by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
There’s a bridge in Scotland, west of the city of Glasgow, where dogs go to die. For reasons nobody understands, dogs jump off the bridge and fall sixty feet–six stories–and are usually killed. Dogs that survive the fall are often nursed back to health. Unfortunately, after they return to health, the dogs frequently return to the bridge and jump off again.
Researchers, as well as ordinary concerned animal lovers, are at a loss to understand or explain this bizarre behavior. Why do the dogs jump off the bridge? What could possibly prompt this behavior? Is there some sort of canine compulsion involved? And why, after they have been badly hurt, nearly killed, do they go back and do the same thing again? Do they somehow not remember the experience? But beyond understanding or explaining the behavior, persons who are truly concerned about the welfare of the animals want to find a way to prevent it. It is better to prevent harm than to mend it.
As the cleanup continues following Hurricane Katrina, many are stepping forward to do whatever they can, including the inspiring efforts of our church’s own Dale Chambers. Relief workers from agencies like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief have worked tirelessly and are continuing their efforts. Some relatively poor countries like Afghanistan, Albania, and even Bangladesh have promised aid.
But there are also questions as to how and whether the danger could have been minimized if not prevented. The federal government’s response has been criticized as coming too late and being disorganized. Many people who could have evacuated refused to leave, and instead chose to “ride out” the storm, which only added to the number of victims. And there had been numerous proposals going back thirty years or more, which would have greatly reduced the resulting flooding if only they had been implemented, but none of them were. Doctors do not merely seek to treat disease and suffering but to prevent it. There is only limited benefit in treating a patient who has already had a heart attack, stroke, or other major health crisis.
Most of us are willing to help however we can following a major disaster but we would prefer to prevent it if it were at all possible. And yet we live in a spiritual disaster area constantly and frequently do nothing. There are people all around us, friends, family, coworkers, and other acquaintances, who are living without Christ, without salvation. “For the wages of sin is death,” (Rom. 6:23a NIV) and all those without Christ are heading for certain death–spiritual death. And yet they choose to ignore the problem. Or they decide to “hunker down” in the dubious shelter of their own righteousness. But they can’t afford to ignore it, and neither can we. Those of us who have accepted Christ know just how inadequate our own resources and righteousness can be. Ours is an opportunity and a responsibility to tell them about Christ and his message of salvation. The author of Hebrews wrote, “. . . how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” Only the blood of Christ can save them–and us. Fortunately for them and us, our message doesn’t end with condemnation but goes on, “. . . but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23b NIV).
If we stand by and do nothing while they dive off the bridge of sin to their everlasting death, we are just as guilty as if we had pushed them. But if we tell them about Christ and his message of salvation, we can save souls. We have a responsibility to help them avoid the consequences of sin and bring them into the shelter of God’s grace whenever and however we can.
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb. 2:1-4 NIV.)