What to Do When the World Is a Mess

Richard Stearns, President of World Vision US
Richard Stearns, President of World Vision US. |

The news from around the world over the last few months has been nothing less than heartbreaking. It seems as though the world is in flames.

  • The democracy protests that began in Kiev have erupted into a full-scale armed rebellion, which resulted in hundreds of innocent lives lost when separatists shot down a commercial airplane.
  • Iraq is falling into chaos with hundreds of thousands fleeing violence, including religious minorities. The upheaval could spell the end of the 2,000-year presence of Christianity in many places in Iraq.
  • The more than three-year-old civil war in Syria continues to produce victims, with more than 10 million refugees and internally displaced people so far.
  • Families and children are forced to rebuild in Gaza after fighting between Israel and Hamas.
  • In Central America, gangs have reeked such havoc that now tens of thousands of children are seeking refuge by flooding into the United States. In many cases, they are fleeing for their lives, taking tremendous risks in the hope of some protection in the U.S.
  • The deadly Ebola virus has brought terror across western Africa.

Our instinct, as we are confronted by this horror on the nightly news, is not to allow ourselves to truly confront this pain. We might say a quick prayer asking God to do something to help those who are suffering, but often it is simply too much to allow ourselves to really engage with what is happening around the world.

As a Christian, I think it is a tragedy if we fail to engage in the world's suffering and instead retreat for our own safety or peace of mind. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a healing balm for the sake of the suffering, not a means of escaping it. That's in part why World Vision decided to take the risky step of beginning relief operations in Iraq.

During times like these, I think that we need to remember that evil is alive and well in our world. We can easily buy into our society's notion that the world is always getting better. The idea of progress is a deceptive belief. It is true that we are always learning to treat diseases, live more prosperously, or take better care of creation. In fact, about a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the last 25 years. But improvements to our standard of living are not the same as moral progress. It doesn't mean that we love each other more, that we become more compassionate, or that we are more forgiving of one another. The headlines should be a daily reminder that evil and brokenness are as much with us today as they were in the Old Testament. We shouldn't expect that because someone invented a better smartphone we will be able to love our neighbors as ourselves.

That's because evil is not merely a problem of the bad guys in our world. There certainly are bad guys in our world. But the evil in them is also in us. The Nobel Prize winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously described this problem. "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

That's the bad news: that the evil in the world is also in us. But the good news is that we can also fight that evil. Jesus Christ is the only true answer to evil in our world, and as we seek his kingdom we are fighting evil in us and around the world.

So, when we feel overwhelmed by the state of our world, we can take courage. Jesus, who defeated death is still at work. Therefore our first response must be to pray. Prayer makes a difference. It works. Whenever World Vision enters a community or responds to a disaster, we consistently find that God has been at work long before we arrived. He is changing hearts and responding to needs—often in miraculous ways. Prayer allows us to stand alongside the work that God is already doing.

Usually, we can tangibly respond, trying to make a difference even in seemingly hopeless situations around the world. The troubles in the Middle East? The Ebola virus? Gangs in Central America? Christian organizations are on the ground making a difference in all those places. Support their work. Volunteer, donate, pray, advocate for their cause. Knowing that God is at work and you are joining him can transform our attitude toward situations that might otherwise seem hopeless. Maybe we can't fix a problem all by ourselves, but we can make the situation better for someone.

In the end, we have to embrace the values of the kingdom of God in our own lives. We have to fight the evil in ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit, prayer, acts of compassion, sacrifice, generosity, love. We do this in our own families, our churches, our communities. Our response to evil is to show the world a different way to live, according to Jesus' reign. It's because Jesus is Lord that we need not fear the evil in our world, we need not be surprised by it, and we needn't worry. Jesus is working, even now—and perhaps through you—to make all things new.

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