Where Is Neighbourliness When It Hurts?

Where Is Neighbourliness When It Hurts?

Neil Vimalkumar B is Senior Apologist and Trainer with RZIM Life Focus Society.

There is an unbelievable amount of ‘not-fair’ feeling that shows up when we go through intolerable pain and suffering. Questions are sharp and fast. So, we hear complaints: ‘Why me’? ‘How could God allow this’? ‘Where is God …?’ And so on.However, the important components that get side-lined in this tirade are the human role and responsibility.As humans made in the image of God, our lives and choices carry enormous potential and so it follows, has serious consequences.

The question of fairness is a two-edged Sword

Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller, a public foe of Adolf Hitler, who spent the last 7 years of the Nazi regime in concentration camps, is known for the following quote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, I did not speak out because I was not a trade  unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

So, the tendency to voice protest only when we are affected and be oblivious of the struggles of others smacks of self-centeredness. If we do not live up to the golden rule, we lose the moral authority to complain.

The answer from within

The unprecedented floods in Chennai last December brought home many lessons. While mismanagement of the tragedy by the local government body is writ large, it doesn’t take long to realise it is a multiple-level disaster – in which every Chennai-ite had a part. Right from responsible governance at the highest level to the role of every single citizen, – on the road, at our desks . . . in our voting rights – we all had a decisive part to play.
VinothRamachandra nails this point brilliantly as he underscores the nexus between human choices and the consequences that follow. He asks:
Why is it that when hurricanes and earthquakes hit places like Florida or Japan, the loss of life is minimal, but when the same disasters occur in Central America or South Asia, the devastation is mind-boggling? The answer is simple and straightforward: poverty. Or poverty combined with corruption and incompetence on the part of government officials. In South Asia, annual warnings about floods and cyclones are routinely ignored when the technology needed to save lives and property is readily available. Coral reefs and mangrove swamps (that absorb much of the impact of tropical storms and ocean surges) have virtually disappeared from our coastal belts. Building contractors frequently violate safety standards, even when building in earthquake-prone areas… It is sinful human actions (including wrong priorities) that result in heavy loss of life, much of which is preventable. Poverty and economic inequalities on the scale seen in our world cannot be blamed on God. They represent a violation of God’s will for humanity… [1]

So, what is the call?
The story of ‘Judge Penitent’ from Albert Camus in “The Fall” shows a high-flying judge who also reaches out to help the poor and needy. He is a part of groups which come to the rescue of widows and orphans. But this man doesn’t do any of it for altruistic reasons or because he really cares about them. He has built a reputation for being a good man through such acts and so he strives to preserve his self-image.
However, an experience that he once had continued to haunt him. It was about a walk on a bridge over Seine – he could sense a woman falling off the bridge on to the river below. He chooses to ignore his sensory perception and walks on. He does not want to be forced to make a difficult choice of stepping in to help. He carefully avoids reading the newspaper the next few days to shelter himself from the guilt, should in case, the death of the woman was reported. Contrast the self-preservation of this man with the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus used to illustrate who makes a good neighbour.
We have a half-dead victim lying on an uninhabited road. Along comes a priest. Noticing this man in a helpless, pitiable state, chooses to move on with his pre-committed plan. Next, enters a Levite who follows the path of the priest, choosing to move away from the point of need. This story of Jesus is already unsettling as one would have expected the religious folk to be good; to step in and help. But, then along comes an unlikely hero (from the perspective of the Jewish listener), a Samaritan, who stops by to help. He bandages the victim, puts him on his donkey and takes him to the nearest inn, which must have been a good distance away. He gets the man admitted in the inn and even offers to pay more on his return, if needed. This choice of the Samaritan cost him something. Truly, the Samaritan followed the way of a good neighbour.

A parallel to this story is found in North America where a cowboy is mugged by a band of robbers. Noticing him in a terrible state, a Native American who passes by, stops. He gives him first aid and then hauls him on to his horse and takes him to the nearest motel. In a strange twist, as this hero steps out after admitting the victim, he is surrounded by a band of cow boys with their guns pointing at him.
Stepping in to help is costly. But, it is only then we fulfill the greatest command.

Human Responses
The heroes and heroines during the Chennai floods were the many who risked themselves to reach out to the needy. The stars during the Mumbai attack at TajMahal hotel were their employees. They did not slip out through the exit doors when the bloody carnage began. They stayed put and saved many guests, and in the process, eleven of them paid with their lives. We are called to enrich this world through our work and commitment, and to prevent and alleviate pain and suffering.

A few weeks ago, I could not miss a few poignant themes on the first page of my newspaper (The Hindu, May 11, 2016). First, ‘A total of 283 candidates from major political parties contesting in the May 2016 Assembly polls in the State have declared in their affidavits that criminal cases are pending against them’. These are among prospective Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly, who will be elected to serve their respective constituencies. What an irony!

The second news that caught my attention was historic. Barack Obama would be the first sitting President to visit Hiroshima after the city was bombed by the US in 1945. A chilling aspect of that devastation was that many historians believe the atom bomb was necessary to stop the Second World War. Political diplomacy aside, it spotlights the enormous human role in the propagation and elimination of evil.

The front page also carried a heartening story about the District Collector of Kozhikode in Kerala. He has an enviable 2-lakh following on Facebook. To present one of the activities under his leadership: ‘… What brought global fame was ‘Compassionate Kozhikode’, a platform to get people to feed the poor. Under Operation Sulaimani (named after a local tea recipe), several local restaurants ensure that no city inhabitant goes hungry. The beneficiaries just need to collect a food coupon kept by a donor in a box, and get a decent meal in any of these restaurants. There is no need to beg and about ten thousand meals have been served so far.’

Help at hand

When we face a major catastrophe, we find everyone – religious and not-so-religious asking with equal fervour: – ‘Where is God’? Zacharias was once asked by an interviewer – where was God when 9/11 happened? Ravi gave a brief response – ‘wherever he or she allowed God to be’.
Our choices matter; and in the wake of unimaginable suffering, we might hear God knocking at our door one more time, asking, ‘Where are you’?

Recall the creation story? God saw all that He had made and it was very good. When you and I as ‘co-creators’ with Him, rise to the occasion – and innovate and step in to help one another, God might step back one more time and see – that what He had made was good.

[1] http://www.ethicsdaily.com/dont-blame-god-for-natural-disasters-death-tolls-cms-22616

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