From the Archbishop

World's suffering must stir our compassion


By Archbishop Philip Freier

October 2 2016The phrase “compassion fatigue” has been in our language for about 30 years and describes the “switching off” of emotional engagement in response to the suffering of others. We now see truly awful things on a daily basis, often circumstances of human suffering in response to war and conflict.

I cannot think of a television news broadcast that I have seen in recent years that does not contain reports of such horrors. Usually the reporting of such events is accompanied by graphic footage of personal and communal suffering. Moments pass and you are likely to be watching a cheery sports reporter extolling individual success in tennis, football or some other sporting pursuit. A discussion of a sportsperson’s hamstring injury sits there on your screen for about the same amount of time as circumstances that mean a child will never have a normal life again or that whole communities are forever wrenched from their ancestral lands to the uncertainty and suffering of exile. Is it surprising that we find it hard to engage, and even to empathise with the suffering of others?

Christians, of course, cannot just leave things there. We know that Jesus was a man of great compassion; he cried over the fate of Jerusalem, mourned the death of Lazarus and identified with all sorts of people and their struggles. In many ways Jesus shows the character of God’s concern for the world and the broken hearts of those who suffer.

The Beatitudes speak of the blessedness of those who mourn and, I think, also call us to a wider understanding of solidarity with the suffering of others. “Blessed are those who mourn” does not just refer to our personal loss and grief. The prophet Jeremiah speaks very poignantly of his mourning on behalf of the people: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land” (Jer. 9.18,19). His compassion reached beyond the people he could personally know.

It is important that we hold the suffering of others with great reverence in our hearts. What we see should spur us to intercession for them before God. We are told that our hope in Christ frames all of our subjective experiences
(1 Thessalonians 4.13). Even the most hopeless situations as defined by our human reason and expectations are within the scope of the hope we have in Christ. This is perhaps the unique approach that Christians can take to the suffering of so many in the world today. How terrible would it be if we became overcome by the sort of “compassion fatigue” I spoke about and failed to pray for others?

We are not helpless as we confront the world and the misery of so many. We may not have the answers but we must not let the connection between the hope we have in Christ and our compassion be broken. Please respond to the suffering in the world by your acts of generosity and by your prayers, personally and corporately.

Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at