Easter promises us that we are being renewed in Jesus

  • April 17, 2007
With the coming of Easter, the calls for conversion we Christians heard so often during Lent are naturally heard less. The mind of the church turns to other things: the victory of Jesus over death, the coming of His Spirit, the inauguration of the Kingdom of  God as a radical new reality in the life of humankind.
But Lent’s lessons of compassion for the needy and oppressed are not to be forgotten. Easter is a mighty sign that the People of God now have the power and grace to bring about the healing of the nations.

The summons to this work of healing is no less urgent during Easter than it was in Lent, or in any other season of the Christian year. It comes to us from the daily television news, which makes us eyewitnesses of suffering throughout the world. It comes through all the old and new media that put those who live in the world’s temperate zones in contact with the violent, desperate places more quickly than at any previous time in human history.

Yet the very rapidity and scope of mass communications has created a peculiar problem for Christians and other people who want to practise good will. It is numbness in the face of what appears to be intractable and enormous evil. We are daily faced with the seemingly endless sufferings of the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the citizens of many countries in Africa. The statistics alone are appalling: as many as 400,000 people murdered or dead from disease and starvation along the Darfur-Chad border, and an estimated 600,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, with millions more forced from their homes by the civil violence in that country.

The failure to feel and act may have deep roots in the human spirit. Writing in the current issue of the journal Foreign Policy, psychologist Paul Slovic speculates that “it is our inability to comprehend numbers and relate them to mass human tragedy that stifles our ability to act. . . . The numbers fail to trigger the affective emotion or feeling required to motivate action. In other words, we know that genocide in Darfur is real, but we do not ‛feel’ that reality. In fact, not only do we fail to grasp the gravity of the statistics, but the numbers themselves may actually hinder the psychological processes required to prompt action.”

Christians can accept Slovic’s finding that our numbness in the face of great suffering is grounded in a disposition of the mind. But we cannot agree with the conclusion that appears to follow from this insight: that resigned indifference is inevitable in a culture saturated with dire statistics and constantly exposed to blood and torment. The Easter promise is that our minds, and our very nature, can be — are being — renewed in Christ Jesus, and opened by the Spirit of God to the infinite compassion revealed by the Lord in His death and resurrection. In the light of our new standing in grace and freedom, we are right to be impatient with the psychologists and social scientists who teach that we are doomed to act out uncritically the scripts of our fallen human nature.

Living consistently in this new freedom and life, and staying alive to the concrete pain concealed by the statistics, of course, involves real difficulties that cannot be minimized. But we can resist numbness by actively, quickly following the promptings of the Spirit that come to us from the mass media. We can give aid and personal support, as the Lord leads, to one or more of the organizations promoting justice, peace and healing in the world’s troubled places. We can cultivate a spirit of scepticism about the daily news, and keep ourselves informed about real situations in real places. We should above all pray not to be mesmerized by the numbers, and we should ask for fresh outpourings of the wisdom and insight we have been promised in this season of Easter.

(Mays is a Toronto author and journalist.)

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