I speak and teach and preach a lot about Sulha, the expansive heart of reconciliation of our God and our invitation into this same ministry. What has so caught my attention is that Sulha is for the empowerment of victims.
[ NOTE: Sulha is an ancient middle-eastern tradition whereby the victim of a great harm takes initiative, has the power, to set aside offence and thereby become free of all the poison of bitterness’, unforgiveness, and hatreds, and living death, that would normally become part of a victim’s personhood. ]
Being a victim to a crime is trauma to our lives. Our current model of waiting until that one who perpetrated the crime comes to us for forgiveness, has many languishing in dead years spent wishing and hoping with only a slim percentage realizing restoration at the initiative of the perpetrator.
In contrast, it is astounding and liberating to me that I, as a victim a few times over, can take harms meant to destroy me and I can lay them down, becoming free from the bitterness and hatreds that consume those who wait for someone to ‘make it right’. And, as I do this I experience Christ’s saving of me from the sins of another.
KEY: Christ came to save me from my sin but also to save me from the sins of others against me. With all sins swallowed up and the price paid for it all I and you can walk free from hurt and harm, 1 Corinthians 15:54. The sins of others against us need not have a hold on us any longer.
“But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” 1 Corinthians 15:57b MSG
There are many things that cannot be made right, not in the way we think of it anyway. It does a disservice to those harmed to tell them that there can be recompense and that the harm done is easy to wipe away just like that. It cannot be done. No amount of recompense will heal our own souls, roll back the lost years, or restore all that has been stolen.
But, the victim can choose to put great harms aside. The victim can come to an understanding and personal process of naming the depth of the wound, really seeing that it cannot be made right (outside of Christ, seeing that Christ is the only answer), and can then put aside offence, as a gift to oneself first and foremost, then as a gift to the one who caused the great harm.
Yet, as victims of great harms we cannot often see our hand in front of our face let alone see restoration as a goal we even want — every natural thing in us cries ‘No!’ at the thought of the restoration of our enemies. Therefore, as I teach the end goal of Sulha I realize that the process is long and with many layers, phases, and courage that must be taken hold of, with intention to work through to just the next step, trusting the Lord to take us all the way to the end.
Even so, I’ve wondered if I should even teach Sulha, even share it’s end result, even open up the great offensive idea of restoration for those who have hurt us worst. I understand how vile and impossible this sounds to those in the early stages of coming to terms with great harm.
Yet, I also know that God’s word talks about this end goal all the way through the scriptures. I also know that this being God’s end goal we must reckon on him to bring us along so to speak on the journey of coming to this same expansive heart of our God. Too many of us go half-way and think we have arrived. We reach a condescending, semi-peaceful state of ‘allowing’ perpetrators to stand silent while we moderate our disdain and contempt. This is not freedom. This is not healing. This is not the stance of God’s kingdom.
We’ve not been taught to push through our natural demand for recompense to enter into the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation, that same heart that had Christ going to the cross. We are missing out, rejecting even, the Kingdom of God when we refuse our enemies the same restoration that we so long for and that God so longs for all of us, John 3:17.
Christ died a horrible death on a cross so that your enemy, the one who has robbed from you, stolen from you, hated you, raped you, maligned you, rejected you, despised you, can be healed and restored to the love and bounty of the Father.
This is the gospel message.
It is incredibly offensive.
And yet, it is our only freedom as well. It is our only way to the love, the bounty, the feast, the kingdom of God for ourselves. The invitation of the gospel is to stand in agreement with God’s great heart for all mankind and it is an invitation to stand, as Rabbi Sacks puts it, “in solidarity with those for whom truth has been eclipsed”.
Christ died to restore me back to the original image as created by God before rape and Christ died to restore my rapist back to the original image as created by God before rape. Everything that has gone wrong in our lives and in the lives of those who have harmed us most are rolled back by the power of the cross.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5 ESV
This verse is not, ‘my enemies will be shamed by my bounty and their failure to destroy me’.
This verse is, ‘You will eat a meal with your enemy and all will be restored and fine by the power of our Lord.’
The older brother to the prodigal son could not enter into the feast. He refused to participate in the celebration that brought the errant brother back into the love of the Father. Luke 15:28-30
It is a similar story, just told a little differently, about the wedding feast that went out into the streets with invites to any who wanted by the simple fact that those who were first invited refused the invitation. Matthew 22:1-14
[ We must ask ourselves, ‘Would we refuse to attend a wedding because those who offend us most are going to be there? ]
The parable of the wedding feast as told in Matthew 22 directs our attention forward to the wedding feast of the lamb, still to come, Revelations 19:6-9, and, I believe, is opening our understanding that we can experience the Kingdom of God in our persons and life here and now as an outworking of the ministry of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us.
We are meant to intimately know and be transformed by the bounty of Christ’s feast set out for the whole world.
And so, with this bit of preamble and greater context to a very big conversation, I’ve jotted out the process from harm to sulha as I have experienced it myself.
These steps must be undergone in process, each phase engaged and allowed, not rushed, but unfolded through a period of years. It is hard work but exceptionally worthwhile for it brings us into a completely ‘other land’ with our Lord.
Though we may live on this earth we live within the reign of the Kingdom of God as we take on this work and process and opportunity:
1. the occurrence of harm and trauma
2. the victim see’s reality
3. denial is dismantled (no longer minimization, defending the one who harmed, pat answers, rationalizations)
4. validation of hurt and harm from someone in the person’s community / support system (this NEVER should have happened to you)
5. we begin to let go of the pain, it need not be ours to own forever
6. realization of loss (comes with a sense of a punch in the gut)
7. the anger stage of grief is expressed
8. raging against God
9. wanting healing
10. turning to God / Jesus
11. ‘Help me’
12. processing / talking with a safe person / people
13. peeling back the layers of pain bit by bit
14. coming to the realization of one’s own sinful responses back at the harm (our bitterness will destroy us more surely than any harm perpetrated against us)
15. taking responsibility for self
16. repenting of bitterness and hatreds
17. extending forgiveness
18. trusting God for everything gone wrong (knowing God bigger than the hurt and harm)
19. releasing the one who hurt us to God’s hand
20. we put down our weapons (judgments, inner vows, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger – we realize we are only hurting ourselves)
21. our healing becomes solid in our deepest parts, we ‘get’ God’s love (the poison of both harm and retribution is removed)
22. we experience God’s restoration even in the wake of great harm
23. we realize that God’s love extends to the one who harmed us
24. we first wrestle with this concept and storm and thrash in our spirit
25. we then come into agreement for the restoration of the one who harmed us
26. we are free