January 31, 2007

Overwhelmed by evil: "Blood Diamond"

I had a chance to watch the movie "Blood Diamond" last night. It is a great but challenging story about the illegal diamond trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia. And it reveals a graphic and very dark tale of Africa, with its civil wars, masacres, slavery, and poverty. A few scenes are still emblazoned on my mind. The first is the opening scene of the movie, where the RUF (the anti-governmet rebels of Sierra Leone) mercenaries come into a small fishing village and murder or capture many of the inhabitants. The utter disregard for life, and the lack of respect for the rights and value of fellow human beings stands as a stark reminder of the evil that is present in the world. The second scene that illustrates the overwhelming size of the problem is a scene at a refugee camp that has over one million inhabitants. The huts stretch over hills and valleys.

I always enjoy movies like this that challenge and expand my worldview. It is so important to understand the scale of violence and poverty that holds sway in much of the world. But there is often another emotion that accompanies this: helplessess. What can I reallly do? The problem seems to large. It's the same feeling I often have driving around Lima—the utter poverty so much of this large city lives in seems overwhelming. Can anything I do really make a difference?

It's good to remember that I'm not the only one who has ever felt this way. I think of so many Psalms where the Psalmist is nearly overwhelmed by despair. Enemies often seem to have the upper hand. The unjust seem to win the day. Psalm 119 provides just one example of this, as the Psalmist meditates on the love of God's law, but notes "The wicked are waiting to destroy me" (v 95), "Trouble and distress have come upon me" (v 143). Yet, he persists, "My heart is set on keeping your decrees" (v 112), "your commands are my delight" (v 143). Even in the face of tall odds, of difficult situations, we rest in God. I also think of Jesus' discussion of the sheep and the goats, where feeding, clothing, and inviting in are characteristics typical of those who do what God desires. For "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'" (Mt 25:40). Every action we can take, every bit of compassion we can express, every life we can effect, is an action for Christ. Somehow, even amidst the daunting amount of poverty and evil, that makes it all seem worthwile. Every action can make a difference.

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