I am in the middle of reading "In My Home There Is No More Sorrow: 10 Days in Rwanda" by Rick Bass. Last night I read this passage from the book and it floored me. I knew I would need to come back to it and to reflect on its depth. I glanced at the page number to commit it to memory... 39. The number of years I've been alive. Am I as alive as I could be? Should be?
"There is a spirit moving through Rwanda that is profound and surprising. It is a spirit of what most people would call love. I'm not saying that's the whole of it. What I suspect is that there is probably not a word for it - the feeling, the spirit, the phenomenon - and none of us on the outside of it, thank God, will ever quite know what it is; not seventeen years later, and not ever. I wouldn't, on reflection, trade my numbness for what they have. Even an arm's length distance might be a little too close. It's kind of terrifying to witness such capacity for strength, for spiritual growth; who among us would not prefer, really, to remain flabby, vague, untested?"
The author, Rick Bass, visited Rwanda for 10 days three years ago and this book is the essay he wrote about his brief but profound experience in a country that has suffered through genocide after genocide after genocide. The most recent slaughter ended after one million Tutsis were killed by their Hutu countrymen within 100 days' time in 1994. Bass goes to memorial after memorial on his ten day trek taking in the blood-stained walls of churches, piles of bones and stench of decay. He comes in direct contact with both survivors of the massacre and the perpetrators of it. The Hutus and the Tutsis now miraculously live as neighbors and countrymen once again; unfathomable forgiveness has come and life goes on, powerfully, and Bass is at a loss. He would rather embrace his numbness than experience the profound wholeness and depth of a people who have witnessed/perpetrated/been victimized by such evil and yet have overcome through God's mysterious gift of forgiveness.
I am left to ponder my own numbness. When have I chosen to keep at arms length that which I cannot understand? That which I do not want to understand or believe possible. That which I know would require much more of me than I care to give up in order to obtain it?
Is numbness better than soaring on the indefinable heights of the ultimate expression of forgiveness all while the images of soul-wrenching evil still burn in memory, tethering us to the earth and its ways? Is it?
It isn't. Numbness is not better than the display of His splendor. Just ask Moses, who boldly asked God, "Please, show me Your glory!" Exodus 33:18. Just like the surviving and thriving Rwandans today, Moses came down from that mountain after experiencing the glory of God only to have others look away in fear and disbelief. His face was aglow with something they could not comprehend, something they weren't sure they wanted to comprehend. It looked painful. It looked other-worldly. It was easier to look away and remain numb. Easier, but not better. In Exodus, we read how God hid Moses in a crack in a rock while His glory passed by, knowing that Moses could only take a small portion of the weight of the immeasurable glory of God and still live. Is that what we are afraid of? Is that why we remain numb when we could experience the glory of God? Do we fear that experiencing something so beautiful and powerful might just kill us? What a way to go!
May 2014 be a year of shaking off numbness and fear in all its forms. Of living life fully, even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. Of living a life "with such capacity for strength and spiritual growth" that no one can witness it without standing in utter awe of the God who is able to bring terrifying beauty from the likes of evil men all for the display of His life-giving splendor. Glory to God.
I do not normally (ever) write about particularly controversial things on my blog. I just write about what I'm thinking about. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is spiritual, sometimes it is introspective. Well, right now I happen to be thinking about something that is controversial. It happens on occasion. I've sat here and debated whether or not to write down my thoughts, and finally decided that I should. Not to make a point. Not to become a lightening rod for opinions and criticism. Just to continue doing what I've always done...write what I happen to be thinking about at any given moment. So here goes.
Just down the road from us in Bellefonte, PA, a jury is currently deliberating and preparing to come to a verdict in the trial of former Penn State football coach,Jerry Sandusky who has been accused of many different crimes related to inappropriate sexual contact with multiple young boys over the course of several years. This case has drawn intense national media attention. As reporters and news outlets are each trying to come up with a different angle on the case, and gain more readers in the process, articles are emerging on the periphery that have nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky or his accusers. They are focusing, instead, on pedophilia. Analyzing it, dissecting it, puting it out there for the world to consider and talk about. Tonight I read one such article on CNN.com. Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/21/opinion/cantor-pedophila-sandusky/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
The article asks two questions: 1. Are people born pedophiles? and 2. Do pedophiles deserve sympathy? First, the article defines a pedophile as someone who has a sexual attraction toward children. The author distinguishes a pedophile from a child molester by stating that not every pedophile acts on their urges and actually molests a child. Scientific evidence is then given that points to the possibility that people can be born with a bent toward being sexually attracted toward children. Thus, the question the author poses, "If people are born this way, should we feel sorry for them?"
I've been thinking about the greater questions that this conversation brings to the surface and I wanted to jot down my thoughts here as I process them. I am not a theologian. I am not a doctor. I am not a geneticist. I am the sum total of the thoughts, experiences, knowledge, and faith that God has blessed me with. It is from this humble place that I offer these observations:
1. As I read the Bible, I read of a God who has created us in His image, knitting us together in our mother's womb. I read of a God who does not make mistakes and has no regrets.
