I know a lot of people who have a hard time understanding the God of the Old Testament. They read stories in Numbers and Joshua of people suffering various degrees of punishments, from pestilence to war to social ostracization, and worry that God is too wrathful and harsh.
But not me. The God who enforces law, acts as judge, and metes out consequences for sin makes complete sense. When I read stories in the Bible, in which divine justice reigns down on friend and foe alike, I am neither confused nor upset because the concepts of honor and shame, respect for authority, and strict moral codes are deeply ingrained within my own Indian culture.
However, it wasn’t until I participated in a Bible study of Genesis with a diverse group of women that I realized not everyone thought the way I did. In one of our very first sessions, we read the story of Genesis 3 together where Cain not only offers the wrong sacrifice to God but then subsequently kills his brother, Abel, in a fit of rage and jealousy. For his crime, Cain is cast out from his home and forced to wander in a foreign land called Nod. As the story was read aloud, I remember thinking to myself, “Why didn’t Cain just follow the rules and offer God the right sacrifice in the first place? His pain could have been avoided if he had just obeyed!” The other women in the group, however, responded to the story quite differently. Many felt that God was being unfair by rejecting Cain’s sacrifice, that God had been too harsh on Cain, and that it was His harshness that caused Cain to spiral into a murderous tirade.
It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Each of us were interpreting Genesis 3 through the lens of our different cultural backgrounds. I was focusing on the God who judges, not the God of grace because, quite frankly, grace is not a valued characteristic of Eastern cultures. Grace for me, as a bicultural, Indian-American woman, is hard to understand, let alone practice. This characteristic is not modeled. It’s not even encouraged, really. The things that do matter are respect, obedience, and honor, and that’s what I saw lacking in Cain. Naturally, I had no problem with God punishing him for his disobedience. My white sisters, on the other hand, saw the God of grace.
Interestingly, God is not either/or. He is both. He is both the God who judges and the God who extends mercy.
But I am often cynical of grace. I sometimes feel that the West assumes God’s grace more than they appreciate it, that they automatically accept that God is going to forgive them, thereby undervaluing His justice and even stripping away the weight of their own sin. But when my white sisters speak of the God of grace, I also want to be someone with ears to hear. We have much to learn from each other about who God is.
The truth of the matter is that we need each other to see the whole image of God.
It’s only when we come together that we can see a beautiful, divine mosaic of God in all His colors, complexity, and glory. We need people of other ethnicities, cultures, and languages to help us better appreciate, value, and understand each and every one of His attributes in full.
This lesson has become an integral part of my theological journey. I have had to come to terms with the fact that my own culture has blind spots. I don’t know it all, even though I often think I do. I don’t have God completely figured out. It is only when I apply cultural humility to myself that I can begin to do the hard work of being a student of other cultures, learning the new and sometimes uncomfortable ways that others can point to Christ beyond my own feeble and limited imagination.
I have friends here in Austin, TX, who immigrated to this country from places like Guatemala and Cambodia and all under the direst of circumstances. Their stories would make you weep. But it is through them that I have grown in my understanding of God’s love for the immigrant.
My husband and I are friends with pastors around the world – from Colombia to Uganda – and they have taught us so much about God as provider. Most of these men and women are native to the country they serve. They are not American missionaries, and they don’t hold to American values of wealth and numbers. They are content with little, and for the needs they do have, they trust that God will give as He deems necessary.
My Latino husband is far more charismatic than I am, and he has expanded so much of my understanding of the Holy Spirit. He believes in His power, that He is alive and moving in the world. And through my husband, I have exponentially grown in my love for and sensitivity to the workings of the Holy Spirit.
This is why we need each other.
No one culture has the entire revelation of God in them. No one culture has the sole correct view of God either.
Each culture is like one piece of the puzzle. It’s only when we are united that we can begin to behold the entire picture of God together.
So, sisters, let us fight to value each other’s voice and view. Let us see women of other cultures for what they truly are, a reflection of the Imago Dei, and may that truth compel us to greater learning and greater love.
No one culture has the entire revelation of God in them. No one culture has the sole correct view of God either. It’s only when we are united that we can begin to behold the entire picture of God together. -@dr_reyes2: Click To Tweet