The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said that it is only when we come face to face with another person that we see the trace of God, that to look directly into another’s face, not through a screen or photographic lens, inevitably leaves us with a sense of that other person as our responsibility, “to which,” he writes, we are “wanting and faulty. It is as though [we] were responsible for his mortality, and guilty for surviving.” ..
I think of Chaps McLaughlin, holding one dying child after another, and the sense of brokenness that it left him with, and I think of myself, in my self-righteousness, and I realize it was not simply an acute sense of suffering I was lacking, but also an acute sense of joy with which to give that suffering context. You can accept the miraculous or not, the divine or not. Either way, we remain both blessed and guilty, obliged to absorb the full radiance of the world and to accept the consequences of our failings as people, as members of churches, as members of nations. To take our obligations to our fellow man seriously means knowing we will never be able to adequately respond. It means knowing, at all times, that we should be moving toward a revolutionary change of heart, for the strength to act more fully, directly, and powerfully in relation to the agony existing not just overseas, but in the divided communities where we live. It means knowing we will fail, and knowing the glory of creation is there for us anyway. It means accepting that being responsive to suffering and attuned to joy are not different things, but one and the same.