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Bible Study VI:

The Cross: God's Way of Overcoming Violence
through a Non-violent Way

by Septemmy Lakawa

 

Luke 23: 33-43

And when they came upon the place that is called the Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. But Jesus was saying, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." They cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by watching. The authorities scoffed at him saying, "He saved others. Let him save himself if this one is the Christ of God, the chosen one." The soldiers also ridiculed him, approaching him and offering wine vinegar to him and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself." And there was an inscription over him, "This one is the King of the Jews."

And one of the criminalshaving been hung (with Him) was blasphaming him saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." The other rebuking him said, "Do you not fear God, because you are in the same state of condemnation? We indeed are receiving justly for things worthy of which we did." And he was saying Jesus, Remember me when you come into your Kingdom. And he said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."

1. Personal Encounter with The Cross in Indonesia

In 1993 I did my field study as a seminary student in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh. For almost 2 months I did many different activities at two congregations excitedly. Six years latter, in 1999, I found myself feel empty inside as I read a book which is called "Nyala Panyot Tak Terpadamkan" (The Flame of Panyot will never be extinguished) in my small room in Jakarta. It is a book which consists of the stories of violence against Acehnese women under the policy of Indonesian government to set Aceh as a territory under Military Operation (DOM=Daerah Operasi Militer). The story of the suffering of the Acehnese women is a part of the whole story of the state violence using military power against humanity. The voice of the victims had been silenced for some years. Therefore many other Indonesian people, just like myself, while being in that very area, were not aware of such violence. The women in their houses were tortured, raped and even killed and at the same time they have lost their loves ones and even till now they do not know anything about their existence, that is, whether they are dead or still alive. The title of the book shows the reality of how the darkness of night had been witnessed to the fear and the suffering of the women. Night that was supposed to be the time for them to take rest and to enjoy togetherness as a family after working together in the rice field during day light had been the time of fear and anxiety, the time of uncertainty of the coming of armed forces who might turn their family life into catastrophe.

The flame of Panyot had been also their witness of violence done by armed forces. And it is the same flame, which is used as a symbol throughout the book saying that the voice of the victims will never be silenced again for the truth and justice should be brought into reality. I also found out the meaning of the cross as a powerful symbol of God's presence in the lives of all the victims including the women in Irian, in Jakarta (May 1998), where the Indonesian Chinese descendant women were tortured, gang raped and even killed. But for how long the women in my countries must suffer such violence? At this point, then, my understanding of God's forgiveness emerges together with my belief that as God is present in the lives of the victims, healing the wounds on their bodies and in their souls, God also offers forgiveness for the perpetrator and the persecutors. So, as the flame of Panyot will never be extinguished, so is the power of forgiveness and reconciliation that Christ brings will never be overcome. I do not say, however, that forgiveness and reconciliation are easy and inexpensive matters especially if they are based on the real condition of the victims in my country. I do not also say that such acts are impossible. However, the voices of women victims in Aceh, Irian and in the other part of Indonesia will always remind me of the dialectic and the anxiety of talking about and giving forgiveness in the midst of the ignorance of the perpetrators and the persecutors. Also, the voice of the victims will always challenge me to live my life between the hope and anxiety of talking about and doing God's justice and truth. I will carry the feeling of hope and anxiety with me as I continue my reflection about the cross as God's way of overcoming violence in a non-violent way.

2. Group Activity One (in the small groups)

  1. Each person brings forward a symbol that represents the story of violence against women in their own contexts to form the cross of their group.

  2. After putting the symbol down she/he will explain the meaning of the symbol and the story it represents

  3. Together, try to identify what the cross of the group is meant to them as a group of Asian people who live as church in Asian realities.

3. "Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing":
In Search of the Image of the Non-violent and Anti Violent God

One of the most challenging stories of the Cross is Jesus' words of forgiveness. I have never been so struck by the words before until once in my theological struggle I had to face a statement of a woman saying "how dare you are saying that the victim should forgive the perpetrator… What about the rape victim, should she forgive the rapist? For what? Why?". I was silenced at that time. I was not angry but was trying hard enough to re-look at my theological understanding of forgiveness. It is not an easy concept to explain. In fact, since it is an act of faith it cannot be understood till it is done.

