By Peter Law
Sometimes I long for a life walled off from the troubles of others. I wish I wasn’t daily confronted by the reality of other people’s poverty, oppression, or loneliness. I wish I could close my eyes to the suffering of others and live a comfortable middle-class existence. My natural inclination is to say that your problems are not my problems, but I claim to follow Jesus who, unbidden, entered into my problems. He didn’t just witness them, but he took them on as his own problems.
In Christ we see God enter into our human weakness, our poverty our oppression, our alienation, not because he had to, or because he wanted to feel better about himself, but because it is the very nature of who he is. God can’t be emotionally manipulated, like a parent in the grocery store who buys that sugary cereal in order to stop the pleas of, “you don’t love me.” God doesn’t respond to emotional blackmail, so when he has compassion on us, we need to understand that having compassion on what he has made is at the very centre of who God is.
So why doesn’t God have compassion on me and spare me the unpleasantness of being around the suffering of others? The reason is that some things are more important than my comfort and happiness. God’s great goal is to reconcile all of creation to himself. Our happiness and comfort are good and desirable, but they have to take a back seat to God’s more pressing concerns. “How does my discomfort help God to reconcile creation to himself?”, you might ask.
First of all, it helps me to rely on God. Reconciliation is not merely a one-time event, but it involves us living our lives in community with God. As a human I’m biased towards things I can sense—physical reality—over the things I can’t see—spiritual reality. If I feel like I have all I need, I can be more easily distracted by this physical reality, and end up worshiping creation, rather than the creator. My need keeps my eyes open to see God’s work in my life.
But there’s more to it than that. In Hebrews 1:1-2, we read how God’s most perfect communication of who he is was in the life of his Son Jesus. What came before was theoretical and abstract, but the life of Jesus brought the love, the holiness, and the justice of God into the world of the concrete. Those who saw Jesus, saw God (John 14:9). Jesus calls us to follow him, to be shaped by the Holy Spirit to become like him so that the world may see the Father in our lives in the same way the disciples saw the Father in Jesus. Part of the way that Jesus revealed God was to enter into the suffering and oppression of the poor. To become like Jesus, in order that we can reveal the Father to a lost and broken world, means that, Like Jesus, we must enter into the pain of others. When we build literal or metaphorical walled communities that seal out danger and suffering, we make ourselves unable to represent God to the world, a move that frustrates God’s purpose for the church.
My discomfort in this world reminds me that this is not my home. Comfort leads me to complacency, to lose sight of Jesus’ call to discipleship. Entering into the pain of another motivates me to enter into justice, to recognize and work against the systemic brokenness in the world. If I wall myself off from injustice, my faith becomes and exercise in moralism. Christians become those who don’t [insert your catalogue of bad behaviors here]. While Jesus was holy, to say that to follow him is merely to abstain from immoral behaviors is to trivialize most of what he did. We must follow Jesus in terms of what he did, not merely what he didn’t do. And the only place I can do that is out there.