Suffering is a part of our existence, but not all suffering has to exist. Our co-laboring for political, economic, and religious forces to recognize what is endowed and inherent in each human being is purposeful. Our work is purposeful because of the people we have encountered and those who have encountered us.
One of my favorite songs in the whole entire world is Melissa Etheridge’s “God Is In The People.” It is a short song but a song that speaks directly to my heart. Here are the lyrics:
We keep thinking
Life is what it’s not
We keep building
This impossible facade
Why do we keep trying
To turn people into gods
When God is in the people
God is in the people
For me, it sums up my view of God, how I want to view others, and why understanding the intersectionality of social justice is important. God is a relational God, plain and simple. Our most salient, most tangible, most joyous way of experiencing God is through and with people. So we are called to enter into each other’s joy but also each other’s suffering, just like Jesus entered into ours.
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.” [Rev. 7:14]
I become emotional thinking about who would be in that crowd and all the unavoidable and avoidable circumstances that brought them there. We know the results of mass incarceration, we know the results of inhumane immigration policies, we know the results of gun violence and war, we know the results of communities at the mercy of climate change, we know the results of those denied the most basic of healthcare needs. The results are the people in John’s vision. So it makes sense that we, as believers in this relational God, regardless the particular creed we profess, rise up when groups of people are verbally, physically, and emotionally deprived of their worth and dignity. What doesn’t make sense is when believers in this relational God remain silent, dismiss the realities of others, or worse…add to the continuation of this unneeded suffering. I believe John’s vision to be one meant to invoke courage as the beauty of the Kingdom of God is revealed. However, what would it look like if we truly lived by the words “on Earth as it is in Heaven?”
Justin T. White is a theology teacher at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, Maryland.