Ruminations on Rwanda

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Over coffee with friend Cheryl Shigaki, she told me about a recent trip she made to Rwanda. Efforts continue to bring emotional, social and financial recovery in the aftermath of the genocide. Some of the stories are too unthinkable to recount.

After any genocide or conspicuous inhumanity questions inevitably arise, and these are questions of a deep, philosophical nature. They came after the holocaust. They appear in other instances of senseless, unimaginable violence. They came in Rwanda.

The first question is about the nature of the human being, what we would call our “anthropology,” our understanding of the human creature. In Rwanda it was captured in a single question: “How did we lose our humanity?” The first recognition is that it indeed can be lost. We can be swept away by group madness, the reign of the reptilian brain, the harming of others justified by our own twisted rationales. In the face of incontrovertible evidence the human species is not “getting better every day in every way.” No, we can do heinous things, and no one is exempt, placed in the right circumstances. A genocide calls into question our understandings of the human being and therefore what is required to live as one, to live among others like us, and to transcend that evil impulse.

The second question is theological in nature. In Rwanda it boiled down to a graphic statement: “God left Rwanda for 100 days.” The only explanation of God and genocide is absence. And if God can check out in such a way then what is God, really? What really left, and for more than 100 days, is our notion of what God is or does. Old notions crumble in our hands and unless we re-define God we have few options other than to abandon the abandoning God. Genocide forces us to recognize that the ultimate reality of God is not like a great big person that controls everything, determines everything, intervenes, or limits. Human freedom – even for evil – is not limited, but rather exercised. People left the checked-out God in Rwanda by droves, and still are. And they have left a church that was seen as complicit with the political powers and principalities.

What is the nature of the human being and what is the nature of God? These are the most fundamental questions of faith. On the other side of those questions, violently revealed, lie answers that genocides will not leave sleeping undisturbed. We are not what we thought ourselves to be, not totally. And God is certainly different than and more than we imagined. Such terrible labor pains toward new birth. Some even survive it.

  1. Menina says:

    The hardest thing to bear is that this tragedy is not God’s failure, nor absence, but our own failure to tale action as part of the human family.

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