Scorching temps in Europe responsible for more than a thousand dead: A lesson for empathetic prayers

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Scorching temps in Europe responsible for more than a thousand dead: A lesson for empathetic prayers

July 20, 2022 - Dr. Ryan Denison

Flames advance during a wildfire in Ferreras de Abajo in north western Spain, Monday, July 18, 2022. Firefighters battled wildfires raging out of control in Spain and France as Europe wilted under an unusually extreme heat wave that authorities in Madrid blamed for hundreds of deaths. (AP Photo/Emilio Fraile)

Flames advance during a wildfire in Ferreras de Abajo in north western Spain, Monday, July 18, 2022. Firefighters battled wildfires raging out of control in Spain and France as Europe wilted under an unusually extreme heat wave that authorities in Madrid blamed for hundreds of deaths. (AP Photo/Emilio Fraile)

Escalating temperatures in Europe have led the news across much of the world over recent days. If you’re like me, your first response may have been to wonder why it’s such a big deal. As someone who has lived in Texas for most of my life, triple-digit temperatures are just part of summer. Sure, it makes going outside an unpleasant proposition for most of the day, but it’s normal.

For those currently suffering across much of the European continent, however, there is nothing normal about what’s going on, and that makes all the difference.

England, for example, is on roughly the same latitude as Alberta, Canada, meaning that they are accustomed to far cooler summers, with current temperatures more than 36 degrees above normal. As such, most of the country is woefully unprepared to cope with the heat. It’s estimated that less than 5 percent of homes in the UK have air conditioning, which makes dealing with the higher temperatures a completely different problem than in places more accustomed to triple digits.

Wildfires are becoming an increasingly large issue as well, with the hilly terrain and thick underbrush causing particular difficulties in many places. Airports in Britain have started rerouting planes after parts of the tarmac melted, creating an unstable surface on which planes can’t take off or land. And similar issues have surfaced elsewhere in Europe, with as many as one thousand people dying from the heat in Spain and Portugal as temperatures climbed as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

I bring this up today because it points to an important principle we would all do well to remember: don’t judge others’ problems based on your personal context.

A call to pray with empathy

While I might look at triple-digit heat and wonder what the big deal is, plenty of people in the North look at how Texans deal with winter storms and have the same response.

While the temperature might be the same, the circumstances in which people face it can be completely different. For example, I’m quite sure that my assessment of 100-degree heat would be different if I, like 95 percent of those in England, didn’t have air conditioning. When I think about what they’re facing in that context, it makes it easier to pray for them with the kind of empathy that brings my heart closer to God’s for their current situation.

And, ultimately, that’s how we’re called to respond to those in need.

Now, that doesn’t mean that people never cause their own problems or that every issue people face is deserving of equal support. You probably don’t have to think hard to come up with an example of someone who saw their suffering as the fault of fate when it was really due to their own mistakes. Even then, though, it’s worth asking God to help our reactions mirror his, and most of the time that will mean less derision and more empathy.

After all, that’s how we would want people to pray for us.

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