By: Rev. Nathan Allen, Clairemont Lutheran Church/ Iglesia Luterana Clairemont (San Diego, CA)
This has been a ministry of the ELCA for more than a decade now. People have been consistently working toward peace for many more years than that throughout Palestine and Israel, yet it seems that there is no progress made. In many ways it was emotionally devastating to witness the injustice and tragedy; there is a sense of helplessness in the face of problems that are much bigger than we can grasp.
I am reminded of the story of Job in the Old Testament. A righteous man before God, yet faced with terrible suffering, his children all killed, losing absolutely all of his wealth, and finally being covered with sores on his whole body to the point that he could find no comfort, no rest. Job felt that God was unjustly punishing him, while the interpretation of his three friends was that he must have done something evil in order to merit such wrath from God. Job felt tormented by God, tormented by his friends, even his wife told him just to curse God and die.
Through it all Job kept coming back to God, angry yes, confused and hurt, yes; but he kept returning to God expecting more, hoping for justice, calling out in frustration! Where are you God! Why would you do this to me! How could you let this happen! How could you let a 15 year old girl be shot by soldiers, how could people be forced into refugee camps for three generations, why do you let someone get to the point where a suicide bomb becomes an option, how could you let settlers steal land and resources, why don’t you do something about these boys and girls getting locked in prison, why Lord, why have you forsaken these people?
And not just the people living in the Holy Land but right here in our own country; where black men and women are profiled, imprisoned, and killed with no consequence, where mothers and fathers are separated from their families and deported simply because they sought a better life for their children. Why have you forsaken all of these people, and allowed greed and power to sway the hearts of leaders? Yes there is a feeling of helplessness in it all.
And yet, right there in the middle of the book of Job (ch. 19:25-27), come these words:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
It seems that right in the middle of the suffering of Job, indeed when it is at its most poignant moment, he prophesies that he will then see God.
In the middle of a refugee camp, in a meal we cooked and ate together, in the sharing of stories, in the laughter and the seriousness of that place, God was seen. In the call for peace from a clan of Bedouins after years of their houses being destroyed and families oppressed and settlers stealing their land; in their hospitality to us as strangers, God was made known. When a group of teenagers vulnerably shared their folkloric mixed with hip hop dancing skills in an occupied city with a group of strangers from the United States, God was manifested among us.
On the cross of Golgotha, when an innocent man suffered and was crucified by the powers that be of his day, crucified for preaching good news to the poor, crucified for his criticism of the establishment, there God’s presence was a reality. Indeed, God died on that cross.
With Job we can say, I know that my Redeemer lives! The suffering is not the end of the story! There is hope in the darkness.
A part of that hope lies in the abolishing of my own apathy. It is so easy to get lost in the futility, to resign oneself that this is the way the world is. At the end of Job God does rebuke Job’s three friends for not supporting him like they should have, and for thinking they understood all the inner workings of the Divine. And God also calls Job to repent and change his perception of God. We cannot know the what, and why of everything; we do not understand the whole picture as God does. Yet we are called in our place, in our small speck of time and dust to do as much as we can to struggle for peace and justice in the world.
I felt God’s love in the hearts of the people we met, and in the group of amazing young people who took this trip to the Holy Land. Together we will continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to proclaim Peace not Walls, both in the Holy Land, and right here at home.