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America is Compassionately Working the Problem


Those who saw Ron Howard’s movie Apollo 13 (released 1995) witnessed the reconstruction of more than a marvel of modern technology after the explosion on board the capsule headed for the moon in 1970. The competent and dedicated professionals in the control room broke through one barrier after another as they figured out how to return the spacecraft and its astronauts safely to Earth. Ed Harris, playing the flight director, made crucial decisions and prodded everyone beyond normal limits as he repeated that failure was not an option. Over and over, he urged those in the control room and thousands of others striving to bring the astronauts safely home: “Work the problem, people. Keep working the problem.”

The same heroic level of effort is happening in Washington and throughout the United States today as thousands of Americans are responding to the Biden Administration’s emphasis on working three crucial problems.

First, after four years of distractions and a malfunctioning Congress, the administration and Congress are making slow but definite progress in addressing current and future measures to rebuild our economy and begin saving our planet. As is always the case with Congress, progress is slow and meandering. But a laser-focused administration is beginning to show results that will make a difference even if everyone’s ideal solutions are not adopted. Working the problem means keeping your eye on the goal and avoiding distractions – and that has been the emphasis thus far.

Second, many thousands of medical professionals are treating those with Covid and going beyond normal limits of endurance. They are vaccinating and using every tool to encourage greater numbers of vaccinations. The problem they are working is a contagious and deadly virus that is increasingly skilled at finding vulnerabilities in American society as it spreads death or lifelong disabilities.

For these professionals, working the problem means pushing themselves to the point of trauma and overwhelming exhaustion. They are not just technicians doing a job – they are agents of compassion during the final moments of life and in communicating with loved ones as the patients lose their fight for life. Working the problem also means trying desperately to meet the needs of other patients whose severe illnesses usually demand the full attention and resources of the medical staff.

The third problem is a gigantic rescue effort underway in Afghanistan. Military professionals have been making miracles possible by securing an airport, organizing an airlift, processing many thousands of people, and helping get the right people to the point of departure and locations outside Afghanistan. Surrounded by chaos and emotional pleading, soldiers and others on the ground are being humane when possible as they focus on doing their jobs without distraction. This is an enormous problem with severe time limits that strain nerves and the ongoing need for compassion while focusing on working your part of the problem.

Furthermore, thousands of former military and other Americans are using internet resources to help guide persons in Afghanistan to safety. Americans are also stepping up to help new arrivals from Afghanistan. The outpouring across the American population is an overwhelming rejection of the hatred and nastiness directed toward immigrants over the last four years.

In the face of enormous danger and spreading death that seems pointless, there is a tendency to ask: “Where is God? How could God let this happen?” This is the same spirit that fills up space on cable news channels with critics complaining about all the things that are going wrong.

Fortunately, the dominant spirit in America today is on the side of those who are working the problems. Furthermore, they are guided by compassion as well as being laser-focused on the mission. Congress has been moving ahead and attention is directed at benefitting the human needs of all Americans, not as much on financial demands of corporations and other special interests. Good Samaritans of many varieties are working the problem of the Covid epidemic amidst unprecedented shortages and obstacles. And Americans are adding their compassionate response to the plight of people in Afghanistan to the miraculous and courageous efforts of our military and diplomatic staff at the airport.

Where is God? Look at the steadfast determination of our national leadership. Look at the thousands of better angels of our national character who are ministering to those affected by Covid and to those in danger in Afghanistan.

When the problems have been resolved, we are likely to look back on this year and recognize the hand of God was reaching out through millions of compassionate and determined actions by Americans at every level of our society. I believe we will see American compassion standing out through our response to these problems.


Edward G. Simmons is a Vanderbilt Ph.D. who teaches history at Georgia Gwinnett College. He is a Bible scholar, Unitarian Christian, and Sunday School teacher in a Presbyterian Church. He is the author of Talking Back to the Bible and two chapters in The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Christian Evangelicals on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity edited by Ronald J. Sider.

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