by Christopher L. Heuertz
Many of my friends enslaved in the commercial sex industry have legitimate reasons to question the possibility of a good God. Many of my friends in poverty pray prayers that go unanswered. Many of my Muslim and Hindu friends have sacrificed more for their faith than a lot of sincere, earnest Christians I know. To suggest to my friends that their religions are wrong, their realities are in God’s hands, or that God is not distant from their suffering is offensive and inappropriate—especially if I have not engaged their contexts through solidarity. Solidarity without words is a common component to many of the biblical stories:
• Job’s friends, although pitiful failures, at least sat with him as he suffered, spending one week before they opened their mouths.
• For an entire year the prophet Ezekiel silently lived among the people to whom he would prophesy; scripture tells us that after a year he was “overwhelmed.”
• Christ lived what can be assumed an ordinary and non-dramatic life for nearly thirty years before beginning what is referred to as his public ministry.
Words are easy, and many evangelicals have become enamored by them. By tightening the frames of doctrine around the mysteries of the Divine, many evangelicals have reduced the gospel to mere statements of belief. Apart from faith, these beliefs are no more than fantastic abstractions to which every adherent to any religion can lay claim.
Of course, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it is certainty. To assume or presume that Christianity is true can be as harmful or unhelpful as believing in Santa Claus. Sadly, many Christians have a Santa Claus-like faith. They believe in a biblical expression of God because adults they trusted told them this was true, social pressure fortified their beliefs, and they could point to evidence that supported their faith tradition.
Simply believing in Santa Claus or the God as portrayed in the Bible doesn’t presume faith. Faith transcends belief; faith confesses that its hope is actually believable. Faith is making an option for the absurd and hoping against all evidence that something extraordinary may in fact be true.
This is the real invitation for Christians who desire to bear witness to hope in places of poverty, to embody the possibilities of love with humility and the absurd notions that God is present in suffering.
Rather than debate if words or actions should have more precedence in our attempts to affirm God’s love among those in poverty, let us live into the beauty of a life compelled by faith. Rather than perpetuate a worn-out conversation on the obvious dichotomizing of words or actions, let us elevate this discussion by grounding it in hope. Let us affirm and confess that choosing belief is the luxury of the non-poor, while clinging to hope is the necessity of those living in poverty. Their option, an absurd and unrealistic one, illuminates for us the true nature of hope.
May we learn to follow our friends who are poor to God’s heart, where together we are all converted by and through love into faith.
An instigator for good, Christopher L. Heuertz fights for a renewal of contemplative activism. Chris has spent his life bearing witness to the possibility of hope among a world that has legitimate reasons to question God's goodness. After graduation he moved to India where Mother Teresa mentored him for three years. There he helped launch South Asia's first pediatric AIDS care home. For 20 years Chris has served with Word Made Flesh, working for women and children trafficked into the commercial sex industry.
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 264-271. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.