Thursday, 5 July 2007

On God, Love, and Darfur

Can a thinking person truly believe God to be both good and omnipotent without ignoring the existence of the kinds of atrocities now taking place in Darfur? Can we face that fact that a God powerful enough to speak worlds into existence is not doing anything to relieve the intense suffering so many humans are experiencing? Can we tell people with a straight face that such a God cares?

I once participated in a program called BaFa BaFa. BaFa BaFa is an exercise whose goal is to promote cross-cultural awareness and understanding. The participants are divided into two groups. In separate rooms, each group is given a goal and a list of rules. Both groups have pieces of coloured paper with numbers on them. Group A's goal is to get "sets" of the numbered papers. They may signify the numbers they want by calling out that number of syllables, using the first letters of their first and last names paired with any vowel. In this way, they are able to trade with other participants. The Group A member with the most sets of numbered papers wins. Group B is told that their goal is to protect one of their members, who has been selected and placed inside a circle. I forget the details (I was in Group A), but I think that men are not allowed to approach women in Group B - to do so is a sign of disrespect. Or something like that. Group B's members are protectors. They may interact with others, but they must act together to forcibly remove those who break the rules.

Of course, when the groups were brought together, confusion ensued. Group A quickly learned how easily Group B's members were parted with their numbered papers. Group B members enjoyed interacting with Group A but were constantly on guard. Group A members seemed either ignorant or uncaring in relation to the rules. Group A members who inadvertantly stepped inside the sacred circle became belligerent when they were suddenly removed and prevented from trading coloured papers. Even Group A members who tried to learn from their team member's mistakes and avoid the circle found themselves removed for inappropriately approaching their counterparts in Group B. It was surprising how quickly the situation escalated.

BaFa BaFa was a great illustration of what happens when we fail to understand priorities that are different from our own. One of the biggest problems in dealing with God is understanding that his economy doesn't work on the same basis as ours. It did once, but sin has altered what we see as important.

The value of a life, or anything else, in God's economy, is completely centred in Love. A successful life is not marked by happiness, but by love.

Humans do value love, but we generally see it as secondary - a support - to happiness. That is why the horrors of Darfur cannot be reconciled, in our minds, with a loving and all-powerful God. Love is valuable to us because of the happiness it brings, but happiness itself is everything. We may trade one kind of happiness for another kind (ie the happiness of wealth for the happiness of health or family love), but we almost cannot imagine anything being worth the sacrifice of happiness.

God can. And so he chose to let go of his control over our happiness so that we might have the ability to choose and give love. He doesn't sit back in the La-z-boy when Darfur makes the news and say "gee, that's too bad" - he chose suffering himself in order to offer us the choice that allows us to love. When people choose selfishness or hatred, we end up with situations like the one in BaFa BaFa, and in more extreme cases, like the one in Darfur. Since we don't operate in a bubble, we have the power to take away the happiness of others by our choices.
But no one can take away our choice to love. Not even the God who gave it to us. We may choose by our "wants", but he may never take or offer the lesser at the cost of the greater. And the greatest of all is Love.

One of my favorite films is Roberto Benigni's 1997 film Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful). Benigni plays Guido, a gregarious Jewish Italian charmer who loves to laugh and enjoys his life to the full, until he is interned with his young son in a Nazi concentration camp. His main goal becomes protecting his son from the horrors of the camp, which he does by pretending that it is an elaborate game whose prize the boy longs for: an army tank. Guido's love for his son forces him to smile and laugh even after days of back-breaking labour. He seems amazingly able to set aside his own feelings for the sake of his son.

Such love is truly what makes life beautiful, and the film reveals that Guido's life, destroyed among the hatred and the horrors of the holocaust, is more lovely and more valuable than mine, wasted amid the freedoms and comforts of 21st century North America. Having given all, he is something far better than I am. Vita e Bella says that I needn't pity Guido or others like him who have chosen love and to love. Rather, I am to be pitied for the selfishness that robs my life of its beauty.

God stands by. He allows people to suffer because he protects the choice of each one - to love. We may refuse. But those who choose love will find themselves at the feet of a God who is Love. They may suffer. They may lose their lives. But such lives are not wasted, as we may someday find ours to be. They are beautiful. They are valuable.

Once chosen, God is not standing by any longer. He is able to choose for those who allow him.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Wow! says the Christian, eager for blessing. He begins counting what God will give him. Of course, he'll tithe, and God will be appropriately grateful - grateful enough to bless him even more...

