Thursday, July 21, 2016
One wishes to be able to say something helpful and meaningful in the time of death, in the time of violence, in the time of injustice, and in a time of polarization. There are others of course who think the unbridled expression of their anger and frustration is legitimate, who seem to think that because they gain applause due to what they say, or social media market share, that what they say is actually profound. Notwithstanding that some of these sentiments are filled with passion, many of these sentiments take us nowhere but to further alienation and conflict.
We live in a time of slogans. We live in a time where the benefit of the doubt is no longer part of the salary package. We live in a time of attributing base motives to every action and word, especially if its source is from what we perceive as the opposition Our age seems to be one where we refuse to give a generous allowance that things our opponents say might actually be true or correspond to reality.
As a follower of Jesus Christ we hold to the idea of truth, in fact we hold to the idea of absolute Truth. This means we think what is true is true for everyone and people cannot legitimately define reality according to their own subjective perspectives, although we understand that perspective is important. That is not the same as saying that reality is relativistic. We seek to judge all ideas, thoughts, and words with a sense of realism, that we live in a real world which has real events, but we also judge with the idea that God’s values are the standard to which we hold all others.
Sometimes this commitment to Truth nails us in our own hypocrisies, it exposes our own unfortunate tendencies to eclipse the truth, it illuminates our own self-deceptions. If one agrees to turn the light on in a dark room it means everything in it is exposed. The light is a better place to be even when it shows us things we might not like to admit or face.
We live in an age where people wearing dark and cloudy glasses keep pointing out the faults and discrepancies in the houses of their neighbors, which are equally dark. If we are going to have peace with our neighbors we are going to have some dialogue built on a willingness to have light expose our own thinking. We are going to have to listen, we are going to have to learn, and we will need patience in the process.
We live in a society (and one might see this as a mark of progress that victims actually get to have any voice at all) where those who have been offended, the victims and/or the oppressed, call us to an immediate recognition of their plight, to a speedy restoration of their rights, the remediation of the circumstances in which such injustice has taken place, and possibly to retribution.
Righteous justice (as the offended might define it) is the defeat (anything from exposure, indictment, conviction, condemnation, or elimination) of those they have designated (or who have acted) as their enemies. They sense and feel no other compulsion but one of re-establishing justice and are prompted to self-defense. This compulsion, built on actual personal experiences of attack or attacks on group-identity solidarity, may be born out of insult, maybe fear or pride, or born out of a need for vindication. Whatever it is born out of it can grow into hatred.
Those who (and especially those who) are facing real injustice cannot be blamed for the feelings they have. The true victim of injustice always has the moral high ground against the oppressor. Yet, if the narrative in which victims arrange their story is one of revenge rather than a restoration to the equilibrium of justice and/or true reconciliation, then more conflict, struggle and war seems to be the (usual) inevitable outcome. We are brought back to "an eye for an eye" until we are all blind.
Sometimes victims have little choice as to how they arrange their story. If their oppression leads them to be full of self-loathing, if they feel trapped, if they have no outside hope and feel that the way they are treated by others, (especially by authority and those with power) actually defines them, then it will be extremely difficult for them to interpret the circumstances of their existence as one of dignity. The indignities they experience will push past the safeguards of their constructed identity and equilibrium and they will feel dangerously exposed and vulnerable.
If the pain of their hurt causes them to hate, and that hate causes them to respond in ways that are violent, illegal, and vindictive then they move from victim to predator, from morally wronged to being wrong.
Those who are accused of perpetrating injustice but internally resist a conscientious vulnerability tend toward self-righteousness; a defensiveness that inevitably leads to the blaming of the victim. Once the mental designation of those claiming victim-hood as an ideological enemy has been made, then every complaint from them about any incident can be thus dismissed or deflated and given no sense of legitimacy. It is hard to have a conversation that brings about progress in relationships with these kinds of attitudes.
Faith allows us to arrange our story in a larger context. We are able to see beyond immediate conflict with people or groups. We are able to see beyond our own helplessness in the face of power or violence. With faith, and that not of the escapism kind but rather that of an intimate knowledge and relationship with the Sovereign King of the universe, we are able to see our very personal (but limited) story as part of something much bigger.
All of us like to hold onto the tangible. The material gives us a visible sense of place, belonging, control, security, and even a possible future. Our bodies, marriages, families, houses, vocations, and communities seem to give us a sense of permanence. So, who in all of the world’s history has been able to hold onto those things? The sports world uses terms like, “unforgettable,” “greatest game in history,” even “immortal.” Really? The question is simply how many years will it take before none of us remembers the players, or the game?
If our story is not arranged in the Immortal God, then no one will remember our names either. But, and here is the hope in the midst of violence, some of us do belong to God. Belonging to God is permanence, it is dignity, and it is significance. Belonging to God means His will trumps all the decisions of mankind, and I am safe in that will. The hatred, oppression, or violence of others, though surprising, cannot take me out of God’s story. Attack me, rob me, debase me, kill me, I win if I am hidden with Christ in God. This faith gives people amazing courage (and hope) to pursue justice for themselves and others.
This is not to say that we should put up with injustice, or oppression, or hatred and its attendant violence. These are condemned by God and should be condemned by society. It should be resisted by everyone, both individually and corporately. Our goal is the equilibrium of justice, brought about by truth, repentance, forgiveness, and love.
Every call to hatred should be opposed, every excuse for an oppressive use of force should be intellectually dismantled. Every rationale for a failure to treat people humanely, no matter their color or profession, should be rebuked in whatever forum we see or hear it. We must not stand idly by while people build an apologetic for the abuse or murder of others, and it may put us at risk to be that kind of peacemaker. Peace is worth the risk, the life of another is worth the risk, and love demands we take that risk.