THINK BACK to December 26, 2004, to the tsunami that struck South Asia and the staggering loss of life, which approached a quarter of a million. Then think of the almost immediate floodtide of aid from around the globe. For example, in just ten days the UN received from its member nations 80 percent of the aid requested. Organizations such as the Red Cross and Oxfam were instantly deluged with donations from individuals. And, by most accounts, the aid, swiftly put to work, changed the course of the calamity. So many lives that might have been lost in the aftermath were not. Rescue and recovery efforts—well run and well funded—turned back the tide of tragedy again and again.
Fast-forward to August 2005, to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that struck the Gulf Coast of America, and to the tragic loss of more than one thousand lives. The torrent of aid that poured in from across the US and around the globe dwarfed several of the earlier records set following the tsunami. Again, the aid repeatedly restarted and restored lives and families and businesses.
Jump ahead one last time to October 2005, to the 7.6 earthquake that devastated a large swath of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India, and left a toll of perhaps 80,000, depending on which estimates you use. The ongoing need couldn't be more urgent as winter closes in and access to some of the hardest hit regions is about to slam shut for months. Some calculate that losses through the coming winter to now-homeless Pakistanis could far exceed those from the quake itself. But the aid, both from governments and from individuals, has been lower and slower.
How could that be? "Compassion fatigue" ranks high among the usual explanations. I get what analysts mean by the phrase. But a part of me rebels against the concept. Compassion fatigue? Compassion—the very thing that, according to the Scriptures, was key to Christ Jesus providing for a hungry multitude in the wilderness, healing two blind men on the roadside who cried out to him, cleansing a sufferer afflicted with leprosy? That compassion fueled Jesus' healing of an epileptic boy, and moved the master Christian to restore to life the dead son of a widowed mother. And in the face of such evidence, I cannot accept that compassion weakens from excessive demands, especially when I consider the ultimate source of it—divine Love.
Sure. If you trace compassion only part way back—see it superficially as merely a feeling generated by caring persons and, unless you're talking about an army of Mother Teresas—maybe a long string of emergencies would wear people down, fatigue their compassion. But if you trace compassion back to its real origin, suddenly it's not susceptible to fatigue, or exhaustion. See compassion emanating from the Almighty, and with every use, there is more—compassion doesn't deplete. The Scriptures even suggest that it renews on a daily basis. Lamentations says: "His [God's] compassions fail not. They are new every morning" (3:22, 23).
The divine Love that based Jesus' healing ministry is the Love that sustains us today. Love is the healing presence most essential for those in desperate need. Love is the compelling impetus most powerful for those able to meet those desperate needs. As you and I glimpse a bit more of divine Love's presence and power, we see compassion in its true light. We get a clearer line on why it's inexhaustible. It comes from an inexhaustible source. Sentinel founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote of divine Love, a term she used for God, as "holding unwearied watch over a world" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 184). Unwearied Love, unwearied compassion.
I CANNOT ACCEPT THAT COMPASSION WEAKENS FROM EXCESSIVE DEMANDS, ESPECIALLY WHEN I CONSIDER THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF IT—DIVINE LOVE.
That's why an unwearied, focused, and swift response from the rest of humanity can follow in the wake of Pakistan's critical needs. The window of opportunity, by some measures, looks to be closing fast. But for hundreds of thousands on the edge it is not too late. For the rest of us, envisioning the exhaustless nature of true compassion is one ingredient in a lifesaving response. Acting on that vision, just as Jesus did when he was "moved with compassion" and fed thousands (see Matt. 14:14–21), is another ingredient. Multitudes isolated in a remote location with no apparent delivery system to transport great quantities of food to them—these were not impossible obstacles for Jesus. Nor do they have to be today for us, especially as we realize that the compassion deriving from Love both characterizes and reenergizes a caring public.
Then the good effects begin to amass from the true compassion that is forever unfatigued.
Channing Walker is a contributing editor and a Christian Science practitioner. He lives in Glendora, California.
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