16 Days of Activism – Day 10: Why am I (a man) involved in ‘16 days of Activism’ regarding violence against girls?

As a man I have become engaged in this work on violence against girls because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and because Jesus Christ embodies the notion of compassion (meaning literally to ‘suffer with’). Henri Nouwen in his book “On Compassion” dismisses the notion of human ‘activism’, but reframes it within the narrative of Christ-like discipleship:

“The disciples speak of their actions as manifestations of God’s active presence. They act not to prove their power, but to show God’s power; they act not to redeem people but to reveal God’s redemptive grace; they act not to create a new world, but to open hearts and ears to the one who sits on the throne and says, “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev 21:5).” [Henri Nouwen, On Compassion, p. 121]

Jesus deconstructs the notion of ‘activism’ as merely decisive human action. In contrast, acts of compassion express the suffering heart of God which in turn manifest the presence of God. Classical theology has been guilty of putting forth an a-pathic God, a ‘male’ God who cannot be moved with emotion by suffering in the world. This notion of God is a god that moves or acts (actus purus) unmoved by another. Feminist theologian, Elizabeth Johnson writes: “Classical theism has long thought that, along with female experience, the experience of suffering is an inappropriate field from which to glean words for divine mystery.” [Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is, p. 246]

Ms. Johnson’s words are instructive for men who often hold decisive positions of power and authority in our world today. For me, my desire to follow Jesus Christ calls me beyond a mere use of status, or of unsympathetic spectatorship.  Johnson continues, “a God who is simply a spectator at all of this suffering, who even permits it, falls short of the modicum of decency expected even at the human level. Such a God is morally intolerable.” [Johnson, p. 249]

This is not the God of the Bible. A feminine simile is used of God in Isaiah’s ‘servant songs’ to describe the God’s emotions about the suffering of Israel:

“For a long time I have held my peace,
I have kept still and restrained myself
Now I will cry out like a woman in labor
I will gasp and pant.”  (Isaiah 42:14)

Here, the mystery of ‘new creation’ being birthed into the world is likened to that of a woman giving birth. “Those who are suffering cry out in pain; but “the cry comes first from God, who is the champion and companion of the oppressed, who promises a new order in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”[Johnson, p. 255] As we watch and wait during this season of advent the birthing of God into the world, let us all consider the very embodiment of compassion in our midst – the very image of a God who suffers with. [Phil. 2:5-11, Heb 1:3, 2:18, Col. 1:15]

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