Spare your people, Oh Lord

As we consider our beloved country, the words of Paul to the Galatians come to mind: You were doing so well. Who stopped you from being influenced by the truth? Gal 5:7 (God’s Word Translation).

While we never stop celebrating the fact that apartheid is gone and we are living in a democratic South Africa with much that we give thanks for, we cannot deny that there is much of grave concern. Mounting frustration with slow service delivery, increasingly violent protests, unrelenting poverty and unemployment, continued inequality, crime, substance abuse, domestic violence, school dropouts and teenage pregnancies leave us reeling. While it may be true that such challenges are common to young democracies and developing nations, and even understandable in a nation still struggling to extricate itself from a heritage of appalling statutory inequality and injustice, there remain even greater concerns:

• Government is struggling to find workable solutions to the challenges, and much of their response is reactive rather than pro-active; patching up rather than addressing root causes. Criticism or confrontation on the issues is more often met with denial and self-protection or even counter-attack, than acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility. Those institutions that question or challenge government or in any way seek to bring it to order are subject to vilification or attack.

• Party interests are overriding the interests of co-operative governance, so that community needs are taking second place while the parties engage in blame and mudslinging.

• Racism, rather than declining, is growing, becoming increasingly prevalent among young people and public servants and officials. It is also becoming a convenient scapegoat for any type of conflict that arises, so that the real issues in the different cases are being skirted.

• Bribery, corruption, negligence and seeming disregard for the rights of citizens have caused growing mistrust in those institutions that are meant to protect and uphold civil society.

• The type of violence we are seeing, particularly among young people, is of a type that shows total disregard for generally held societal norms and values. The rape of elderly people and young babies and acts of brutality display real socio-pathological tendencies.

And what of the church?

People from various church affiliations are speaking about South Africa being at another critical point in history, a “kairos moment” as we were before the first democratic elections. Several have made reference to the national prayer movements and concerted action on the part of Christians that helped pave the way to a peaceful transition. Many are in agreement that the church needs to make a similar stand now; that we need to pray, make our voices heard, as well as taking action where needed.

It is of great concern that the church is not rising to be the voice, hands and feet of Christ at this time in our nation; that we are joining the voices that blame and complain instead of standing and proclaiming God’s way. It is the church that needs to highlight areas of rot and laud areas of righteousness, and especially demonstrate God’s righteousness in all that we do and say – be the light in the darkness and salt where there is rot. Our country needs a mindset change, hope, direction and role models of righteousness. Much healing is still needed, and the church should lead that.

But in order to get to that place we need to look to ourselves first. The truth of 2 Chronicles 7:14 still stands. We, as the church, need to pursue unity among ourselves, seeking forgiveness and letting go of offense. We need to put down self – our programmes, our achievements, our agendas. We need to seek God’s face in all that we do, not only seeking his direction, but also to lay down all in ourselves that is not of him; to acknowledge, repent and return – turn from our wicked ways. And we need to pray.

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children… Let the priests who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the alter. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord”. Joel 2:15-17

By Colleen Saunders

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