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April 30, 2012

Desensitized Christians

With news of yet another school shooting, why are our hearts no longer moved?

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On April 2, 2012, One L. Goh, a former student walked into a small Christian college, killed seven people, and wounded three others. Newscasters scoured the scene for details that might answer the question “why?”

I was at a conference when those precious lives ended. The conference center was secluded with only small links to the outside world, so I didn’t hear the news until the following day while I was on a shuttle to the airport.

While the news took my breath away, I was surprised to discover that the shock lasted only a few minutes. Information was limited and after a moment of silence, the bus filled with laughter and friendly chatter. It wasn’t until later when I read the account on the internet and saw pictures of innocent faces that a lump formed in my throat. When I read about a young mother and her goals for her child, a tear finally rolled down my cheek.

I try to be thoughtful. I send birthday cards to friends. I visit the sick. I call my aging parents daily. I even comforted a distraught friend who ran over a squirrel in the street. Yet it took a photo and a sad story for me to “feel” the pain of seven murdered victims.

As I thought more about my response, I started to talk with others about the overwhelming pain each victim’s family must be feeling. While Christians aren’t protected from desensitization, I was saddened that their feelings were among the most detached.

Among some of my Christian friends a reoccurring comment was, “That’s awful but at least their parents know where they are.” One woman admitted, “I prayed for everyone involved, but then I stopped listening. I do better when I don’t get so involved.” The most alarming comment came from a pastor: “That’s what happens when people pretend to be Christians. We need more theologically sound preaching.” Then he turned and walked away.

I felt cold and empty. I’m positive thousands of Christians stopped, listened, cried, and prayed for the victims and their families. But why aren’t we all crying? Why has the news of such a tragedy made us sigh sadly, shrug our shoulders, and then go about our business, unconcerned and desensitized?

In 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, Paul reminds us of the importance of not becoming detached, and that as Christians we have an important and powerful responsibility toward those who mourn: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (italics added).

I have a friend who embodies Paul’s words. When I hurt, she hurts. When I share some mental or physical pain, tears roll down her cheeks as well. Her compassion is a source of great strength for me. In fact, I’m never quite mended until Vikie has helped me cry over some problem.

Some comfort comes in the form of being in a hurting person’s presence, offering a shoulder to cry on, or just simple silence. Some comfort comes in the form of a letter or email. And some comfort comes only through our prayers.

And how often do we not pray? Not just a quickie, “Oh, Lord, help that person,” but a serious prayer, reflecting on what that person may be experiencing.

Think for a moment about the mother who may have flipped on the TV to watch the weather forecast. She heard the name of the school and put her hand to her mouth. Tears flooded her eyes as the newscaster talked about the shooting. Her tongue caught in the back of her throat when she tried to swallow. She couldn’t breathe. Her knees wobbled as she searched for her cell phone. She dialed her child and waited.

No answer.

She dialed again.

Still no answer.

With one eye on the news she petitioned God, “Please, God, not her. She’s such a good girl.” “Please God, not him. He wants to work for you.”

Before the prayers were finished and she could dial her phone again, the home phone rang. Her hand trembled when she reached for the receiver. She swallowed hard and prayed for the voice of a friend. Instead she heard, “This is the Alameda County Sheriff’s office . . .”

Do we take the time to understand a victim’s pain and to offer sincere prayers of comfort?

After the tragedy of Oikos University, I spent time considering my own desensitization. The brain destroys fear by repetition. We overcome fears by facing them until the brain decides they’re no longer important.

Bombarding our senses with graphic images will sabotage our ability to “hurt” for others. While I limit violent images on television and movies, my desire to be an informed person can flood my senses with violence. With few restraints the media shows violence and pain that may grab our attention for a few seconds but is followed by a commercial that jerks our emotions away from compassion.

I need the gift of compassion and I pray continually for God to let me see the world through his eyes.

The world is broken and violent, so we know another tragedy will be just around the corner. When violence occurs I pray that I, along with the body of Christ, will flood heaven with prayers. When the gunfire ends and the silence of dead bodies turns our stomachs, I hope the body of Christ will cry. When my hand covers my mouth in disbelief, I pray that God’s love will surround my heart with his compassion inspiring me to respond with his love. I hope I, along with the body of Christ, will diligently petition God to protect his people worldwide.

Debbie Jansen is an author and speaker. www.themommydetective.com

Related Tags: comfort, fear, news, pain

Comments

Thank you for sharing your heart in this.

It doesn't sound like you are desensitised at all, but rather that God is protecting you from being overwhelmed by the pain of the world. If we truly dwelt on every tragic thing we heard of saw, we could easily become paralysed by it.

When Paul wrote the words you quote in Corinthians, he was talking to a community. It is right that you cry with your friend and that you comfort another over a dead squirrel - they are your community.

Pray for people to do the same in every community around the world. Then we might begin to see less stories of how damaged our world is.

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