Afghanistan and the Call for Christlike Compassion
I tend to read rather than watch national and world news. My undergraduate degree was in media production, which in my case emphasized broadcast journalism, and I am therefore very aware of the power that an image has to overwhelm my ability to objectively process the facts of a story. So I avoid news channels like the plague and limit my news watching to local outlets.
But there has been no haven from the images coming out of Kabul. Nor should there be. What is unfolding there is eerily like the heartbreaking images burned into my 9-year-old brain when Saigon fell. I’m not a demonstrably emotional guy, but I was on the verge of tears when three images flashed across the screen in my living room last night and flooded my mind with thoughts:
- Hundreds clinging to a transport plane taxiing for takeoff
“What heartbreaking desperation! These people are begging to not be left to what awaits them. How many of them are brothers or sisters in Christ and now facing certain persecution or martyrdom? How many of them will enter eternity having never heard the name of Jesus under while living under Taliban rule?”
- Someone falling hundreds of feet to their death after losing their grip on a plane?
“How hopeless do you have to be to accept certain death rather than go on living? Did that person enter eternity without Christ? What kind of trauma will those military pilots have to live with having watched helplessly as people fell from their aircraft’s wings?”
- A frightened solider pointing a gun pointblank at frightened Afghanis.
“If that kid is like family members and friends of mine who have gone into the military, he signed up because he loved his country and wanted to help people. I’m certain he didn’t sign up to point a gun at people desperate for help. How many sleepless nights…sleepless years…will he endure reliving that chaotic terror and heartbreak? And what hell waits those he was required to keep at bay?”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked away from the television.
My morning routine is just that: routine. I feed the dogs, make a cup of coffee, read my bible, read the paper, and then check Instagram. Instagram is the only social media platform on which I’m active and I use it primarily to (A) show off my granddaughter…and soon a grandson, (B) show off my bird dogs, (C) show off what I’m eating, and (D) see other people’s children, grandchildren, dogs, and meals. Unfortunately, it’s starting to become another platform for people to express opinion as they post screenshots of Twitter posts or create stories and reels that advance ideological arguments.
So I couldn’t help but see what started populating the feeds of my Christian friends on the right and left of the ideological spectrum. Essentially, having witnessed the same images I’d witnessed, the first impulse of many was to say, “My guy would have done better,” or “My guy is cleaning up the other guy’s mess.”
When Christ witnessed the multitudes following him, Matthew records that “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The meaning of the word translated as “compassion” in Matthew 9 is so widely known that it’s on the verge of becoming cliché, but it’s worth remembering that in 1st century language the word is communicating something like being “gut-punched.” Jesus saw the crowds and he was wrecked to his core.
Today, more often than not, when Jesus followers are faced with the plight of the multitudes, they see an opportunity to trumpet ideological opinion. A school shooting? “Take the guns!” An episode of racial violence? “A Marxist rebellion!” Someone contracts COVID? “Were they vaccinated?” Rather than grieve with destroyed families, or empathize with people who feel voiceless, or simply say to a sick friend or family member, “How can I help?”, we use human suffering as a platform for us to advance ideology.
The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2:6, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” In doing so, he reminds us that our lives are to become vehicles for Christ’s life to be lived through our own; he reminds us that the goal of being a believer is for our lives to become like Jesus’ as we are sculpted by His grace. I’m very much afraid that our lives are becoming more like our favorite media talking head as we are sculpted by our social media algorithms.
The life of Christ in us is formed by Christ himself, so simply trying to be “be more compassionate” is either an exercise in futility or an exercise in self-righteousness. So what can we do? It’s time that we as believers prioritize our connection with Christ. I can say as someone who struggles with this and as someone who has over 35 years of experience in vocational ministry, your phone and your television are killing your journey to Christlikeness because we have prioritized feeding our biases or digesting trivia more than we have prioritized time with Jesus.
Let’s all ask ourselves an important question: if I swapped out the time I spent scrolling on my phone or binge-watching cable news with spending time in God’s Word and in prayer, how might my life be different? Would I be less angry? Less fearful? Less self-righteous?
Would I be more compassionate? More at peace? More useful in God’s Kingdom?
Would I be more like Jesus?
So how can we apply this in our approach to the current human tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan? I want you to join me in following this plan for the next five days:
- Put your phone down and turn off cable news every evening for the next five days.
- Pray through one chapter of Lamentations each evening with the current crisis in Afghanistan in mind. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of praying through scripture, watch this brief video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXXAQW_5vGs
- Use the rest of the time to talk with your family, read something uplifting, watch the sunset; do anything but spend more time in the soul crushing, heart shriveling world of social media and cable news.
If we all do this starting today, we’ll finish Saturday night. What might Sunday worship be like if we all did this?
One final word. I fully recognize that my thoughts on this subject might come across as being self-righteous. They could land in your heart as me saying something like, “I had a Christlike response to the Afghan crisis and you sorry rascals didn’t.” To that potential criticism, I would simply say I didn’t tell you everything I thought or wanted to do and that the shortcomings of those unspoken thoughts and desires are part of what motivated me to write on this subject.