Humanity

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
2nd September 2005

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This week we have seen terrible images of humanity—of ourselves.

On the world stage we have been reminded of the horrors of the human condition. This week was the first anniversary of the Beslan school massacre. One thousand people were reported killed in a stampede on a bridge over the Tigris River. The destructive force of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana has reduced New Orleans to a swamp.

As the American nation rallies to support the dispossessed people of New Orleans, the looting and violence of desperation is being widely reported in the media. How widespread it is and how many people are helping each other rather than themselves is not reported. But there are disturbing stories of desperate people fending for themselves and against each other. The normal structures of society have collapsed together with their buildings and homes. The field is wide open for selfishness to reign.

On the local stage also we have been reminded of the horrors of the human condition. There was nobody who came out unscathed by the change in leadership in the NSW opposition. The politicians, the media, and the public all shared suddenly in the realisation that the way we relate is unacceptable as a 36 year old man tried to take his own life.

It is the people in public life who are responsible for the structures of our society—the very structures that keep society functioning and whose collapse in New Orleans is of such concern. And yet the power that people in public life are given provides them with the greatest possibility to express their sinfulness. They are just humans with normal faults and strengths, placed under pressure and placing each other under pressure. They are the same as the rest of us. But their lives sometimes read like Shakespearean tragedies.

They are the ones who do good and uphold the very stability and justice of our social systems. But yet they are the ones we trust least and criticise most.

Human joys and heartaches are often found in the same place. Christmas Day is for many people the loneliest day of the year. It is the biggest day at the Casino—the haven for the lonely with time on their hands. It is of course thought to be the day of joy and celebration especially with family. But then when there is no family, and there is nothing to celebrate, it becomes a day of bitterness and resentment.

Family is for many the place of pleasure and delight. It is the basic structure of society—more important than the market place, the media or the government. In our relationships within the family we find love and understanding. These are the long-term permanent relationships through which we experience every phase of life. The family is on our side in life and provides the people for us to love.

But the very pleasure that it involves increases the pain when it is absent. So Mothers' Day can be such sorrow as we remember our loss, or fight again with our siblings or recall her failures. And Fathers' Day can also bring deep hurt as we remember the man who sinfully misused his God given authority. Yet each Fathers' Day we again value what fathers can be or should be—rejoicing in the good memories and being challenged to be better fathers in the future.

But in all our efforts as fathers, as political leaders, as relief workers we see the great flaw in the human heart that the Bible calls sin—that rebellion against living for God and trusting in him and his ways to live. It is in the power that we wield or the extremities of life like a disaster—that we see our sinfulness displayed.

This week we have seen terrible images of humanity—of ourselves.

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