The numbers being quoted about the Pakistan floods are mind-boggling. They’re inflating so rapidly that there is no point in repeating them here; they will be out of date by the time these words are read.
So many millions homeless, so many evacuated, so many hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed. That this country, so politically fragile and so globally significant, already afflicted by poverty, corruption and terror, should suffer such a terrible blow might appear to be an excess of cosmic injustice.
This is an understandable response. We have, though, moved beyond the view that earthquakes, floods and fires necessarily carry a moral message.
The plight of the victims of Pakistan’s floods or Russia’s fires is too raw – and brought before us too personally through modern reporting techniques – for anyone seriously to argue that God is personally involved in seeding clouds or striking matches.
Discerning the spiritual import of what has happened, then, is not about identifying imaginary national wickedness that has drawn the fire and floods of a vengeful deity.
Rather, it is that we are called to respond with full hearts and willing hands to the needs of those who, though distant from us both geographically and culturally, are still fellow creatures, made in God’s own image. “Have we not all one Father?” asks Malachi (Malachi 2:10). “Has not one God created us?”
It is this sense of the commonality of creation which, whatever their private religious views, sent a team of medical workers to the remote Nuristan region of Afghanistan. After a grueling journey on foot and on horseback, they arrived, did their work and left.
Of the team of 12, 10 of them paid with their lives. Whether they were murdered because of a perverted desire for money or because of a perverted ideology, we may never know.
And despite the rush by some Christian commentators to claim them as martyrs for the faith, it would not be right to do so: they were of various beliefs, and Dr. Karen Woo herself was a humanist rather than a believer.
Nevertheless, they were martyrs in a different sense. The Greek word means “witness,” and those who died – and the two who lived – were indeed witnesses.
For the believers among them, their witness to their fellow human beings arose from their knowledge of God, and that they were themselves known and loved by him. “Since he has done so much for me, can I not do this for him?” they might have said.
For the unbelievers and the doubting, the shared instinct of compassion, the sense of duty, the desire to serve all played their part.
They witnessed to a belief that human beings are worth saving at great personal risk. It brought them to the same place, and they paid the same price.
Malachi’s question “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” is not intended as a statement about an eternal destiny, but as a statement about our present responsibilities. Those arise from our common createdness; they do not come from a common language, political identity, skin color or religion.
Working with and for those with whom we have nothing else in common but that perception, dim though it sometimes is, ought to be an unquestionable article of faith for us.
That we sometimes need reminding of it is a sad indication of how much we are influenced by the ways of the world, which builds barriers where the gospel tears them down and calls for war where the gospel seeks peace.
Rev. Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.