Today’s pray-as-you-go meditation focuses on Revelation 21:1-5a. And as I was listening to, “and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more . . . ‘See, I am making all things new,’” I couldn’t help but think about Kanyere Neema. Kanyere is a 7-year-old girl from Democratic Republic of Congo who, after watching armed men kill her parents, was raped so many times by different men she was left paralyzed. The listeners are asked in the meditation to imagine what this “all things new” looks like and what I would like to see made new. Well, gosh, how about a world where 7-year-old girls aren’t raped and who still have their parents?
Of course, the main issue is, as noted in the TIME magazine article that wrote Kanyere’s story (and many other’s), the subordination of women. It is a society that values men as decision-makers at any cost, and primarily by coercion, too often, violence. And while we might think that this only really happens in far off Africa or at the hands of extremists, the underlying mentality is still very evident in our own discourse. Presidential campaign, anyone?
It is overwhelming to consider all of the injustices and issues worthy of our concern and engagement. The young man of color assumed guilty as soon as he steps out of his home. The 12-year-old girl who is sold so another person can violate and abuse her body at whim. Human trafficking. Human. Trafficking. But, we are obligated as human beings to be a part of making things right in this world—that whole justice-and-righteousness thing. As I meditate, trying to discern what is the crux of injustice I always come back to the manner in which we treat each other: do I treat you with dignity and regard for who you are as God’s image-bearer? Or do I dismiss you because you are different or make me uncomfortable in some way?
In Isaiah 30:1, God chastises Israel. Their sin? Making an alliance with other nations. The Hebrew word for “alliance” here is translated as “molten image” in nearly all other cases. I find this quite interesting. The implication seems to be, to make an alliance with someone other than God, whose image we bear, is to follow after another image and cast ours also into that image—false, static, powerless.
On the other hand, “covenant,” berit, first used in Genesis chapter 6 is paralleled to a marriage covenant in Jeremiah, for instance, but is who God is, not merely what God does. That is, by covenanting with others, we image God. Conversely, by severing or betraying that covenant, we act against our nature—who we are created to be, to act. Let me be clear: covenant is not limited to a marriage alliance. This word berit is everywhere in Scripture, the basis for relationship—with God and with neighbor. In, Prophetic Lament: a call for justice in troubled times, Soong-Chan Rah quotes Andrew Park: sin is defined as “the wrongdoing of people toward God and their neighbors. Han is the pain experienced by the victimized neighbors. Sin is the unjust act of the oppressors; han the passive experience of their victims.” And, for Young-Hak Hyun: han is “a sense of unresolved resentment against injustice suffered, . . . a feeling of acute pain of sorrow in one’s guts and bowels.” (Rah, 57)
Breaking covenant with another human being is not an individual act. When we disregard another person or participate in the silencing of entire groups of people, it occurs in community. Crucially, we live in an age of gluttonous distractions. Who could pause to think about some girl in Africa? When I make an assumption about another person, it is nearly always a knee-jerk, unconsidered judgment. Whereas when I operate out of mindful reflection, with an openness to see a person as she is, or to stop and listen to his heart, whatever difference there might be is no longer relevant. Well, aside from all that this unique person has to bring to the community, to make us all more like Jesus! It is also a first step toward making things right in this world. I so want to know Kanyere, her being that images God in a way that I have yet to understand. She doesn’t speak. Who could blame her? But, she matters. Her life is important. Who is in my own neighborhood and suffering, being overlooked? Even more, who is in the next neighborhood where there are people who do not look like me or live in the same kind of house, that is silenced, whose life matters, who is important, who images God in a way that I have yet to understand? Oh, lament. Please lament with me. Where do I begin?