Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Problem Of Suffering And The Loving God (Part 3)

I was invited to go have dinner and watch a movie at Brian Todd's house last night. He lives pretty close to Brent so finding it wasn't a problem. He's also invited a few international students over, and the dinner was a pot-luck kind of deal. The movie was Hotel Rwanda. I won't go into too much detail about what the movie is about (here's a rotten tomatoes link if you want to read reviews, and the official synopsis), but here's a short summary: In 1994, Hutu extremists begin a genocide campaign against Tutsis in Rwanda after the assassination of the nation's (Hutu) president. Paul Rusesabagina, assistant manager of the posh Belgian-owned Hotel Mille des Collines, is a Hutu who takes it upon himself to run a secret refugee camp for Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the hotel after all the whites (and his manager) are evacuated out of the country. The Tutsi people are without hope: the international community refuses to intervene, deeming the genocide as just another incident in Africa.

The movie was intense, and unless you're stone-cold dead, it'd be hard to go through the whole movie without wondering once how something like that could happen on God's green earth. And yet it did happen. It still does. In places like Sudan and the Congo the same story replays itself over and over. Guys like me see it on tv, and then (to paraphrase Joaquin Phoenix's reporter in Hotel Rwanda) say "That's awful" and go to eat dinner.

We talked about the movie after it was over. One question Brian asked was "So what does that have to do with us?". That was a tough question. Many folks in the room doubted they wielded enough influence to make a difference. But Brian did a neat thing. Apparently all the international students in that room were involved with tutoring kids from lower-income families (it was something Brian was involved with, which is how he got to know them I guess), and he reminded them that that is making a difference, reaching out to help folks whom you have little or no reason to help.

That may sound like syrupy, airy-fairy, what-EVAH logic, but let me frame it like this. To different degrees, the same brand of ethnic enmity we saw in that movie also causes persecution and death (either physical, social, or spiritual) throughout the entire world. "The entire world" includes individuals, believe it or not. It doesn't have to mean whole racial groups. I can be a complete jerk all by myself without my people telling me to. The question is, if I'm really so concerned about evil being perpetrated thousands of miles away on people I've never met, how concerned am I about the evils that happen within me and around me?

Genocide doesn't just happen. People need reasons to hate, just like they need reasons to love. My point is there are always reasons. Hutu hatred for the Tutsis might have started because during the Belgian occupation, the Tutsis were made into something of a ruling elite... collaborators with the occupying force, if you will. The Hutu extremists had reasons to hate. The Hutus also wanted what was, in their minds, justice. The Hutu extremist mind made sense to the Hutu extremist.

What's missing from that logic? I think it's the same thing that's usually missing everywhere else: grace. *That* is how the Hutu problem is also my problem. They lacked a sense of grace, of forgiveness, and leaving judgement to the one holy God. They didn't want to rebuild burned bridges. Why should they? In their minds, they were wronged first. They only wanted justice.

We all have the same problem. We don't want to forgive, and we don't want to rebuild bridges that (in our minds) someone else burned. When we act and speak in that manner, and we pass it on to our firends or our family, and we approve that same behavior every step of the way, what kind of seed are we planting? Exactly how are we different from the Hutu extremist? We might say to ourselves, "Well I'm not killing anyone". Oh, but we could be. I could be murdering a person's spirit with the very words I use. I may be teaching a child to commit physical murder later in life, not directly, but indirectly, simply by saying "these things you must not forgive". The same lack of grace in the Hutu is the same lack of grace in me, and may not manifest the exact same results, but death happens every time, one way or another.

The grace that forgives wrongdoing is kind of passive in that it simply allows wrongs to go unpunished. In other words, it's the kind of grace that says "You won't get what you deserve". There's another kind of grace that's usually missing that I think is even more important, and inseparable in practice from passive grace. This is active grace, which is a grace that says "You will recieve what you've done nothing to deserve". This is the same grace Brian was telling these students they were practicing by using their time to tutor poor kids. Let me clarify a little: these aren't the most self-motivated kids you'll ever know. A lot of them probably don't even want to be there. They have the opportunity that many kids in impoverished parts of the world could only dream of, which is to recieve an education for free. All they have to do is try. But a lot of times, I wouldn't be surprised if all they do is complain.

Active grace says, lets give them a chance anyway. Some of them will make something of it, and some of them won't, but all of them will be given that chance. Why do I think that passive grace is inseparable from active grace? Passive grace only allows for the opportunity for bridges to be built, by virtue of the fact that it causes us to quit burning anything that may begin to get built. Active grace actually does the building. I dare say that without active grace, people are prone to get bored, and revert to bridge-burning behavior in very short time. That's just how we are. Passive grace only holds off the enemy for a while, but people are such that we can't just sit around and do nothing, and if we aren't doing something good, we're most assuredly reverting to doing something bad.

What does this have to do with "the problem of suffering and the loving God"? Well I kinda went about it in a roundabout way, and I realize I haven't exactly been transitioning well between paragraphs here, but I'm about to get to the point. A lack of grace caused unspeakable suffering in Rwanda. People who were with sin were not being forgiven by people who were ALSO with sin. I haven't touched on why God would allow such suffering yet, but what I want to do here is contrast what the Hutus did with what God did. He who was wronged, who was without sin, and who had no cause to suffer, came to join us in our suffering. We burned every bridge to God, and he came down to build one that would never burn. We insisted on suffering and making others suffer, and so he suffered. We provoked him to his face and ran away from him, and he came looking to bring us home while we were lost in the wilderness.

That's one thing I believe about suffering and the loving God. He saw us suffer, and chose to suffer with and for us. The contrast between that kind of grace and what we're so prone to doing has amazed me and countless Christians for generations, and it causes us to despise ourselves and fall before him in humble adoration.

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