From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
The War Drags On, but Sudanese Christians Refuse
04 May 1996 16:08:13
96136 The War Drags On, but Sudanese Christians Refuse
to Give up Hope
by Alexa Smith
NAIROBI, Kenya--Despite more than 29 years of civil war, with no end in
sight, most Sudanese Christians say they have hope that someday the
violence, homelessness and political instability will end.
That hope is not so much eschatological or political as it is
prophetic, for the resurrection hope so typical among Sudanese is tempered
by a punitive edge.
Many Sudanese understand the words of the eighth-century B.C. prophet
in Isaiah 18 to be a prediction of Sudan's current torment -- and the
coming redemption of its "tall and smooth" people who are "feared near and
far." Those words bring both comfort and conflict to those who are trying
to make sense of the persistence of evil, because the same God the Bible
depicts as suffering with the people is also understood here to be testing
the helpless faithful -- and punishing the faithless -- in the midst of the
seemingly endless war.
"Everything has failed. Everything you can think of humanly has
failed," said the Rev. Haruun Ruun, executive director of the New Sudan
Council of Churches in Nairobi, about the violence that persists in Sudan
between tribes and between armies. "The only hope people have is in God who
created them ... in the Holy Spirit who gives strength and courage to stand
up and endure the situation -- not just now, but tomorrow and next year.
"There seems no end to it."
The New Sudan Council of Churches consists of Protestant, Catholic and
Pentecostal churches in the areas of southern Sudan controlled by the
Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting the
fundamentalist Islamic government in Khartoum for self-determination for
the largely black Christian and animist people of the south.
To date, more than 1.5 million Sudanese have been killed and at least
5 million more are refugees, who pour into makeshift camps outside Khartoum
that are routinely bulldozed back down into the dry Sahara that surrounds
the capital of the once-united country. In the south, people hide in
moveable villages deep in the bush. They hide not only from government
troops, but from one or both of the rebel armies that are fighting each
other to control southern Sudan's people and its much coveted natural
resources, including vast supplies of timber and oil.
"This is not a new thing ... so we will endure it," argued the Rev.
Michael Chot Lul, principal of Khartoum's tiny Nile Theological Seminary,
who said the biblical narratives tell of a God who allows suffering and
somehow redeems it -- from the wandering of Hebrew ex-slaves in the
wilderness to the nailing of Jesus to the cross at Golgatha. But Chot Lul
refuses to raise questions about why the warfare persists because, he said,
there is also resurrection, and that means no problem is hopeless.
"Why should the people of Israel suffer for 40 years? Why only Israel
at the time? Why not other nations? When a problem comes to you, you
wonder, Why me and not others?'" Chot Lul told the Presbyterian News
Service. And yet he insists that God allows evil to happen, and even if a
biblical prophecy predicts unavoidable disaster, there is still hope for a
yet unseen future.
Trying to make sense of the sheer persistence of evil is nothing new
to Africans who have, for centuries, had to wonder why there is so much
suffering, according to Dr. Setri Nyomi of Nairobi's All Africa Conference
of Churches. Both traditional African religions and some strains of
Christianity have left behind legacies of divine punishment that often
reemerge when theodicy is broached.
Nyomi told the Presbyterian News Service that most of Africa would
say God allows -- but does not cause -- evil. "The question is more What
are we called upon to do?' than Why is this happening to us?' Whether or
not God allows evil to happen is secondary," he said.
But whether God actually inflicts hardship as some sort of punishment
or simply allows the consequences of human sin to hold sway, even over the
innocent, is where the debate gets murkier. And it does prompt questions
among those who continue suffering year after year.
"Will God only punish the poor people but not the rich people in
Sudan? Will God only punish the black race but not the brown race in
Sudan? It is a conflict in our minds," said one southern Sudanese pastor,
stressing that most of the war has been fought in the south, displacing
people and destroying towns and fields. "We may not be the first people to
ask this: If God is just, why is this happening?' This question is in
the minds of my people. ...
"But," he said, drawing on scriptural stories, "to find blessing from
God involves some suffering and pain. ... Although God is just and
everything comes from him, there are also times when God wants to test us."
But it is a short step from a God who tests the faithful to one who
punishes the faithless -- particularly when the source of the quandary is a
prophet's cry of impending doom for people who have forgotten the God who
delivered them from Egypt. While some Sudanese attest that humans do evil
and cause horrible suffering, others understand God to be the source of all
"We accept this [war] on us as maybe from our sin -- this is
punishment being done to us ...," one theological student told the
Presbyterian News Service. "We also have to examine why this punishment is
given through the hands of other people. Sudanese really know what Isaiah
preached ... the Sudan."
Dr. Michael Wal Duany of Bloomington, Ind., formerly of Akobo, Sudan,
turns to other portions of the Bible to try to explain massive human
suffering. "In Christianity," he asked, "who is innocent and who is
guilty? How does God punish when he punishes? In the Old Testament, many
things are happening to men, women, children, old people, to everybody. ...
"God has his own ways," Duany told the Presbyterian News Service,
acknowledging that human beings create suffering too. But, he concluded,
"God can get angry and God can also love."
The Rev. Paul Bol, executive secretary of the Presbyterian Church of
Sudan (in southern Sudan), said the Bible is clear about how the sins of
the father bring punishment to the children. "Adam and Eve," he said,
"disobeyed and sin fell to everybody in this world simply because they are
Adam and Eve's ancestors."
The tension between God's mercy and wrath is one the prophets well
understood. But most Sudanese preachers preach love: how to live together
though the world seems to be crumbling, how to trust that the church in
other parts of the world has not forgotten them, how to believe that the
vision of God is more powerful than the great struggle that has swallowed
Sudan, Africa's largest country.
"There are times when our faith is brought into question," Ruun told
the Presbyterian News Service. But he points out that despite Sudan's
horrific problems, the church -- virtually the only stable institution left
in southern Sudanese society -- is growing enormously. "There are times
when you see the grace coming in ... and you begin to see light in spite of
the difficulties. Somehow you see that grace ... and it gives hope. ...
"It's up and down, up and down."
Ruun explained that worship in Sudan is jammed because people have
watched human solutions fail over and over. "They don't see any other
solution," he said. "But they see hope and solution in God."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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