Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Justice and Weariness

I am weary. On days like this I am so ready for Jesus to come back and restore peace forever. The suffering and exploitation that wearies me is not just in Ukraine. It is everywhere, even in my own heart and actions. There's a poem by Warsan Shire that runs through my head often these days. It's called "what they did yesterday afternoon."

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

It doesn't matter where you go, what you do, who you interact with- everything everywhere hurts.

I was reading Galatians this morning and Paul's charge that we not let ourselves grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. I am so easily wearied, so easily discouraged and despairing.  But I have had two deep encouragements I need to remember and I'd like to share with you.

We have a death conquering Savior. In the face of death we can boldly nurture life. Jesus absorbed all the carnage we have wrecked in each other. The "desperate tides of the whole great world's anguish were forced thro' the channels of a single heart." His heart. I am constantly shocked and horrified by the injustices I encounter; Jesus knew them personally. How often I forget. Honestly, I almost daily vent my anger at God, as if I am the one showing him the suffering of the world rather than the other way around. God is personally acquainted with every injustice ever committed and what's more has personally paid the consequence of those injustices. He has conquered death and extended life to us, leaving no room for despair.

And yet, I find a way. But that leads me to my second deep encouragement- the beautiful, resilient people I've met whose courage, grace, and love give me the energy not to give up hope. These people share more of the Gospel with me through their lives than I ever could with them.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in McDonald's at Ocean Plaza in Kyiv with a dear friend of mine. This friend and I met in Ukraine at an English camp 7 years ago. We connected over our love of words, quizzical eyebrows, and a magnetism toward Ukraine with which neither of us understood what to do. After living oddly parallel lives which included IJM, London, and living in Ukraine, we were recently reunited. Sitting in McDonald's, we discussed what our lives would be like if not for Ukraine. A love for justice is embedded in both of our DNA, but through our conversation I realized without Ukraine, justice wouldn't mean what it means to me now. Without Ukraine, I would still be asking the wrong questions. As an abstract thinker, I could easily get stuck exploring and defining my understanding of the concept of justice without ever actually entering into pursuing justice. Without Ukraine, I don't think I would've been forced to move beyond my anger at God for injustice in the world. I have met so many beautiful people who have suffered incomprehensible pain and shame, and yet they see and rejoice in the goodness of God. They know God on a level that inspires me to continue pressing into His heart and not allow myself to grow weary of doing good. They have helped me to see the truth of Gary Haugen's words in the introduction to his book Good News About Injustice

      For those who look at the deep ravages of injustice and find themselves descending into despair, I do
      not have adequate words. In such dark waters, words can rarely do the required work. But I can usher
      you into the holy spaces where we have met these survivors, by the thousands, and allow you to be
      awed by their stories. There is little about the agony and humiliation of evil that they do not understand,
      but in their harsh struggles they have also testified to the mysteries and mercies of God in a way that, to
      me, makes despair or cynicism seem like an indulgence, a lie and a dishonor.

If these people I have come to respect and love can endure what they have endured and come out of it praising God, then I have no right to me mad at God on their behalf. Their closeness to the God of justice and mercy urges me closer to Him even amid my anger and doubt. And in that closeness, I meet a God who is far more just and merciful and empathetic and patient and powerful than I could even hope for, and I am humbled to the very dust.

I have just one more poem to share. It's by Philip Metres and it's called "Compline."

That we await a blessed hope, & that we will be struck
With great fear, like a baby taken into the night, that every boot,

Every improvised explosive, Talon & Hornet, Molotov 
& rubber-coated bullet, every unexploded cluster bomblet, 

Every Kevlar & suicide vest & unpiloted drone raining fire 
On wedding parties will be burned as fuel in the dark season. 

That we will learn the awful hunger of God, the nerve-fraying 
Cry of God, the curdy vomit of God, the soiled swaddle of God, 

The constant wakefulness of God, alongside the sweet scalp 
Of God, the contented murmur of God, the limb-twitched dream-

Reaching of God. We’re dizzy in every departure, limb-lost. 
We cannot sleep in the wake of God, & God will not sleep 

The infant dream for long. We lift the blinds, look out into ink
For light. My God, my God, open the spine binding our sight.

I'll rein in my inner poetry critic and spare you a total analysis of the poem, but I do want to point out the first line of the 4th stanza, "That we will learn the..." which begins a list of descriptions of Emmanuel, God incarnate as one of us, experiencing the total weakness of infancy even though He is the commander of galaxies. The line doesn't start with God learning our human experience, but with us coming to know His experience. On that beautiful, dreadful day when our blessed hope, Jesus, burns up injustice and suffering, then we will know Him. We will know fully what He did to fulfill justice and extend mercy to us.

So for today, I choose hope, and thank God for one more day of grace for those who do not know His mercy.


  1. Abi, I have no words to respond. Only my heart is filled with gratitude to this holy space you have been called to and that has become such a faithful tutor to you. You are a gifted thinker and writer, and you have been given a heart that breaks..like God. Thank you for saying so well what so many, many of us are feeling!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and prayers Abi. I miss you and pray for you. I look forward to seeing you again and hearing about your experience in Ukraine. Blessings, Mac Hammond