2. This fact does not mean that our physical bodies are "perfect" in the way that we define perfection. As simple human beings who, apart from faith, have only this world as a frame of reference and only other human beings to compare ourselves to - we define perfection as that which is most desirable to the most people. God is not limited by this world and thus does not define perfection in that way.
3. We do not understand when someone is born blind, or deaf, or autistic, or with a physical malformation. We see these things as disabilities, and at times we question a God who could allow someone to suffer such "imperfection," undeservedly.
4. As science continues to delve into the area of genetics and attempts to separate out that which is nature versus that which is nurture, more and more physical and psychological "imperfections" are believed to have been hardwired into people before they were born.
5. As a person of the Christian faith, I must choose to compare myself, not to those around me, but rather to Jesus Christ alone. The Bible tells me that none of us is perfect. Nope, not even one. Not because of our "flawed" God-given physical bodies or psyches, but because of what we've chosen to act on, sinfully. We do not know what proclivities were hard-wired into Jesus' physical DNA while he was on Earth. We do know that the Bible says he was tempted in EVERY WAY but was without sin. Every. Way. Whatever his tendencies were, he never acted on them sinfully. He is our gold standard, not each other, but the one who walked this Earth and was tempted but did not sin. Jesus, when tempted, returned to scripture and prayer, and he never acted on any temptation. We are to do the same, with His help. These tendencies toward sin, these imperfections, can actually drive us right into the arms of the one and only Savior of the world, and that is where we have belonged all along.
6. Should we feel sorry for the pedophile? No. But not because he/she is repulsive and undeserving of our sympathy. We shouldn't feel sorry for him/her for two reasons: 1. Because we are no better, and 2. Because he/she is NOT WITHOUT HOPE. We should feel grateful that God has designed each and every one of us to need a Savior, to be faced with our flawed tendencies so that we seek out His help. Otherwise, we would never turn to Him, and the truth is that He is the center of the universe. Not you, and not me. He is what life is all about and living our lives thinking and acting otherwise is foolish.
7. Who should we feel sorry for then? I believe we should feel sorry for those who think they have it all together. Who believe they have no need of a Savior. Who have looked at their own flawed tendencies, whatever they may be (pride, drunkenness, lying, rage, laziness, sexual deviancy, passivity, etc.) and rather than humbly putting faith in Christ to save them from themselves, they determine to just give into their instincts and define their own morality, choosing to make themselves the center of the universe and elevating themselves to the place of god in their own minds. He/She is to be most pitied, and prayed for.
And that's what I think about that.
Almost a week ago I read a blog entry by a missionary in Africa that I have been pondering ever since. Of an elderly African woman who has endured far more than her fair share of suffering, she wrote:
I live with these human eyes, and with these human eyes of mine I label. I label one thing as good and one thing as bad. I label moments as blessing or burden. And I forget that all this labeling, it is not my right, not my place, not mine to do. To declare what is a gift in my life and what is a curse is to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to sit in the garden full of abundance and beauty and choose the forbidden. The knowledge of good and evil, that was never intended for me.... Suffering, pain, loss, shame – all these things I have blamed on a broken world, Satan even. But can’t a broken world and even Satan only give what God allows? Suffering, pain loss and shame are only these things because I label them as such. Because I, a sinner, choose to eat from the tree, choose to turn away from nail-scarred hands and ignore the grace and miss the gift. He is beautiful and everything He creates is beautiful and if I choose to label it suffering I am choosing to miss the beauty that is freely offered me."
This shocked me and sobered me and disturbed me. The things this African woman has faced in her life - all of her children, dead due to war and corruption - surely I am not to hesitate to label this as "bad" simply because I am not God and do not possess the entirety of His wisdom. I have enough of His wisdom in the scriptures to know what God called "good." The opening chapters of Genesis, God created everything pertaining to the Earth and called it good. He created man and then surveyed everything He had made and called it "very good." This is before sin entered the picture. God's creation in its purest form = good. Why would I ever label the effects of war, corruption, disease, or disaster as good? God can bring beauty from ashes, but that doesn't make the ashes themselves beautiful.
When I hear the woman laughing through pain and saying, "whatever He wants," I do not hear joy over her situation, for it is not a good one or a joyful one. Rather, I hear a woman who is willing to endure unjust suffering without rebelling or blaming. A woman who knows that God is in control and she is not.
There is a difference between suffering for the cause of Christ and suffering due to the fallen state of the world. Christ showed Paul, "all that he would have to suffer for his Name," (Acts 9:16). This type of suffering happens because we are going against the grain of the world in obedience to God and it is good - it is very good. If we do not experience this kind of suffering, we aren't following very hard after Him. But watching a loved one waste away from cancer, seeing children sold as slaves, witnessing or living in extreme poverty due to injustice - God never called this good, and I think I have every right to call it evil, awful, horrible!
God is allowing (not condoning) the corruption of His creation - FOR A SEASON - and during that season He is preserving His church by promising to work all things together for our good and His glory - even the evil, awful, horrible stuff. We are not to despair or mourn as those who are without hope and we are not to whine or complain because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world, but we gotta call a spade a spade!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!