When a shooting happens in this country, there are calls for Congress to pass more gun control laws.
When there are refugees coming to our country and it feels overwhelming to people and they are struck with fear, there are calls for tightening the laws pertaining to how a refugee is screened.
Whether these things come from the left or right on the political spectrum doesn’t really matter. Here’s something you may not want to hear – the problems may be different, but the “solution” proposed is always the same.
See, I have a working belief that people don’t really want change, although it’s great fun to talk about. People don’t really want to solve a problem – although they love talking about solutions. Rather, people just want the problems to go away. That’s different than solving a problem.
Solving a problem takes work and effort. People just want it to go away or be distracted from it and not have to think about it. And the further the solution is from them, the better.
Many do this by saying that they want change or justice or comprehensive reform. That’s all well and good. But I wonder if calling for these things is really saying that the problem appears to big for one person to do anything about it.
When we believe this, we shift responsibility from ourselves to someone else. We relieve ourselves from the burden of having to do anything about the problem we just witnessed. We don’t have to pay the price or risk doing something, which might be tiring, or uncomfortable, or even costly.
Instead we shift “big” problems to other people to handle and do something about. The easiest thing of course is to pass a new law. We can feel good about ourselves into believing that when a new law is created, we’ve “solved” the problem, we determined who the bad guys are, heaped the sins of the people on them and will drive them out of the community to pay the price for the sin.
This isn’t anything new. It’s been going on for a long time. There’s a term for this – scapegoating. You can read all about how it worked in Leviticus.
We do this in church too. Something goes wrong in the church. Maybe we see a problem like a lack of diversity or a dwindling membership or something else. And these are big problems, even systematic problems. That’s just too big for any one person to deal with – so we don’t. We pass the problem onto the synod or diocese or whatever higher authority there is. And it keeps getting passed up the ladder. And the people at the top of the ladder, the ones farthest removed from the problem, are expected to “do something” about the problem. And they do. They pass a new rule, or come up with a plan, or make some kind of speech or statement. And we all take a sigh of relief that something has been done. And we all are relieved that we didn’t have to do anything ourselves.
But that’s not what we are called to. We aren’t called to shift the responsibility to others because we don’t want to be burdened or risk doing something.
Or more likely, we just don’t know what to do. We tell ourselves that those people at the top of the ladder – they know. They must, how else would they rise to the top? The reality is those people at the top aren’t any smarter than anyone else. They don’t have enlightened ideas. They are at the end of the line and can’t push the problem on to someone else, so they just come up with something that they think will work – or at least will make the appearance that it will work.
We aren’t called to pass the responsibility to someone else because a problem seems too big. We are called to do something, even when we don’t know what that something will be. We aren’t call to save the world or fix the big problems. Instead, we are called to impact individual lives – Just like Jesus did.
We aren’t called only to look to authorities above us to offer solutions to systemic problems. We are called to deal with problems that we witness and experience.
The Good Samaritan did just that. He could have done what the other two people did who left the beaten man on the road. He could have said what a shame it was that crime was so rampant – the authorities ought to do something about this. Maybe pass a new law restricting the use of clubs and knives. Instead, he took a risk and cared for the person who was right there in need.
He didn’t go through a screening process with the man on the side of the road and ask him if he was allowed to be in the country at that time – did he go through the proper channels to there? Instead he took a risk to solve an immediate problem – he cared to the person who was suffering.
Systemic problems are nothing more than the same problem that happens over and over and over again. There are two ways to deal with it – from the top down or from the bottom up. Changing the law is a top down approach. Changes in the law will change some things, but hardly ever changes people’s attitudes. Yes, laws should be changed when there is an injustice. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that when a law changes, everything is just fine now. It is our responsibility to live in such a way that it doesn’t matter what the law says.
We are called to care for our fellow human beings. We are call to do something around us when we see a problem. We are called to touch people’s lives in profound and yet simple ways. We are called to take up our cross and be uncomfortable. We are called to take a risk and do something costly. We are called to live in a Christlike manner.