Waves of Suffering
A year ago, if you had a glance through the headlines so far in 2020, you might have thought they were part of an overdramatic movie plot. We throw around the words “unprecedented” and “historic” a lot, for good reason. The news cycle reminds us that things are bad in the world. The pandemic, the unemployment, the economy. And now a national and international wave of protests against racism and police brutality with some violence and rioting. [Note: the violence and rioting are indeed things to be concerned about, but the vast majority of protests are peaceful, a fact that should overshadow the violence, not the other way around.] It is easy to feel overwhelmed.
Bad things happen all the time and have since the beginning of time. Suffering is not something new. Injustice is not a modern invention. In fact, the Bible is very clear on what God expects from us.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?Micah 6:8
Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.Psalm 82:3
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.Isaiah 1:16-17
What Is Justice?
When we use the word “justice” in our modern world, it’s often in connection with crime. The justice system, justice for the victims, etc. That is certainly not wrong, but that definition does not cover everything that the Bible means when it uses the idea. God’s justice is inextricably linked with love. Jesus summarized God’s instructions (Torah, Law) with a simple: Love God, love your neighbor. Simplistically, injustice is when we are doing the opposite of “love your neighbor.” Justice is when we are working to love our neighbor completely so that they are healthy, safe, and have all that they need to thrive. While direct aid is important, justice cannot be done without striving to change the systems and institutions of our society that harm others (over the whole society, thus “social” justice). Incidentally, justice is not the same as equality (or equity). See this graphic depicting the difference.
Widows and Orphans?
It doesn’t take long reading what the Bible says about justice to encounter “widows and orphans” and often “the stranger in your midst” (translated in various ways). Why mention these groups? In the places and times that the Bible was written in, these were some of the most powerless and vulnerable people in society. There’s a lot of historical context, but it basically boils down to the fact that they didn’t have land, which means they didn’t have money, which means people could ignore or mistreat them. The systems and institutions of that society caused these people harm. God doesn’t like that, not at all.
Who Are Our Widows and Orphans?
Who are the people who are vulnerable and powerless in today’s society? Certainly, widows can be vulnerable (though not necessarily). Orphans are still vulnerable. So are immigrants and refugees (the strangers in our midst). The list can go on, but 2020 has highlighted many groups:
- People who are unemployed or underemployed
- Those who are sick
- People without access to quality health care
- People without good health insurance
- Those without sufficient savings
- The elderly
- Those without access to technology
Most recently, we are reminded that people of color are continuously harmed by both overt and systemic racism. People who are harmed consistently and repeatedly will be angry about it. And harming them more will not make anything better.
What If I’m Overwhelmed?
With everything going on, I am emotionally and mentally overwhelmed. It feels like adding one more thing to my life will be that straw that breaks the camel’s back. So, the first step must be to practice self-care. As someone wise once told me, “Be gentle with yourself.” Love yourself, then build on that as you love your neighbor (by working for justice). Acknowledge where you are, start small, keep a lookout for little opportunities, and keep growing and acting. An important point is to do something. Being proactive in both self-care and justice work is healthy, and godly, work.
What Do We Do?
There are many people far more qualified than I am who can give advice on how to act. But if you are asking this question (as I am) the first thing to do is to educate yourself. There are many resources for this, including those directed at children. A quick Internet search for “anti-racism resources (for parents/children)” can provide some places to start.
One resource I’m looking at is a resource called “Justice in June” put together by Bryanna Wallace and Autumn Gupta. I have not had a chance to look at this in detail, so I cannot officially “recommend” it, but it gives three different “curricula” for learning about anti-racism (10 min., 25 min., or 45 min. a day). Ten minutes a day is something I can commit to without getting overwhelmed. And, if I’m feeling especially overwhelmed, I’ll skip a day. No matter what, find some way to act even if it is small.
One act of self-care is to tend to your spiritual life, which can be done through regular (short) devotions, individually or as a household. Figuring out where to start can be daunting. How about a free resource to help? This summer, I am creating a weekly devotional help that includes prayers, daily Bible readings, and other devotional ideas, based on a combination of our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home (NL) devotional bulletin inserts and our brand-new products Living the Word: God’s Word @ Home (RCL) and Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (RCL). Download it below to see if it can be helpful for you!
Peace be with you,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
If you are looking for more faith formation resources for families, check out our new Living the Word: God’s Word @ Home (Revised Common Lectionary) and Living the Word: God’s Story @ Home (Narrative Lectionary) products. Stay updated by liking our Facebook page, subscribe to our e-newsletter, or follow this blog!