Philip Yancey contributes his usual thoughtful and probing work to our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding, in chapter one, entitled "A Doctor' Defense of Pain." The doctor referred to is Dr. Paul Brand, whose life is one of the inspirations for this book. The second half of the chapter includes some of Yancey's on-going conversation with Dr. Brand. In this post I quote two of Yancey's queries about Christian charity, specifically about the danger of "compassion fatigue" in a global media market, and Dr. Brand's responses.
Yancey: Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Modern media has made that command infinitely more complex and burdensome. Because of television, the whole world is our neighbor. On evening news programs we watch the effect of famines, wars, and epidemics. How can we possibly respond to all of these disasters?
Brand: You can’t, not in the sense in which Jesus meant it, at least. You must remember the context in which Jesus was speaking. He meant family, nearby villages, Capernaum. Jesus healed people, but in a very localized area. In his lifetime he did not affect the Celts or the Chinese or the Aztecs. And I think an intolerable burden of guilt such as you describe merely numbs us and keeps us from responding. We must have a sense of touch with those we love.
Westerners, with our opulent life styles, are very sensitive on this point. But I really don’t believe that children born in Bangladesh amid poverty suffer all that much more than a spoiled child in a rich country. In The Cave, Plato pictured people being born and brought up entirely in darkness, and as a result their range of appreciation of beauty, light, and joy was very different from that of a person outside. When they come up to the light, dazzled, they learn to appreciate a new range of happiness. This, to me, is a deep perception of the human spirit. A child develops a norm, above which is happiness and below which is suffering.