Parallel Suffering

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When I look at the footage coming from Gaza this week, I am filled with grief. I grieve for the residents of Gaza for whom poverty and violence are all too common. I grieve for the mothers raising children in circumstances with little hope for the future. I grieve the genocide that is happening so slowly there that most of the world fails to recognize it. And as I grieve, I see parallels between the experience of the Palestinian people and other people groups suffering around the world.

  • When I think about how quick those of us living outside the Middle East are to overlook the narratives of the Palestinian people, I am reminded of the stories of Indigenous tribes that have been written out of the collective history of Turtle Island (North America).
  • When I hear excuses like, “Well, if they were obeying the law, they wouldn’t get shot,” I think of the many African Americans whose deaths have been discounted with those same words, as if resisting arrest or throwing stones justifies one’s death.
  • When I hear the way some in the West describe Israel as the shining example of democracy in the Middle East, applauding its European cultural elements, I am reminded of the way that European practices are sometimes conflated with notions of what is good and right in places like Nicaragua, Honduras, and Mexico.
  • When I recall my Palestinian friends whose ID cards are marked with a number to indicate that they cannot vote or live outside the West Bank, I think of the Rohingya of Myanmar, who are not recognized as a people group by their government and have no right to vote in their homeland.
  • When I listen to people from neighboring Arab countries point fingers at and scapegoat the Palestinian people, I see similarities to how the ethnic Chinese population is talked about in Indonesia, as if their poverty were their own doing.

The experiences of these peoples are not the same. They are as unique as the cultures and lands in which they are located. But there are lines that run parallel through these stories. Lines of colonialism—of outside control, exploitation, and occupation. Colonialism continues to live in the minds of both the colonizers and the colonized, colonialism manifest in every aspect of life from relationships to the courts of law.

Colonialism is violent. Violence begets violence. So much so that we express the violence in our hearts with our fists, our mouths, our passive-aggressive comments, and our angry emails. And sometimes, we do violence with our apathy. To those who are in pain, our silence can be deafening.

I believe that there is a God who will judge each of us someday for how we used the resources God gifted us with on this earth. As a follower of Christ, I believe that God will take a look at all of my obstinate willfulness, careless neglect, and stupid mistakes through the lenses of Christ’s loving act of sacrifice and welcome me into Heaven’s arms. But I also believe that a reckoning will happen. A reckoning that may sound like the words God once spoke to Job: “Where were you?”

I will be pointed to all of the ways that God was working around me, and the gifts that I was given for responding to the troubles of the world. “What were you doing?” I’ll be asked. The question will, of course, be rhetorical. God will offer the instant replay of hours spent watching Netflix and spending time with people who make me feel comfortable.

But I also hope that God will show how I lived the gospel—making courageous decisions, sacrificing my comfort for others, giving when it hurts, and trusting God as the great provider to meet my needs and the needs of others. This is the kind of parallel suffering that we embody when we follow Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26 & 2 Corinthians 1:5).

In the end, I pray that each of our lives will be able to be described by these words:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. —Hebrews 10:32-35

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