The Wrong Kind of Hope for the Weak


Joe’s car broke down for the third time. He was late to work as a result, so he lost yet another job. To add to the insult, the power company turned off his electricity.  You know this because he’s posting online asking for help.


And his teen daughter is a skank who can’t keep her legs together. Everyone in the church knows how that will end.

Ox-sized Joe shows up in church wearing the most hideous clothes that look slept in. You wonder if he passed out on the couch. You wonder what may have lubricated that slide into unconsciousness.

Still, Joe occupies the same pew week after week, skanky daughter in tow. Part of you feels for the guy. His wife died of cancer at 30, and Joe never was much in the parenting skills department. Look what he has to work with too.

But week after week, Joe’s in crisis. He’s an embarrassment when you get right down to it. The neediness never ends.

Really, the man should learn some boundaries. What’s next? Whatever the issue, it will probably arrive in five, four, three…

Every church has a guy like Joe. Or three or ten. Bad luck seems to shadow those folks. Their laments come one after another, and your compassion tank has run dry. Just bringing up their names elicits squirms and eye rolls. Isn’t it the responsibility of the mature to force folks like that to stand on their own two feet? Isn’t it high time for the tough love?

Paul wrote this:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

—1 Corinthians 12:21-26 ESV

Weak brotherWhen we start talking about the weak, we rarely think of folks like Joe. Our thoughts go to the boy with cerebral palsy or the granny in the wheelchair, especially if that boy and granny don’t demand too much from us. As long as we don’t have to bail them out of endless predicaments, we can deal with their kind of weakness.

Fact is, that boy or granny may be stronger than Joe. Our opinion of problem people like Joe and his daughter and our thoughts they might be served better at another church may signal they are the weakest of all.

Every church has problem people we would rather avoid. If we were serious about what we believe, though, I think we must ask ourselves if it may be the “problem people” Paul intends for us to honor. Not the folks who would make good poster fodder for charities, but the ones who wouldn’t. The people who aggravate us. The ones who don’t know about “boundaries.” The ones we hope would go elsewhere for their spiritual food.

Do we have that wrong kind of hope for the weak? Do we hope the problem people would vamoose? Do we like to define who we think the weak are rather than letting God define them for us? Does God truly love the luckless Joes of this world and their skanky daughters?

Or does God only look proudly on the respectable people like us, the ones who can handle our own affairs without any help (thank you very much)? The ones who live as if we don’t need Him for anything.

You and I don’t get a say as to whom God declares weaker. Ours is but to do His will and make certain we honor those weaker people we sometimes wrongly hope would go away.

The Pain on the Far Side of the World


Today’s city newspaper featured a front page story about a school bus rear-ended by a dump truck. A teenager was killed. Someone’s 18-year-old son, all ready for graduation, all geared up for college in the fall (“Mom, Dad, I got accepted!”), wolfs down his breakfast, maybe says goodbye, maybe even offers a kiss on a good day, gets on that bus and winds up a few minutes later in eternity.

A couple days ago, I read an obituary in my town newspaper about a 27-year-old man who died in a freak accident while on vacation. The part that got me was that he was very active in the Big Brothers organization. They ran his picture in the obit, a smiling face bright with possibilities. Now some boys who don’t have fathers don’t have the surrogate dad who took time out of his schedule to help them.

Personally, I find it very hard to read these kinds of stories. I’m thinking that perhaps I shouldn’t.

David Kuo at Beliefnet recently wrote the following in his post Thoughts on Suffering after seeing for himself the misery in Uganda:

Is that [poor decision-making] God’s fault?

I think not. Because at every moment those decisions were made God was whispering for people to do the right thing, the just thing, the merciful thing. But we chose not to listen.

God has done his job. We haven’t done ours.

I used to think the suffering question was a serious head scratcher, a truly troubling thing—the best evidence against God. No more. I think it is largely an excuse to make ourselves comfortable in our complacency by blaming God for the suffering we aren’t spending our lives addressing.

We live in unusual times, times that didn’t exist until a handful of years ago. It is said that the average person today is inundated with more data in a few weeks than most people in the 18th century and previous got in their entire lives.

We can thank our instantaneous global news networks for this. All the world’s misery can be pumped into my home in a matter of seconds. Every day of the year. For as long as I live.

I’ve thought for many years that this constant stream of anguish and pain coming at us from every corner of the globe is an aberration of our age. God never intended Man to process so much misery at once. Misery, Want, PainIf we’re increasingly a nation of people on psychoactive medication, should we be surprised? Isn’t there enough pain within ten miles of our homes to last us a lifetime? What then do we do when we hear an orphanage was buried under a mudslide in Ecuador or a bus full of nuns holding babies in their arms went off a cliff in Singapore?

If you and I were serious about praying for others, we’d have enough prayer requests from hurting people in just our church alone to last most of us from week to week. Isn’t that the case with you? I know it is for me.

I could probably spend two or three hours a day just praying for the crushing needs of people I know. So how can I shoulder the rest of the world’s problems?

I believe that many of us are suffering from compassion fatigue. The flood of misery washes over us and we’re just numb to it anymore. That’s a problem, because God never intended that we live our lives as if anesthetized to pain.

Somewhere, though, we have to draw the line.

With all due respect to David Kuo, I can’t blame myself for the problems of Africa. If he wants to blame himself, that’s his prerogative. This is not to say that I don’t care about the pain in Africa, only that if I want to be sensitive to the needs of others, I can’t let myself grow numb in the waterfall of misery that is the entire world in 2008. And that means I have to find a means to turn off at least part of that waterfall. For my own effectiveness as a Christian.

That may seem callous, but I have to ask myself what my responsibility would have been a couple hundred years ago. Before the instant news update on the earthquake in Japan. Before the daily notification of genocide in Sudan. Before the suffering of the entire world landed on my doorstep and asked me in one united voice to solve the problems of 6.5 billion people.

It’s not that I don’t care, only that God never intended for me to be the savior of the world.