Economic instability and political bickering in the United States. Corruption and social upheaval in Libya. Continuous conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Horrific suffering in Somalia. Riots in London. When Harold Camping’s May 21, 2011 prediction for the Rapture turned out to be bupkis, he amended the date to October 21, 2011. One glance at recent headlines, and it’s tempting to think that Camping might be on to something. But those calamities aren’t necessarily judgments from “on high”. They’re more likely the results of the selfishness, greed, and hatred found in the hearts of human beings like you and me.
While I read about the above events, I made the mistake of venturing into the comments on CNN.com — and was bowled over by the hatred and vitriol contained therein. An article about a young boy mourning his father’s death in the August 6 helicopter crash in Afghanistan devolved into political mudslinging and name-calling. An article concerning the Somalian crisis saw commenters viciously blaming the Somalis’ plight on their lack of education (and birth control) and criticizing American leaders for helping a foreign country.
The negativity in those comments certainly pales in comparison to, say, the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women, and children caused by Somalia’s internecine strife and famine. Still, the marked lack of civility and basic human decency was yet another stunning display of humanity’s baser instincts. As a Christian, I affirm the Bible’s teachings regarding the effects of sin and humanity’s fallenness, so brutality, hatred, selfishness, and incivility running amok isn’t terribly surprising. Still, I’m often defeated, shell-shocked, and teary-eyed. “Does it really have to be so bad?” I wonder.
Shortly thereafter, I clicked on a photo that a friend posted and was moved to tears of a different kind. It was a photo of a London couple making tea for the police protecting their street. It was a small thing, almost humorous in its British-ness, and yet that display of simple kindness had a profoundly healing effect on me. Here was a beautiful example of people reaching out to their neighbors and treating them with dignity.
Humans are fallen creatures and even our finest efforts go astray all too easily. Primo Levi put it well when he wrote “it is not given to man to enjoy uncontaminated happiness.” But that’s only part of the story. God’s grace is always at work, slowly but surely advancing His redemptive plan — a plan in which humanity plays a pivotal role. As a result, grace sometimes looks like soldiers laying down their weapons, reformers working to give freedom to the marginalized, doctors laboring to heal those torn apart by the ravages of war and nature, or the arrival of donated food and resources to starving refugees. And sometimes, it looks a lot like a cup of tea.