Theology of Celebration or Suffering?

To the materialistic western individual, the Gospel ‘gives’ us eternity, forgiveness, and abundant life. To the majority world, the good news is liberation, as the incarnate Christ left the comforts to rescue and free the oppressed. Which do you identify with more? (The following are my notes from Fuller discussions on viewing the Gospel from the lens of the poor).

As a white male, Rah challenged me with the question, “How can those of us who operate under the theology of celebration connect with those who live under the theology of suffering?” (146).  As a westerner, I have access to the currency of mobility. That mobility detracts my  capacity to appreciate the suffering around me.  My constant motion and freedom to choose to look away from the difficult situations around me has the effect of “the dulling my senses and increasing my disconnect with suffering” (148). In other words, I may choose to express my power through the singular lens of “celebrating” the good news of Jesus but be inadvertently looking away, or closing my ears to the plight of the oppressed, poor, and marginalized. The gospel is a different kind of good news to those without power – it’s a liberation from the oppressor, a hope that in this world there is a kinder, more just love than what one experiences from fellow humanity.

In my Ukrainian context, though I’m a ‘middle class’ American by American standards, I may as well be Bill Gates in my small village. We are reminded of this regularly with each walk downtown, passing the gardens being tilled by grandmothers out of survival more than hobby.  Houses are a patchwork of material, some just holding on, others caved in from time. A few months ago I saw a body laying on the ground near the fountain in our town’s center. Within a few minutes, police were there, another statistic of rampant alcoholism. 

Suffering is all around us, but if we’re not intentional, our own ministry can become selective in what we feel comfortable focusing on. It’s cute to minister to children, to feel the warmth of their bright smiles. It’s rewarding to take packages of food to lonely widows. There is a wretchedness of sin however lurking beneath the poverty, robbing, crushing, and challenging our human capacity to care. To enter this suffering, to come alongside the “powerless and immobility of the have-nots” (151) is to embrace the other half of the gospel and perhaps the common celebration of our liberator. Maybe the western celebratory focus is a misnomer.. a reflection of materialism on the altar of idolatry. Perhaps there is truly only one theology that reflects the nature of divested suffering love; a suffering Gospel is the the only good news.

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