Sorry. What we call "good" and what God calls "good" are different things - remember? To us, "good" is happiness. We like to skip the difficult, boring parts and get right to the juicy bits; the reward. That's why our society sees love as a side dish and sexual gratification as the main entree. God serves it the other way around. To God, happiness is a byproduct of Love, but never a goal in itself. Sometimes it is only through suffering that we may receive what is good from God's hand - but when we allow God to choose for us, our suffering is never the result of another person's choice. It has been weighed, measured, and chosen by the One who chose suffering for himself.

God loves the people of Darfur and the Sudan and Rwanda. He longs to give them what he longs to give us - something far, far lovelier than happiness. He longs to give them himself. Love. And they may be hungrier for the main course, since, unlike us, they've been denied the opportunity to gorge themselves on side dishes.

The soul who chooses love may be beaten, tortured, and tormented. She may be violated and imprisoned. She may be robbed even of life itself. But she will have, in spite of her pains, what only one who has experienced both may tell us is far better. No sword may separate her from that Father and Mother and Friend who alone knows the deep things of the human heart. No lock may bar her from that unfettered freedom that love alone imparts to the sou. l No violation may rend from her the sacred self that belongs to God alone. She is at no one's mercy, for God himself counts the drops of blood that may be spilled from her body. She may bleed, but it will be as God bled. She will love as God loves. She will fly free.

Cry for the people of Darfur. What is in your power to offer as relief for their suffering, hold not back. But cry for yourself, if you don't know Love.


joeyanne said...

I like your point that the choices of others can affect us. Negatively. The consequenses of the sin of other people can fall on us. The effects of their choices (hatred, greed...) are not poured on people by God, but by those who chose them. The freedom from these consequences lies not in removing the choice from the people who choose evil,(because that would end up being all people), but in choosing LOVE ourselves. Am I saying we should stand by when others are being tortured? Certainly not. But that is a political issue. God does not do politics, He deals with individuals. Those who have chosen to use, abuse, and torture other human beings have turned their backs on God. They are in a far worse situation than those being tortured. I do not say this lightly. The consequences of sin do not fall in God's court, just because they fall on the innocent. God does not change. He reaches out to individuals, as He has been doing since the first man. Again, this is not a political view! Politically, who would not be against torture, abuse, and greed? But what am I going to do about it? Presently, I am without means to do anything other than pray. When I, personally, am in a situation to oppose such evil, it is my responsibility.

Slapdash said...

So the gist is: free will = love. Love > Happiness.

Do we have free will in heaven? Or does the equation reverse at that time, such that Happiness > Love?

You don't say it in this blog entry, but I believe at one point you made the argument that for God to restrict our free will would be tyrannical and we would be robots. (Forgive me if I'm attributing this to you incorrectly.)

So can we have free will in heaven, when Rev 21:4 promises that there will be no death, sorrow, crying, or pain there?

All of those things are a result of free will, of choice, of SIN, no? So it would seem we become robots under a tyrannical God in heaven.

Which to me begs the question of why it's so important that we have free will NOW, for a measly 80-ish year lifespan, which in the scheme of eternity is nothing, less than a grain of sand, less than a subatomic particle.

Slapdash said...

JP-I saw after posting this that you had replied to the same issue on Heather's blog...

Jennifer said...


Your illustration is excellent.

A woman I once knew was in the position of not knowing what to tell a hurting teen when his parents divorced and the teen asked her why God could not just come down and hug him.

She lifted a quick question to God and asked Him 'why' too. God told her, "I can, give me your arms." So she hugged the teen and told him where it was coming from.

That may sound corny to some people, but when God works in that way, it is felt and understood.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

bjk said...

Thanks for your words at my blog they really are encouraging.....

We_Must_Be_the_Change said...

Yes, this IS NOT a politicial issue!
When innocent lives are being tortured and killed, the word "politics" should be thrown away and be replaced with "morals"..Moral olbligation.
The evilness of mankind IS NOT a fault of God!

We do evil.

We let evil.

We musn't!

For too long human beings have either blamed God, or believed that God doesn't exist. But, aren't we at fault if we commit these murders? Aren't we at fault if we let this murder and raping happen, and not do a thing to prevent these evil acts, when we truly can make a difference?

Prayers are needed!

Action is needed!

And, please listen if you'd like!!!:
There are things you can do.

For istance:
1.) Pray
2.) Call 1-800-Genocide
3.) Talk to representatives
4.) Volunteer
5.) Donate
ect, ect, ect...
Why don't you ask God for Him to work through you so that His Will be done.

This not His Will.

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