This is an essay I wrote for Conflict and Change. It might be a little out of context–its a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about in life. Enjoy if you will.
Faith Like a Child
Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:4)
Abuna Elias Chacour stepped into a room lined with students who had waited with excited anticipation to meet the man from Galilee and author of We Belong to the Land; they smiled, he sat down, looked around the room and told the students that their smiles meant hope. A strong advocate of peace, dignity, and justice, Abuna Chacour lives a life of conviction. Not only listening to the word of God, but also doing what it says. With that said there were many points the Abuna made that resonated truth, while other elements of his message were unsettling. It is beneficial to consider what I found to be strong points of the Abuna’s message, but I will also explore those aspects that are more difficult to accept.
Abuna Chacour often remembers the words of his father when discussing the reason for the life he lives. A statement he repeated both in his book and to the students is this: “We are not allowed to repay injustice with injustice.” Abuna went on to explain that when an injustice is committed no amount of reparations can heal the wound. The question then follows: what shall the wounded do with their pain? Each one should remember, so that the injustice will not be repeated and others’ suffering will be circumvented. This premise sets up a radical model for reconciliation and forgiveness. In other words, those wronged must forgive without forgetting. In practical terms, Abuna has not forgotten his right to return to his land in Biram, but he will not return by force or at the expense of others. He went on to describe the ability to forgive as a gift from God.
This model is righteous and just. The Abuna takes the moral high road free of any residue of vengeance that one might expect to observe. Yet, these ideas are radical and forgiveness is difficult, indeed, a favor from God. How can the Abuna expect individuals on the ground to adapt this moral high ground? This question leads to a fundamental difference between traditional western Christian belief and the Abuna’s ideas. In the face of every human being, the Abuna sees God. There is not a trace of the idea of “sin nature” anywhere in his theology. He speaks of cooperation and the global community, but in glance around the world I am confronted with pain and suffering at every turn. I do agree that man was created in the image of God. There is something sacred and unique in the fact that each face I see bears the image the Creator, and so I wrestle to reconcile the evil in the world with the status of mankind as children of God. I Corinthians 13 emphasizes the essentiality of love and hope to life on this earth, these things cannot, must not be forgotten. The Abuna told us that revenge is easier than forgiveness, but then calls mankind to a higher standard. Skepticism and the threat of mutual self-destruction cast shadows on this idealism. Perhaps the Abuna’s hope in mankind is what Jesus meant when he spoke of becoming like a child. I do not take these ideas lightly, for Abuna Chacour is a well-thought out man not only does he speak these ideals he also lives them by faith.
I am confronted with an even greater challenge when I turn to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Abuna presented the conflict as an existential problem; he described it not as war of religion, but a war of identical claims on the land by two nations. Later, he presented a type of solution in a single statement: if the Israelis want peace and security, then they must pursue justice and dignity. If God is a God of justice, then it must follow that when justice is served then there will be peace. In this way, the Abuna presented the interests of the two sides as synonymous. Studying the conflict for a week brings me to the understanding that the interests of the two sides are not synonymous, in fact, many interests are mutually exclusive. Then, do I give up resigning the people of the area to destruction? This cannot be the answer, because the Bible calls for hope and compassion.
The proactive paradigm of Abuna Chacour is inspiring and indeed makes practical sense in this life that I am living. Chapter seventeen of We Belong to the Land is entitled: Get Up, Go Ahead, Do Something, Move! The Abuna explained that this call to action is his translation for the word “blessed” in the context of the beatitudes (Matt. 5). The problem of suffering in the world is daunting; an individual cannot alleviate the pain of mankind. And yet, this invitation to do something, to move situates the ideas of hope and justice on a micro level and in a position where progress can be achieved. When the Abuna bids me get up, go ahead, do something, move I hear the voice of Jesus calling me to follow him. He has not asked me to change the world, but he has called me beyond apathetic living. I cannot solve the problem of two nations with identical claims, but I can respond to the girl crying in the dorm room next door. I cannot write a theory for racial reconciliation in the United States, but I can go to intercity Marion and show Netnet she is loved.
Although it is more tangible to “do something” about injustice on the local level, thinking about suffering on the global level must not be forgotten. There is a place for study and compassion of areas I have never been and people I have never met. A comprehension of the larger world aids in understanding my own neighborhood in Upland, Indiana. Understanding the desperation that leads a person to use a bomb to kill himself and bystanders shows what a life void of hope looks like.
Violence, desperation, and injustice are universal, the example of Abuna Chacour, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King Jr. point to answers of peace, hope, and justice. The life of Abuna Elias Chacour is a direct response to the hope that he retains in the goodness of mankind and the justice of God. Perhaps his idealism is reflective of the foolishness of a little child, but recall, Jesus called his followers to faith like a child. Doctrinal differences aside, Abuna Chacour is living his life by the standards of the upside down kingdom that Jesus established in his followers. Struggling to understand I sojourn onward, and perchance someday I too will become like a child.