How can I cope in a world filled with so much suffering?
I have encountered this question from many people over many years and in many forms. The burden intensifies under the relentless onslaught of information through today’s ever expanding media. Our personal power and resources are so limited and the problems are so vast. We can easily feel crushed under the avalanche of human pain and need.
This question was brought to the forefront of my thinking once again as I recently read a Psychology Today item by Keith Payne, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, UNC. The item, posted March 14, 2010, was entitled “Why is the death of one million a statistic?” i.e. Why do we feel the least when we are needed most. In simple terms, Payne’s research demonstrated that “when people see multiple victims, they turn the volume down on their emotions for fear of being overwhelmed.” It’s not that we become heartless, but rather that a single human is only capable of digesting so much human suffering — any more and it switches into a self-protection mode.
Astonishingly, despite their completely polarized world views, on this point both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa agree! To Stalin is attributed the quote, “The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.” And Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.” In other words, when the need extends beyond our capabilities to meaningfully respond we freeze like a deer in the headlights.
In Matthew 9:36 we read, “When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In our case however, sadly, we are too often simply overwhelmed.
But there is a response to human need that we can manage. Centuries ago Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10). The Old Testament law urged responsibility toward one’s “neighbour.” Jesus spoke of the good Samaritan who helped the one individual upon whom his path crossed. Paul wrote of the care we must show to a “one another,” not to everyone at once.
This everyone one-on-one approach is the way God ordains. In it everyone is important… everyone is essential, but no one is the “hero,” no one is the superstar, no one but Christ.
“For Christ’s love compels us…” (2 Cor. 5:14).
Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.