Tag Archives: gospel

83: Injustice

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When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:23 NIV

Turning the other cheek, as Jesus counselled us to do, is a difficult teaching for many of us. As a former doormat, I used to let people not just walk all over me, but grind their muddy boots into my soul as well. It took me a long time to realise that this was not what the Lord was recommending. We should not seek out suffering, nor is it wrong to protect ourselves from hurt. Boundaries and self-defence mechanisms are necessary tools for getting through life. But when we are insulted or treated badly, it is our reactions that should mark us out as different.

The reason for this, as I have come to understand it, is that whatever is happening to us in the earthly, we maintain as God’s children, our integrity, which is eternal. Julian of Norwich saw in her understandings from the Lord that our true selves are incorruptible and stay close to God’s breast all the while we are alive. Nothing can touch or harm them in any way that will impact the eternal, the true and manifest wholeness and perfection of them. So although suffering hurts us of course, it cannot hurt that unreachable self whom God keeps close. This is why Paul (or whoever the writer of Hebrews was) said “What can man do to me?” echoing Psalm 56 amongst others. It seems we might answer, “Well, quite a lot, actually,” but when we remember that this same man had been beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked and persecuted for following Christ, we must take these words seriously.

For my own part, I think that any kind of insult or abuse loses its power over us when we bear it with gentleness. So yes, we call injustices what they are, and as far as possible we protect ourselves and others from ill treatment, and from inflicting it. Systematic abuse must be escaped and challenged whenever possible, this righteous anger and action is also part of following Jesus: we stand up for widows, orphans, and speak for the voiceless. But where it is appropriate and we are able to, turning the other cheek can be an effective tool for the gospel. It was certainly when I bore the bullying silently and without redress that my school peers got bored of tormenting me. “For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God,” says Peter in his first letter (chapter 2, v 19) and he is talking about the severe injustices borne under slavery.

This bearing with the sorrows of today with quiet dignity because we live in the knowledge of eternity (whilst owning our own wholeness and integrity kept safe within the bosom of our God) is the heart of gospel living to this man who walked closely with Jesus. It might rankle with us today, but there is a deep and precious wisdom and a powerful witness in patient, gentle endurance, especially when paired with forgiveness, and Peter, for one, believed it changed those hurting us.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

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37: Back to Front

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In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” 2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV

This was Paul’s description of what was happening in the Macedonian churches as he wrote to the Church at Corinth. It sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? How can joy overflow in the midst of a very severe trial? How can poverty well up into generosity? How can we give out joy we don’t have any reason to feel or be generous with things we don’t have?

Well, the short answer is, that in the earthly we can’t. You can’t fake joy, or magic something from nothing. But with God anything is possible, and when our joy and our riches have their source in him, then the outward circumstances are of little consequence to our effectiveness in these two areas in particular. Think of loaves and fishes, perhaps.

A contrast often strikes me when I see film footage from poorer places, between the wonderful smiles and laughter we see there, and the financially better off but miserable faces we get to look at close up over here. Joy clearly comes from somewhere deeper than our pockets. But to be able to experience so much of it in terrible times that it brims over to others? That is a tough ask. James also asks it of us straight away in the first chapter of his letter. It seems back to front and upside down to imagine that we can “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2 NIV)

Have you heard of the phrase “counter cultural” that gets bandied about a lot in churches? If we really understood just how counter to our culture the gospel of Christ was, I’m sure things would be very different. Because it is downright topsy-turvy. We are meant to be poor in spirit, meek, able to turn the other cheek, not take offence, give even more than we are asked for, and to love our enemies, amongst other things.

So, yes, also to be joyful when everything is pulling us towards despair. How can we do that? And the answer is, not by sticking our head in the sand and pretending all is well, but by our reliance on God’s goodness. By being constant in our prayers, and certain in our hope. By knowing that however hard it is here and now, all shall we well and all manner of things shall be well, one day. By understanding that all of these troubles are temporal, and that the eternal awaits us. It is not easy, it isn’t even human, but rather, divine. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit flowing in us that we can do this. Likewise, to be generous in poverty, is about learning to flow in love. It is giving the widow’s mite, finding different ways to give, including with our time, our listening ears, our compassion, our empathy, our wisdom, our creativity, or whatever we may have to give. It is all part of living within the abundance of God, life in all its fullness.

I hope that I might learn to live more like this. And perhaps my writing on this would mean less if I didn’t tell you that I have my fair share of tough stuff at the moment, and there is a lot of misery, trial and financial difficulty in my life. I choose to trust God, and to pray often. And some of that prayer is whinging prayer, I admit. But some of it is also thankful and joyous (mostly the parts where I’m listening rather than speaking). These back to front attitudes are hard to live out, but crucial to learn if we are to follow the King who serves.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo used under creative commons licence.