Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent, Day 21: When the River Meets the Sea

On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on the one who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in all the earth.

- Isaiah 10:20-23

"The survivors ... will no more lean on the one who struck them." To lean on the one who struck you is to stick with your abuser. Wow -- this sentence is loaded.

I just finished reading a book called Jesus Land, a memoir by a woman who spent time in the 1980s in an abusive Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. I'm not sure I recommend it unless you just want to have your eyes opened to ongoing abuse (the school is apparently still there). The story is violent and bleak, and naturally, in the end, the author cuts Christianity completely out of her life. You could say that she has been saved from the kind of religion that meant leaning on the one who struck her.

It's hard to hold this up against all these prophetic passages in which God is portrayed as using violent means to punish a disobedient people. This is the fuel that, so easily misused, feeds abusive churches and abusive "faith-based" schools. So many people find that religion has been their abuser. And then, thank God, they find a way out.

I wholeheartedly support those who leave their abuser, even when their abuser is the church. And I believe that the hand of God is in their rescue. Other parts of the church will continue to do their best to witness to God's love and mercy, and they will refuse to pronounce God's judgment in the form of abuse. Yes, Christians seek to help with God's work in the world. But we are to do so very carefully, because we are notoriously bad at understanding the difference between justice and abuse.

Yet I also believe that all will be made clear one day ... in time, we'll understand. That's the real "end times" ... none of this nonsense about God sweeping the good people into the sky and torturing the bad. You'll find imagery like this scattered throughout the Bible in order to give hope of rescue to the abused; so often vengeance is the only way we humans can imagine justice occurring. But God's vengeance doesn't look like we want it to look. God wants all of us to accept the invitation to live in love, because truly there is no better way to live.

The musical pick for today is, admittedly, primarily about nostalgia. I've loved this song since I was a child: John Denver singing with Kermit the Frog's little nephew, Robin. And I still find it both comforting and profound: in time we'll understand, "when the river meets the sea."

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