Leading through chaos – the Jesus way

Portuguese, Dutch, British, Che’ Guevara, Tamil Tigers, political opportunists and religious extremists – you name it, Sri Lanka has experienced its share of violence from these various groups spread over many centuries. A small island, one would think would not attract any attention from the rest of the world. It has no oil, little natural resources worth fighting for but lies strategically placed, splicing the ocean space between the Cape of the Good Hope, Indonesia and Antarctica.

So what gives? Why has this tiny nation seen so much of blood spilt over the years? What is it that keeps bringing its people back to a climate of fear and hope-lessness with regularity?

If diversity is strength, then Sri Lanka must be desirably strong, with Muslims, Tamils, Sinhalese, Burghers, Chetties, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists giving it it’s ethno-religious flavour. However, it is not, as experienced over the years. Instead, it is a fragile nation that is seemingly ever poised to fracture down a multitude of fault lines.

As scholars, pundits, journalists, historians and other well-meaning folk wrap their heads around identifying root causes in explaining this conundrum, how should the Christian message of hope, love and forgiveness speak into this in all of the confusion?

Do the words of Jesus have relevance and meaning in coping with and responding to the culture of violence that besets this island?

What role does the church play in being the herald of good news and comfort in a climate of violence and fear?

These are questions that should be wrestled with and that the body of Christ engage with as we try and journey with a nation wounded, tired and hurting to a place of healing.

There have been useful reflections offered by some theologians and scholars in response to the Easter bombings that dig deeper into these questions. See Dr Ajith Fernando’s article here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/sri-lanka-easter-church-bombings-biblical-response.html

In the pursuit if that elusive state of peace, many are renewing the call to reconciliation efforts and intentionality in promoting ethno-religious harmony. These are all noble and much needed conversations. My particular focus however in this article is nuanced differently. Christians, especially those who practice and follow the way of Christ, have at their disposal one of the most potent and powerful antidotes to break the cycle of violence and put themselves and others on the path to healing. It has not been adequately tapped into as a source by the church and at best is given “sermon topic” status as an inspiring concept. If only Christians would practice and appropriate this idea, it could be a life changer and alter the trajectory of the world. Forgiveness; the kind the Jesus taught and modeled.

Jesus who knew both the significance of forgiveness in its capacity to bring healing juxtaposed with human frailty, singled forgiveness as the one statement he chose to explain further after teaching his disciples the “Lord’s prayer” as recorded in Matthew 6.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself and is fundamental to healthy living. Because our lives are wrapped in a web of relationships, it is not uncommon that some of these relationships produce friction, break and fracture, especially with those who are close to us. On the other hand, we get hurt by total strangers as well.  But we can always choose how we respond to the grief it produces. Chronic anger and vengeance can lead us to a lifetime of bitterness and life altering consequences. Trying to suppress the pain and hurt produces other consequences.

Reconciliation is not always possible but forgiveness is. Reconciliation needs at least two people while forgiveness is yours alone to give.  And it’s not easy, especially when one has been violated physically and emotionally or where trust has broken down.  A typical human response demands revenge and justice: a tooth for a tooth response. And yet, those who have experienced forgiveness by Jesus Christ know that God, who is just, met the need for justice through his own sacrifice and in his mercy, offers us grace instead.

He expects no less of us as his offspring. Hard? Yes but not impossible. This is what should differentiate Christians from the rest of the world. The ability to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, bless our enemies and forgive those who hurt us. And yet, the church itself is often unable to model the kind of forgiveness that we have received and consequently has lost its moral authority and public witness in calling others to forgive. Time and time again those who carry the name “Christian” are seen to take matters into their own hands and mar the testimony of Christ and his people.

Thank God for those who have forgiven and keep on forgiving. The 2019 Easter bombings gave witness to the power of forgiveness. Is this a time then for the church to rise? To live God’s love and forgiveness in a world that knows only revenge and violence? Is this Gods appointed time for healing to begin and the blood spilling to stop? Forgiving can create a future that does not look like the past. A culture of forgiveness can replace that of hatred and revenge.

Chris Pullenayegem

Note: This article was written in the context of the Easter (2019) bombings that happened in Sri Lanka.