Occupied by Little Games

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” –1 John 3:17 (NIV)

“The Night the Burned Shanghai” is a poem written in 1938 by Robert D. Abrahams. It describes an American couple in Philadelphia set amidst the backdrop of the Battle of Shanghai, one of the bloodiest battles of the Second Sino-Japanese War. As the beautiful Chinese city is under relentless assault at the hands of the Japanese military, the couple, far away from the unfolding carnage, are on their way to play cards at the house of a friend. As they drive, the couple talks about how next year they will consider the affairs of the world; how they will travel and “…fight for ancient liberties…” outside their relatively comfortable circle.

What is tragic about this poem is that the couple also plans to travel to Shanghai at some point. But with a hint of indifference in their voice they say “…they’re burning that tonight – And not tonight-we have a date tonight,” When the couple reach the house, their host laments about the mess the Far East has become, and while they nod in agreement, they become absorbed in their game of cards without giving Shanghai a second thought.

Too often, when we are blessed with all the pleasures and comforts man can ask for, we forget that we live in a world full of suffering. Though we may pay a token acknowledgement to those who are in the pit of despair, we rarely lift a finger to do anything about it. Our unwillingness to make a difference in this world may stem from the fact that we do not want to sacrifice the life of ease we have created, and disturb the routine we have grown accustomed to. But if we claim ourselves to be infused with the love of Christ, such indifference cannot co-exist within our souls at the same time. Christ is God Incarnate; the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Yet despite His position He dwelt among us in human form, with all the limitations that entails, so that He may save humanity from sin through His death on the cross. His love disregards the self; seeking only to bring restoration and healing to the lives of others. Do we have His love overflowing from our hearts? If we remain calloused to the world around us, not only have we failed to be obedient to the Spirit of Christ residing within us, but we will encounter a slow process of inward degradation. In the final two verses, the poem ends with a solemn warning:

“Tonight Shanghai is burning,
And we are dying too.
What bomb more surely mortal
Than death inside of you?

For some men die by shrapnel,
And some go down in flames,
But most men perish inch by inch,
In play at little games.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.