Sometimes I realize how much more complicated it is to be a liberal Christian than a Bible-believing Christian. One of those times is when someone says that he or she has no reason to care about the suffering of other people. The traditional wisdom regarding that is that such an attitude will send you to hell. Read Matthew 25: 31- 46, case closed. Even Bono knows this one, though I’ve heard him err in saying it’s Matthew 23. Of course many traditional Christians are hypocrites on this point, but that’s not for lack of clarity in what the Bible says about helping others. Many traditional Christians just manage to find ways around this clarity to some excuse that lets them do what they want to do, human nature being what it is.
There are many reasons the needy are neglected in our world. Many of them I wouldn’t even start to analyze, but I hear this one basic question from time to time and wonder why I don’t have a better answer. I have a tentative answer today: You should care about other people because doing so lets God live within you and provide you with more direction, strength and comfort than you possibly could imagine coming to you naturally.
I haven’t tried this on anyone. I don’t actually know that it’s true. I don’t know what conditions allow God to live within someone, but not everyone. I know I experience God as above, but was it necessary that I embrace a life of helping people? Was it other things, too, or instead? Traditional Protestant Christianity says that helping people is not necessary to have a saving faith, but who with a saving faith would turn his or her back on others in need? Many in the church do. Do they have any faith?
I leave that to the church. For me it’s enough to know that caring for people to an unusual degree has something to do with God. Maybe it doesn’t always. Maybe there are other things that are equally important to God. It’s hard to know the details of such a spiritual thing unless someone pretends to know them. There just is this wide gulf between some who say that everyone’s suffering matters and those who only care about their small group of friends and family, maybe not even them. Many people talk in a way that sounds as if they are between these two extremes, but their actions speak otherwise. They may pat themselves on the back for donating to some highly publicized disaster, but ordinary suffering doesn’t move them at all. “Why can’t the needy just pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Why don’t these depressed people just snap out of it? Why can’t the unemployed just hold a job? Why can’t addicts just stop being addicts? I’m only going to help those who help themselves (and therefore need nothing from me).”
Then there are those who are so concerned that a few human cells conceived in dish, never having seen a woman’s uterus, not be dissociated into a culture of stem cells, that it is better for them to live out an existence as freezer burn. Somehow I would put the needs of many who are indisputably deserving of my concern above those of cells extremely unlikely to ever be the precursor of an actual human being. I understand God would, too, if anyone wanted to leave the matter to Him.
Why should it be any different? Does the suffering of people hurt God? Matthew 25 suggests so. As with anything spiritual, the details of why that should be are quite fuzzy. I know what God says to me, which is that there is a way He wants me to go. I trust Him, so I do go His way. He wouldn’t trust me otherwise. I wouldn’t trust myself. Why that matters is even more obscure. In contrast, people’s suffering is right in front of me. I see it. I feel it. I’ve learned so many ins and outs about it through my career and volunteer work. That I can understand. What God needs of me, why God needs anything, how many people He needs anything from are questions maybe God will explain in time. In the meantime I do what I know to do. I suppose everyone does, even when I hate what they do. There’s some benefit to accepting that.
“Why should I care?” That sounds like someone who is spiritually dead. “So what the hell is spiritually dead?” It’s to be cut off from the spiritual side of reality. “What is that?” I don’t know. I’m not spiritually dead. I get all kinds of input that just doesn’t seem natural. Something unnatural lives in me somewhere – that’s all I can imagine.
I wonder if I could get that far without someone insulting me. Whatever the reality is, people can turn toward a number of ways to live. Maybe we have considerable freedom in this. Maybe it’s all pre-ordained. Maybe only a few people have it in them to care about everyone. Why try to make everyone else be the same way? I believe there’s no compelling answer that makes me want to try to make everyone care. I care about clients who include some very selfish people. There are good reasons they are that way, spiritually dead if that is indeed what correlates with not caring about others. I also believe there may indeed be a reward for opening oneself up to others, as in my tentative answer above. It’s worth asking God about. Unfortunately there’s no good way to make the answer as simple as the question.
“Why should I care?” So God can live in you. And you in Him.
Oh, no one is going to accept that at face value, human nature being what it is.