worse is the King James translation. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The Greek does not get any better. The word used to translate “trouble” is kakia. The Gingrich Greek lexicon defines this word as “badness, faultiness in the sense of depravity, wickedness, and vice.” Most particularly in this context, it carries the idea of “trouble or misfortune.” Ouch. I don’t like the words “misfortune” or “trouble”. I especially don’t like those words connected with the word “today.” In essence, Christ is saying that each day had enough burdens to bear. Within the culture of the day, even with the limited news that they had, their troubles were sufficient. According to Christ, a person cannot and, indeed, is not expected to take on any more than they can bear. This includes future burdens. “Do not worry about tomorrow.” The theological principle is this (and if I have been clumsy building my thesis thus far, I have to be clear here): people should not, and cannot, take upon their shoulders the burdens of the future. More broadly, this would teach that people can only take so much difficulty. If this is the case, while the burdens of the future pose a major temptation for worry and great stress among people, in a similar sense there is the case of burdens we bear of those outside our community. As individuals, we have a responsibility to take on the burdens of those around us. When we begin to take on the burdens of those whom we have never met (and may never meet), we become so discouraged that we are no longer able to take on the burdens of those who are close to us. We throw our arms in the air and cry “What is the use? What can I really do?” Now let us apply this to current situations confronting us. It is this “postmodern plight” in which we find ourselves, today. I believe that this scenario is the primary cause for today being recognized by many as “The Age of Despair.” We have access to so much information that it creates an overload of knowledge concerning the state of affairs which goes beyond our own community and responsibility. We feel as if it were a part of our stewardship to pray for, cry for, and give and answer for the evil report of the entire world. We feel as if we are doing something good, if we have a good day and are able to do this. However, this is not often the case and it will eventually make us useless in bearing any burdens at all. I think that this information overload was part of my problem, when I talked to my friend. I was already so discouraged, myself, that I was unable to pick myself up in order to help her. Principles
- I am not saying that everyone should quit watching the news. . . but, be careful. If it causes you to worry, become disillusioned, and go into despair, perhaps you should consider slowing down or stopping. Just be careful about what and how much you take in, as it can alter your worldview.
- Your primary stewardship is with your immediate community, which is made up of those people who you actually know and have a relationship. Always seek to bear their burdens.
- This does not mean that we don’t exercise care or do what we can for those on the other side of the world. Paul went from church to church seeking help and relief for others. I think we have a responsibility for those who live in impoverished nations and catastrophe stricken states. We need to do what we can to help relieve their suffering and pain. But, at the same time, we need to keep focus on the stewardship that God has given us in the immediate context of what is happening in our respective communities. This may sound trite, but there is really only so much that you can do.
- Keep in mind that today does not necessarily have more bad news than any other day in the history of the world, we just now have more access to our current world’s bad news. Don’t lose perspective.
- For every evil report, there are countless reports of heroism, joy, success, comfort, and redemption that are taking place all over the world. The “breaking news stories” that the local and national news deems worthy of reporting are not balanced (and I don’t know how we can expect them to be). They won’t tell of the countless children who did not get kidnapped, the billions of people who survived the car crashes, and all the others whose heads remained on their shoulders. They most certainly are not going to tell of the redemption of countless people who have accepted the truth of the Gospel, or who found the way out of depression through the loving and gracious arms of others who took a personal interest in them. Neither is there a news station which has access to the heavenly realm so that reports will be made of the fact that God is still on the throne and has a plan for everything that happens. They are not going to report that angels rejoice, when a sinner repents. Don’t let secular news dictate your understanding of the big picture—to which no one has access outside of Scripture.
- How long is your prayer list? Many times we feel that we have to pray for every problem that we hear about. When this happens, the result will be a mix of insincerity and apathy, similar to what I earlier described concerning my friend. As a result, we will stop praying as we should for others, and subsequently be weighed down with undo guilt. I am not saying to stop praying for others as God leads, but to keep your prayer list responsible, realistic and doable.
I am so weak. So are you. Our shoulders are not that wide. We cannot bear all the burdens to which we are exposed every day.
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