In this two part series, Lauri Swann reflects on Navigating Justice for the Scholar’s Compass Lent series.
“God was the first to cry.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma
In the movie Selma, Martin Luther King, Jr. is seen consoling Mr. Cager Lee, an 82 year old man, who is in the morgue identifying the body of his grandson, Jimmy Lee Jackson. Jimmy, killed in 1965 during a peaceful protest in Selma, Alabama by a state trooper, was only 27 years old. With no other words worthy enough to provide comfort for the man whose only grandson was shot down before his eyes, Martin Luther King, Jr. simply states:
“God was the first to cry.”
When I first heard these words, I felt as if time had stood still. So powerful and poignant. The image of God crying over such a travesty and injustice was both mind blowing and comforting. If these words were indeed spoken by King to Lee, then I am grateful that we have such an historical figure like Martin Luther King, Jr. who teaches us that the best theological response to tragedy is to point to the one who is greater than ourselves—God. More importantly, I am thankful that as we move our focus from selves to God during this season of Lent, that we become mindful of the incomprehensible duality of the anthropomorphism of God (God’s human characteristic) as well as God’s wholly other (the God who is different than all other things that exist). Thus, we become more aware of the God who is intricately involved in every area and emotion of our lives within this world, yet at the same time, above all that is deemed corrupt of this world. We experience the God who is above space and time but who also counts the hairs upon our head and numbers the days of our lives even to the second. It is only in the revelation of Jesus Christ that we experience the incomprehensible gifts of love, grace and mercy. And it is in our experience that we learn of our God who loves us enough to not withhold God’s self from us but to reveal God’s self. In God’s human embodiment, God does cry for us—our pain, our suffering, the injustices formed through social and economic ills. Yet, in God’s divine embodiment, we are provided the answer to such discomfort, and it is found in Jesus the Christ. What a great point for meditation as we move forward in this season of Lent.
Lent is the time that Catholics and many Protestants reflect upon their mortality as humans in light of who God is, the sacrificial death of Christ, and our unworthiness and need for repentance. It is in this season that we commit to a life changing experience so that we can be more like Christ. The season begins with Ash Wednesday where those who receive the placement of ashes, hear the words which remind us even more of our mortality and frailty, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” From that moment, we embark on 40 days of reflection and sacrifice. And on Easter Sunday, we conclude our sacrificial state with the celebration of the one who was sacrificed for our sins through an anthropomorphic death only to be resurrected as only one who is wholly other can do. The truth of the matter is that without developing a heart like God’s, one that grieves and cries for the ills of this world, our Lenten experience becomes merely an exercise of self will. If we learn nothing more from this season, we should learn that God loved us enough to take on the finite form of human in order to experience that which is human only to provide the great reward of eternity for us, called a new heaven and a new earth free from sin and injustice.
How can this Lent be a time for you to develop a heart like God’s?
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Social Justice, Book of Common Prayer, http://www.bcponline.org/Misc/Prayers.htm
Image: Rev. Martin Luther King, head-and-shoulders portrait, seated, facing front, hands extended upward, during a press conference / World Telegram & Sun photo by Dick DeMarsico. Public Domain.
About the author:
Lauri A. Swann received a B.A. from Syracuse University, an M.A. from The George Washington University, and her M.Div. and D.Min. from Wesley Theological Seminary where her thesis was Sex Trafficking within the Black Church Community: A Call and Response. She currently serves as the campus staff minister of InterVarsity's Graduate and Faculty Ministries, Black Scholars and Professionals (BSAP) Fellowship for the Washington, D.C., region, specifically on the campuses of Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Before joining Intervarsity she served as both a youth and young adult pastor and taught in both the private and public charter school systems in Washington, D.C. She is married to Kevin and together they have three beautiful children. Lauri blogs at Peeling Oranges at Midnight and has contributed to InterVarsity's The Well -- a ministry of Women in the Academy and Professions.
John Mulholland says
Thank you for your Lenten reflection.
Not many understand God to be One who cries, who weeps. Nicholas Wolterstorff alerted me to this aspect of God in some of his writing. Here I quote from page 9 of his essay “The Grace that Shaped My Life.”
After the death of his son Eric, Wolterstorff wrote a book Lament for a Son. Here he writes about that death and his effort to deal with and understand that death.
“… Now everything was different. Who is this God, looming over me? Majesty? I see no majesty. Grace? Can this be
grace? I see nothing at all; dark clouds hide the face of God. Slowly the clouds lift.
What I saw then was tears, a weeping God, suffering over my suffering.
I had not realized that if God loves this world, God suffers;
I had thoughtlessly supposed that God loved without suffering.
I knew that divine love was the key. But I had not realized that the love that is the key is suffering love.
“I do not know what to make of this; it is for me a mystery. But I find I can live with that. The gospel had never
been presented to me as best explanation, most complete account; the tradition had always encouraged me to live
with unanswered questions. Life eternal doesn’t depend on getting all the questions answered; God is often as much
behind the questions as behind the answers. But never had the unanswered question been so painful. Can I live this
question with integrity, and without stumbling?
“It moved me deeply to discover one day that John Calvin alone among the classical theologians had written of the
suffering of God. Whenever he wrote of it, it was, so far as I could discover, in the same context:
that of a discussion of injustice. To wreak injustice on one of one’s fellow human beings, said Calvin,
is to wound and injure God; he said that the cry of those who suffer injustice is the cry of God….’
There are other places where Wolterstorff writes of God crying, weeping, suffering. But this is enough for now.