Where were you exactly one year ago? If you had been in Haiti, you most certainly would remember. On January 12, 2010, a very powerful earthquake shook this island nation to its core, and the world rallied to respond to desperate human need. Even though great need still exists there today, the world has mostly moved on to other news items. What does this say about our culture?
On the one hand, our world has become much smaller thanks to the marvels of modern technology. We have the ability to hear news stories from around the world within minutes of important events taking place; even twenty years ago, our perception of the world was much different than it is today. There is so much going on in this world that we can hardly be expected to keep track of all the tragedies around us, particularly when we and our families are not personally affected by them.
On the other hand, our collective attention span has, I believe, been shrinking in the past several years. From scrolling news tickers to sound clips to Twitter posts, our perception of news has become more like a lightning bolt than a slowly burning candle. We would rather hear the main idea quickly than sit down and listen to a long, drawn-out story.
I have noticed this even in myself: when I read news articles in print or on the computer, I often glance over the first few paragraphs to see if anything “interesting” will appear. It is difficult for me to force myself to read (in the “old-fashioned” sense of reading each sentence) an article from start to finish.
Here is another point at which our modern culture has departed from our Christian faith. The Bible, our source of truth and doctrine, was written in a culture in which the story was very important. Nowhere in the Bible will you find a five-step guide to salvation, happiness, or interpersonal relationships. Instead, the Lord loves to speak to us through the telling of a story.
That’s what the gospels are all about: telling the story of Jesus in a particular way, so that we get a unique image of our Savior. We have to read the whole story in order for it to make sense! Even Jesus himself taught people indirectly through the telling of stories. In Christian faith, there is no lightning bolt that changes people’s lives. Instead, each life dedicated to the Lord is a slowly burning candle that must not be hidden under a basket (Luke 11:33).
So how should we respond to tragedies such as the earthquake in Haiti? What is the appropriate Christian response to such events – especially those that strike more closely to home? We must remember that present-day stories are more than just a flash in the pan. When human suffering is depicted on television, in our newspapers, or on our radios, the affected people are real people living real-life dramas that do not conclude when we change the channel or turn the page.
Our culture will do well to remember Haiti a year, two years, five years after its devastation. How can we remember people in our own communities who are struggling through divorce, joblessness, foreclosures, addictions, and other real problems? How can we become actively involved in their stories? How can we participate in each other’s stories? How can the redemptive light of Christ shine into the sinful darkness of our lives?
This, my friends, is what church life is all about – to the glory of God.