We just finished the book Peace Child by Don Richardson for school today. I have enjoyed it immensely; and the author saved the best for last. You can check out the book just about anywhere, and I recommend you do, but I will give a brief and relatively inadequate summary here.
The book is about Don and his wife going to the Sawi people in Indonesia during the 60s to share the Gospel of Christ. The Sawi were a people group so isolated that their language had very little in common with even the languages of the people in nearby areas, signifying generations upon generations of isolated development. They had stone age technology and practiced headhunting and cannibalism while celebrating treachery as the trait that most exemplified their heroes.
Don shares how at one point he lamented that there seemed no way to reach these people who offered no cultural foothold on which he could share a message of love, forgiveness and redemption. He practically envied St. Paul, John the Baptist and St. Luke, because their jobs were so easy compared to what he was facing with the Sawi people. At least John the Baptist could reference the Lamb of God while ministering to the Hebrews; Paul could teach about the unknown God to the Athenians; and Luke could expound on the Logos to the Greek. Here Don was faced with a people who admired Judas Iscariot for so expertly betraying Christ!
In time, though, as Don and his wife prayed, the culture unfolded traditions that revealed Christ to this seemingly hopeless people. First, the Richardsons witnessed a heart-wrenching ceremony in which a man gave his own child to an enemy tribesman to raise as his own as an unbreakable bond of peace between the two tribes--unless that child died, of course. This was the peace child after which the book is named--or a shadow of the ultimate Peace Child Himself. Don finally saw the key he had been seeking for so long. He gathered the men to share with them that God had also given His only Son for peace. This was profound and the first believers were born at this revelation.
After a while a new tradition was carried out that truly disturbed the Richardsons--in fact, it disturbed the Sawi! As part of the grieving stages over a dead relative, mourners stayed close and keened over the rotting body as flies engulfed it. The final stage involved plunging one's hands into the corpse and then eating with the soiled hand. Don and his wife understandably didn't sleep very well the night after they heard about this ceremony. They ached with confusion. Why would anyone do this? Don was determined to find out.
While investigating, he discovered that there was an old legend about a lizard who represents eternal life and a bird who represents death. They fought over humans and whether they should decay or renew. The lizard gave up, leaving humanity to death. But there was hope in a promise that the secret word would come back into knowledge that would allow the Sawi to be renewed and to live forever.
I just get chills as I think about this. I see two lessons that are so very profound. The first is that God is super-cultural. There is no people group outside His reach. He matters. He is relevant. He goes even further than that. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God "...desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." No One is more aware that we cannot attain relationship with Him by human strength, so in order that all may be saved, He made a way. There are legends, traditions, stories, mores and any number of other qualities in each and every culture and sub-culture in Creation that serves as a key to Truth that eventually supplants the inferior legends! It is brilliant as only He can be! He plants these treasures to be discovered and reveal His saving grace so that truly all will hear and all can know. How amazing is that?
This leads me to the second lesson. When we move in to change what we see as unacceptable behavior without discovering the reasons for that behavior, we may unwittingly be burying that all-important key. The Sawi despised their own tradition for mourning the dead. It was dreadful! The government would have eventually come in and outlawed the practice. If that had been done, what a devastating loss it would have been. The corrupt thinking would never have been addressed, because the behavior that revealed the false teaching would have been eradicated.
This is treating the symptoms and preserving the disease; decidedly killing the patient who has been well perfumed to mask the stench of death. We must not do this!
It is for this reason that I struggle so fundamentally with the legislation of morality. (Please do not choose to interpret that to mean that I advocate the legalization of murder or theft. I believe the government's job is to protect our God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My murder would impair my earthly life and I imagine my pursuit of happiness, though my liberty would be secured.) When we choose to perfume the stink out of people so that we are comfortable in their presence--not that we would hang out with anyone who stinks--we fail miserably in our ministry to love one another.
Instead we must humble ourselves and refuse the compulsion to react with repulsion (I am a poet!). We need to ask why and then actually listen and learn. And before anyone is going to trust us with an honest answer, we have to build a relationship based on love and acceptance--yes, acceptance! The first thing we may learn is that the behavior wasn't all that bad in the first place. But if it is sinful, and we can lovingly reveal truth that is founded in their own lives and experiences, no legislation is needed at all! When the Sawi heard Truth, they stood up and said, 'when I die, don't stick your hands into my rotting carcass!' They only had to say it once, believe me.
People do awful things often because they believe deep down that it is all they deserve. When we yell at them for doing awful things, we only confirm what they already knew. They go into hiding and continue to do awful things because now there is no other obvious choice. However, when we love them and show them that they are worth more than all the treasures of this earth, they will cheerfully cast off behaviors unbecoming of royalty. No laws are even needed. Who needs to be told to not eat rotted flesh, really? I don't. Because it stinks.
If we continue to choose to make our society pretty and acceptable to our way of thinking, we will continue to marginalize our own selves to irrelevancy. Remember that we don't actually belong here. We are the aliens passing through. We have no right to comfort. We have no right to not be offended. This is an offensive world, ruled by the Liar. Let it be out in the open, for goodness' sakes! At least then we know where to go to bring healing.
Please don't chastise the stink out of your life. See it as a symptom in need of the Great Physician. Love. Learn. Really hear the breaking hearts behind ugly acts that cause harm. See God in it. He is there, if you take the time to look.