Think back to December 26, 2004, to the tsunami that struck South Asia and the staggering loss of life, which approached a quarter of a million. Then think of the almost immediate floodtide of aid from around the globe. For example, in just 10 days the UN received from its member nations 80 percent of the aid requested. By most accounts, the aid, swiftly put to work, changed the course of the calamity. Rescue and recovery efforts - well run and well funded - turned back the tide of tragedy again and again.
Fast-forward to August 2005, to hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast of America, and to the tragic loss of more than 1,000 lives. The torrent of aid that poured in from across the US and around the globe dwarfed several of the earlier records set following the tsunami.
Jump ahead to October, to the major earthquake that devastated a large swath of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India, and left a toll of perhaps 80,000 lives lost. The ongoing need couldn't be more urgent as winter closes in and access to some of the hardest hit regions is about to slam shut for months. Some calculate that losses through the winter of now-homeless Pakistanis could exceed those from the quake itself. But the amount of aid from governments and from individuals has been lower and slower in arriving.
How could that be? "Compassion fatigue" ranks high among the usual explanations. I get what analysts mean by the phrase. But a part of me rebels against the concept. Compassion fatigue?
Compassion - the very thing that, according to the Scriptures, was key to Christ Jesus' providing for a hungry multitude in the wilderness, healing two blind men on the roadside who cried out to him, cleansing a sufferer afflicted with leprosy? That compassion fueled Jesus' further healings. And in the face of such evidence, I cannot accept that compassion weakens from excessive demands, especially when I consider the ultimate source of it - divine Love.
Sure. If you trace compassion only part way back and see it superficially as merely a feeling generated by caring persons - unless you're talking about an army of Mother Teresas - maybe a long string of emergencies would wear people down, fatigue their compassion. But if you trace compassion back to its origin, it's not susceptible to fatigue or exhaustion. See compassion emanating from the Almighty, and with every use, there is more; compassion doesn't deplete. The Scriptures even suggest that it renews on a daily basis: "His [God's] compassions fail not. They are new every morning" (Lam. 3:22, 23).
The divine Love that based Jesus' healing ministry is the Love that sustains us today. Love is the healing presence most essential for those in desperate need. Love is the compelling impetus most powerful for those able to meet those desperate needs. As you and I glimpse a bit more of divine Love's presence and power, we see compassion in its true light. We get a clearer line on why it's inexhaustible. It comes from an inexhaustible source.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote of divine Love as "holding unwearied watch over a world" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 184). Unwearied Love, unwearied compassion.
That's why an unwearied, focused, and swift response from the rest of humanity can follow in the wake of Pakistan's needs. The window of opportunity, by some measures, looks to be closing fast. But for hundreds of thousands on the edge, it is not too late. For the rest of us, envisioning the exhaustless nature of true compassion is one ingredient in a lifesaving response. Acting on that vision, as Jesus did, is another.
Then the good effects begin to amass from the true compassion that is forever unfatigued.
• Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.