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01 August 2014

Those who mourn

Those who mourn

A family in Syria

I've been working in daily news for just a few short months and I'm not sure I can cope. Not with the pace –that's been quite fun –or the complexity of some of the stories. It's the inescapable horror of so much of what we report.

First it was Syria. Then Gaza. Then Iraq. Then back to Gaza. Then Central African Republic. Then the plane crashed in Ukraine. Then back to Gaza again. Lots of other horrendous things barely got a look in.

Trying to retain your own humanity when you're confronted with so much second-hand horror, is a struggle.

Grief does funny things to us, but I'm starting to think the pain of others is more complex to deal with. You're aware of it, but you're not living through it. You're grieved by it, but you're not being slapped in the face with it. We're unsure what we're supposed to do with it.

If you get too absorbed in it, you risk being indulgent. You risk making all the horrible things that are happening like this boy in Gaza who lost 18 members of his family in one airstrike, about you and how you feel about them.

If we try and stand in solidarity, we fall short. How can we, from our positions of cosseted Western privilege, empathise with what is happening? You end up becoming patronising, or clicktivists, or helping because it makes you feel better.

If you try and do something to stop it, you risk exploiting the raw, upending grief of others. They become collateral –a way to score political points or win an ideological war. 'Look at what they're going through. This must stop.'

If you stand back in an attempt to remain impartial, you risk becoming hardened. It is something happening to people 'over there' and there's nothing we can do about it so it's best not to think about it too much. Worse still, you risk profiteering. Consciously or otherwise, you begin to view the lives and tragedies of others as a good way to increase readership, for example. Or you tweet pictures of dead children, ostensibly to show solidarity, but the result is an increase in your own online profile.

Does it matter? I've been told off before for being so concerned about doing the wrong thing, or having a compromised motivation, that it's rendered me paralysed and useless.

So perhaps a better way is an imperfect striving towards the mind of Christ. How does Jesus respond to grief and suffering?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). The classic ­ and I'd contend slightly lazy ­ interpretation of this verse goes something along the lines of 'there are people who are suffering now, but one day it will all be ok for them'.

It's quite passive, and almost like karma. It's kind of saying: one day those who aren't fortunate in this life will be better off in the next.

Could we take a more active reading? Could we look at "blessed are the poor in spirit" and, instead of seeing people who are weak, see people who see the world and are discomforted by it?

When we read "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", instead of assuming that it's meant for the justice activists among us (you know the types –they probably work for Tearfund) could we say 'the kingdom is here and it's the antidote to suffering'.

The direction of travel for Christians is always towards the kingdom. Not to fix things, not to make ourselves feel better, but to stand in the gap between the brokenness of earth and the fullness of heaven.

Ruth Mawhinney is the editor of Christian Today.