This morning I read this account of the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Congo (reader beware: graphic depictions, not for the faint of heart), and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind all day.
The sheer scale of human evil and depravity is simply beyond my ability to comprehend. Assuming that the account is true--and I see no reason to doubt that, although I'm sure one could quibble with a few details--it's hard to picture better living proof that we live in a fallen, fallen world.
One cannot read such an account, especially as a Christian, and not feel a moral imperative to do... something. Anything at all. It's hard to imagine the situation getting any worse, so it's hard to imagine that even the most hare-brained solution wouldn't be worth trying.
But that's the question, isn't it? What exactly can we do? What does God expect from us, his representatives on Earth?
Over the last few months, I've read many essays, blog posts, and articles discussing different ways that Christians can exert change for the better in this world: use your personal economic power in a moral way; encourage elected representatives and those in power to act where appropriate; set a Christlike example with your own life. All good solutions--and all things that are simply dwarfed by the level of evil taking place in areas like Congo. "Don't buy morally-tainted goods" is a sound practice, but it's effectively impossible to do when an evil like this can trace its roots throughout the entire world's economic and social system. You're reading this blog post on a computer that probably contains elements mined in Congo; we're participating in the problem by simply existing. It's one thing to be aware of evil in our info-addicted world; it's another thing to figure out what one can do to even avoid, let alone stop, that evil.
"What would Jesus do?" is a pretty tired Christian cliche by now; but it still remains a useful way to try and figure out what we, as Christ-followers, are supposed to be doing here on Earth. But in situations like this, the temporal and cultural gap between the New Testament church and myself makes it difficult for me to figure out what, exactly, Jesus would do.
Would he drop what he was doing and travel to the front lines in Congo, preaching a message of peace in the face of near-certain failure and death? We see that manner of radical response in Christ's ceaseless exhortations to aid the poor, and in his challenge to the rich young man to give up everything he had and follow Christ, in his willingness to die what contemporary observers must have considered a futile death.
Or would Jesus have reminded us to care for the poor in our own backyard first, focusing on righteousness living and evangelism, not shouldering the burden of changing the way the entire world functions? We see echoes of this response in Christ's refusal to get involved with the revolutionary politics of the day, in his unwillingness to advocate revolt (violent or otherwise) against a Roman system just as morally tainted as anything in our modern world.
Where does that leave us? Well, we certainly can pursue the option of buying wisely, encouraging our politicians to act morally, and the like; even though those options seem unlikely to bring about a resolution anytime soon. Prayer, certainly--because God has the power to change even the hardest hearts and most evil circumstances. But at times, looking at the impossible evil taking place in Congo and elsewhere, the only thing I can think to do is call out with the author of Psalm 10:
Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises....
Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, "He won't call me to account"?
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.
Come, Lord Jesus--come soon.