Jesus was not saying any theoretical concept from the cross, rather he was challenging both the victim and the perpetrator to see the deep meaning of forgiveness and the powerful reality which is brought within it. Jesus' forgiveness is powerful because it is offered by the victim himself at the point of being violated against. As a victim of an unjust structure and power, Jesus represents all the victims to whom such challenge is addressed. But the challenge goes also to the perpetrator because his act of forgiveness consists in itself a demand of repentance. But what kind of forgiveness that Jesus offered so he is able to say, "for they do not know what they are doing"?

I then remember again the story of the Acehnese women or the Irianese women who were violated against. Is it right that their perpetrators do not know what they are doing? Is it right that people in power behind such a criminal act do not know what they themselves are doing? In what sense and understanding these words are to be looked at? Did Jesus play the motif of ignorance towards the act of the persecutor? Or, did Jesus reveal his self-forgetfulness toward the persecutor's act of violence? In what quality then such act of forgiveness should be theologically claimed?

To trace the theological meaning of Jesus' forgiveness and to look at the power within it is to realize that such an act can only be understood by having woven it with the whole story of the cross, where God incarnate being present in a violent world being violated against. Yet, from the very existence of being a victim, God breaks the cycle of violence by struggling actively through a non- violent way to overcome such violence. Here, forgiveness means that God with God's self-forgetfulness gives a second chance as an alternative and powerful way of overcoming violence not in the way the world familiar with but through a not impossible way that the world should take the risk of doing it. So, the logic that violence could be only overcome by violence is broken down.

Jesus' forgiveness also shows that overcoming violence by non- violent act is not in itself the aim, but it is a way of bringing forward reconciliation. Reconciliation is an act of both the victim and the perpetrator in which both parties are given chances to experience surprises from God. Isn't faith also full of surprises?

When Jesus offered forgiveness to his persecutor he confirmed the identity and power of the victim as a forgiver whose forgiveness becomes a transforming and authentic reality in the life of the perpetrator who then was challenged to repent. And this is another theological surprise of the cross that the story of terror is transformed to be the story of forgiveness and reconciliation. So, the cross as a violated symbol is healed so we could see another reality of it as a place where God presents Godself as a non violent God who is anti violence.

Speaking about the non-violent God who is anti violence reminds me of the consultation on "Theological Perspective on Violence and non Violence" held by WCC in Colombo, in November 1999. During the presentation about violence in Sri Lanka, I was surprised by a Sri Lankan speaker, T. Fernando, who said, "We were non violent but we had never been anti violence." For me such a statement yet a challenge should be faced theologically because it is rooted in a deep theological concern of how to be human and how to be church as a way of participating in God's presence in this violent world. The first question is to ask whether God is a non violent God and at the same time is also an anti violent God. Following this question is an anthropological question of how to be human and an ecclesiological question of how to be church. To claim that God in Jesus Christ is a non-violent and anti violent God means to look at, critically, our theological understanding and emphasizing of our identity as human being and as church who are God's instruments in this world of violence to incarnate the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Here the question of identity relates to the question of violence that can be transformed into the challenge of forgiveness and reconciliation. The question of identity based on the reality of violence which has been raised by Christians in facing the massive spread of violence in every level of society, such as what happens in Sri Lanka, should also become ours in the midst of violence in our family, church and society. In such reality we encounter God who is a non-violent and anti violent God, although many of our theological traditions reveal the story of God as a violent God, moreover we still meet the violent God in the Bible.

This is a tough but promising work because it is done by faithful people who offer an alternative way to create the world as oikumene, a living-sacred place where every creature can find his/her/its place to reach the fullness of life for all.

4. Group Activity Two:
Look Into the Eyes of the People: What Should We Do?

When you look into the eyes of the victim of violence in your own contexts:

  1. What kinds of acts will you suggest to your church and/or churches in Asia to meet the needs of the victim of violence?

  2. In what ways your church could overcome violence through non-violent ways? You may explore it in:
    Your cultural traditions
    Inter-religious dialogue/traditions in your own contexts
    Your theological and biblical traditions

  3. In the story of Luke 23: 33-34, with whom do you identify yourself; with Jesus who offers forgiveness, or with "they", to whom Jesus offers forgiveness? And how will such identification influence your theological understanding about God, the Bible, your church and violence?

 

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