We are sending some of our best friends, Jonathan and Kelly Nolte, off to Rwanda in the next few weeks, so tonight we gathered to watch a movie about the genocide that happened there called Beyond the Gates. As you can imagine, it wasn't a very cheery movie. In fact, during the first hour, I was thinking, why doesn't God just blow this world up and start over?
One of the main characters in the film is a Catholic priest. As a horde of Hutus are about to rape and butcher their Tutsi neighbors, a young man asks the priest where God is.
"He's right here, suffering with these people" the priest replies, declining a ride that would take him from the massacre to safety.
That line rattled around in my head for a while. Not in the "it reminded me of a nice idea that I forgot" kind of way, but because it didn't sit well with me. At some point, I have to wonder how much it really hurts him, because he could stop it if he wanted to.
Rwanda isn't the only place that makes me feel this way. I see irreperable scars in my neighborhood. Kids get abused, raped, and abandoned. They build defenses against love. I do some writing for a nonprofit that works with women who are victims of sex trafficking, short-term marriages, slavery, starvation, neglect, and destitution. At some point, if it really bothers God all that much, why doesn't he just stop the awful stuff from happening?
I thought about Rwanda, then I thought about how the Canaanites probably felt when the Israelites came in with divine orders to wipe out every man, woman, child,and cow . Then I thought about friends who died young, and all the scars that their leaving formed in my heart, and I thought that there had to be something about God to be learned, if I was to believe in him at all.
Since it is all we have, human life seems to us the thing of highest value. But, based on biblical tales and the chaos I see around me, it's not the most important thing to God. He seems very little concerned with our comfort or individual survival.
I believe in a God who mourns with those who suffer. Who hates violence. Who grieves when we grieve. But all this has me thinking that the suffering is worthwhile to God because he has a higher value somewhere.
I'm going to propose my little view, which is that God does indeed hurt, but that he values a relational connection, he values the redemptive narrative, and he values the human struggle more than he values the mere fact of human life, and especially more than he values our neat little ethical systems.
So to survive where I live, where suffering abounds and lives are cut short all the time, I have to believe that the God who presides is telling us a story far bigger than our own lives, and he asks me to worship as he unfolds it before me.
This is going to sound weird coming from a guy who believes that Jesus wants us to care about physical needs and poverty (which I do believe, quite fervently), but I don't think God is out to cure every ailment and alleviate every pain.
If we learn anything from suffering, it's that God's priorities and ours are different. We have a choice. We can accept his values and move further into worship, or we can seek safety and avoid the pain that comes with knowing a God who can bear the weight of our suffering for the sake of something higher, which we can't quite grasp in our current state.