When I was getting interviewed at the Jesus Takes A Side launch party, Andrew wondered how we could believe in a God that liberates, in a God that resurrects, in a God that redeems the whole world with all of the bad things happening around us. I could relate to his dilemma: the massive gun violence problem we have in the U.S. (and in Philadelphia), environmental degradation, a church that struggles to become affirming of LBGTQIA people, and a whole host of other issues. In the face of death and oppression, where is our God? In those moments, I am reminded of the lament of the Psalms and of the prophets:
I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. (Psalm 42:9-11)
Even in our moments of exasperation, in our moments of despair, we can find solidarity with other believers who have shared in our lament, wondering where God has gone? The key for me is to continue to feel the pain of our suffering, continuing to discipline ourselves to feel our sadness and our anger. If we don’t feel our pain, I wonder how we will imagine hope beyond it, a world beyond it? This is a question that every long sufferer must ask themselves.
If we don’t face our oppression, what will God need to save us from? If we don’t face how the world has harmed us, when will we pray for God to liberate us? In my personal life, I’ve had to face the oppression I’ve faced as a racial and sexual minority. I’ve had to face the abuse I endured in my twenties and thirties as I was groomed to be a pastor in a narcissist’s church. But experiencing that pain, while illuminating, has been awful. The pain is not comforting, it’s horrifying! There’s nothing that feels liberating about feeling all of the worst things I’ve experienced. Maybe it’s better for me to just hide them away again. Maybe I won’t be happy, but at least I won’t be sad.
So I know that feeling my pain isn’t good enough. It doesn’t give me faith in God, it merely reminds me of how shitty everything is. So even when we feel our oppression, even when it’s apparent, how do trust that God will liberate us? We remember.
We must remember when God has been faithful. The Jewish people, like David who wrote our psalm from above, remembered the Exodus, the time that God liberated them from their Egyptian enslavers and made a whole nation out of that freedom movement. It is the pulse of the Jewish community – remembering their liberation and the hope that brings us today.
For Christians, we participate in communion and remember the liberation that came from the cross of Jesus. We remember the Lord’s death and resurrection and the power of liberation that comes from the God who defeated death by death. We hold on to the breath, that life, that memory. We take communion to remember. That is why we worship, why we gather, for the hope of liberation. We remember our salvation.
And more than that, we can recall present moments of liberation today! This is why remembering Juneteenth is so important. Juneteenth is another memory we hold on to as we remember God’s freedom movement and God’s emancipation. Juneteenth reminds us of when that the last of the enslaved learned of their freedom. To find faith and hope, we remember times when God’s justice has triumphed! We don’t dare forget God’s faithfulness in our oppression. God’s love endures forever. God’s faithfulness is promised to us. This isn’t fantasy because we remember when it has happened.
Sometimes, our liberation is right before us; we need to learn that it’s there and seize it. Revolution and liberation sometimes just means taking our God-given liberty and naming it. We need courage to do this. We need community to do this. We need solidarity.
So for me, I need to surround myself with people who have the same experiences of pain. That is the power of the Jewish community and of the early Jerusalem church. They held all things in common, including their pain. Our churches and communities could be places for solidarity, where we can experience our pain collective (and feel permission to feel the pain). When our pain is validated, we can then believe in God’s freedom and help enact it in ourselves and the world.