Monday, January 20, 2014

Silent Witness

I don’t know if anyone knows of the long-running series Silent Witness. It is about a group of forensic pathologists solving murders and other crimes using the corpse as the “silent witness”. Apparently they are capable of doing most of this within the 1 slot! The story of Abel and his death could be part of this series.

Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks." Abel, according to Hebrews could be our silent witness.

Hebrews is, of course, referring back to the story in Genesis 4. This is the first account of the multiplication of human sin after the story of the fall in Genesis 3. God says, in verse 10, “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.” The conversation, however, goes in between the villain and the detective: between Cain and God. In verses 6-7, God warns Cain of sins desire to master him. In verses 9-12 God, as detective, accuses Cain of murder and tells him of his punishment. Then Cain responds with his complaint and finally God encourages Cain with a mark to protect him. Our silent witness remains silent. And so, the writer of Hebrews says, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks”. According to this passage it is through faith--by giving an acceptable gift that he is righteous and so suffers.

This led me to think of the Psalm of the innocent sufferer in Psalm 22. Vss. 1-2 are the cry of the innocent sufferer Vss. 3-5 the sufferer declares his faith in the God who is in control Vss. 6-8 describes the way he is treated and how others view and treat him Vss. 9-11 describes the sufferer’s relationship with God and his appeal to God Vss. 12-18 once again describe his predicament Vss. 19-26 appeals to God for salvation and says he will witness to that salvation Vss. 27-28 result of the suffering is that God will be made known.

Of course, in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:44 Jesus, on the cross, cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Clearly, Jesus is in great distress and felt very alone and abandoned by the father. Jesus and both Mark and Matthew are clearly relating Jesus to this innocent sufferer. Jesus is the ultimate model of the righteous sufferer and so not only declares that Jesus was innocent of the crimes of which he was accused but that he associates and identifies with those who suffer innocently.

So, what we can say is, God is actually on the side of the innocent sufferer even though he or she may not feel like it. Also that the innocent sufferer WILL (ultimately) be vindicated by God. And finally, that the suffering of God’s innocent will be a witness to the nations.

It was the 2nd/3rd century Church father, Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. During he lifetime many persecutions of Christians took place in the Roman Empire. Perhaps he was thinking about Perpetua noblewoman and her slave, Felicity who were martyred during his lifetime or Blandina who was martyred when he was young. At allnations this morning we spent time praying for innocent sufferers today, especially Christian brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Pedestrian, the Swagger and the Elf

When we first travelled in Addis Ababa, it was by car. The impression we got was that most pedestrians seemed to possess some sort of death wish or at least a kind of collective suicidal psychosis. They wandered into the road with a nonchalance that make Usian Bolt's casual gait look like Poirot's nervous little shuffle. The pedestrians didn't look, they just walked into the road seemingly, without a care in the world. 

Now, in most places in the world, this would spell carnage. Imagine doing this any town in the world; horror! Even Stanstead Abbotts high street would be converted into more than exciting episode of Casualty. We used to joke that in some parts of Latin America, the first, and possibly only rule of the road was that "small gives way to big". The pecking order went something like this: dog, pedestrian, cyclist, motor cyclist, car, small truck, bus and finally, atop the metaphorical transportational hierarchy, the big truck. This was no joke however; it was reality! 

Here in Ethiopia, it seems to be the complete opposite. In Ethiopia, the drivers do not run the pedestrian down, they slow down and politely avoid them. The use of the horn is reserved for warning the pedestrian that he, the driver, may not be able to swerve to avoid him, the pedestrian, in time.  We found out later that this is the law on almost every road in this country. It actually works really well; there is a sort of poetry in the way Ethiopian traffic flows. We must conclude that here, the pedestrian rules.

A second, observation-related to the first-is what I have called "the Ethiopian Swagger": a way of moving in the street in a most notable manner. The finest proponents of which are young people between 20 and 30. I mentioned nonchalance earlier, well this way of walking is nonchalance embodied! It is a combination of the speed--not above 70 steps a minute--and torso movement--right shoulder moving forward as left leg goes forward. There is something in the arm movement as well--the arms swing in time with the shoulders at the same time that the elbows bend. It is with this swagger that Ethiopians cross roads with confidence. At this point it is important to note that white, middle aged theologians cannot do this...well, not without looking a cross between an arthritic emu and Michael Jackson moonwalking! 

Finally, I must relate an incident that occurred as we walked home from the town centre in Me'kele. We had stopped to rest whilst walking up very steep hill (please note we are at 2040m). A women with, what we took to be a rather small Ethiopian Elf or possibly a local cherub were walking down hill. It could have been her son or grandson but from the empirical evidence I'm convinced of the former theory. This was further supported when he smiled and waved at us. We waved back. Much to the embarrassment and shock of his guardian and companion, the elf broke away from her and ran up to us. We shook hands, the woman had her hands over her mouth but he ran back contented that he had had given us a new experience or at least a repeated experience of the wonderfully friendly Ethiopian people.