World renowned anti-Apartheid activist and social justice advocate Rev. Dr. Allan A. Boesak delivered the Saltsburg Distinguished Lecture, Dare We Speak of Hope, on Thursday, February 28, at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS). Aubrey is a visiting professor at CTS and his remarks caught the attention of local media as well as more than 100 community citizens who turned out to hear the lecture presented by Lifelong Theological Education.
As an activist who spent years marching in the streets of South Africa amid the opposition’s teargas, guns and dogs, Boesak noted that suffering and woundedness are part of the struggle that gives rise to hope. He referenced Scriptures that underscore the role of suffering and even the call to rejoice in suffering through the courage and peace imparted by faith. Suffering is not an abstract or third-person concept to Boesak. He said it is the struggle that yields hope. “Suffering always comes with any struggle. Suffering produces endurance and character. Those who find hope find it through suffering and endurance,” Boesak said.
Boesak drew upon the deathbed exhortation of Frances, a black servant in the 1640’s who implored those gathered around her, “Tell them not to loose ye glory of God in their families, neighborhoods or places where God casts them." Her exhortation was a call to not let struggles, strife, contestation, challenge and despair keep her loved ones in a wilderness place alienated from God. Francis’s pleas echo Biblical pleadings by Elijah asking for death in the wilderness, and Jesus asking that the cup of suffering be taken away, God willing.
When suffering occurs, Boesak observed that there is a human temptation to resign or seek an easier path, yet he cautioned that giving up or “losing the way is losing the glory”. The attacks of oppressors always intensify when the status quo is being challenged. “The powerful never give up their power without a struggle,” Boesak said. He added that the blessings of strength, righteousness and dignity can help those oppressed transcend the present through actions that ease oppression and pain. “Today, this is what shouts of glory in the black church mean to us. We rejoice to be part of the struggle even if it causes pain because it leads to glory,” Boesak stated.
Even in the height of adversity, hope remains connected with faith. Boesak referenced the oft-quoted Hebrews Chapter 11 definition of hope as faith in things unseen. “Conviction without faith is arrogance,” he said. “Shall we allow hope to speak so that we can learn to speak her language?” he asked.
Defining the language of hope, Boesak observed that it is rooted in suffering, pain, protests and discomfort. “Hope screams before it soothes,” he said, noting that speaking of hope should always disturb us before it comforts us.
Boesak also spoke of the ancient Khoi-Khoi people who believed in a supreme creature and its interrelationship to nature and humanity. Much like the spiritual warfare between God and Satan depicted in the Bible, the Khoi-Khoi also spoke of an evil force exploiting fear and the constant battle between a supreme being fighting on behalf of creation against the evil force. Indeed, some of the battles depicted by the Khoi-Khoi share dramatic similarities with spiritual visions depicted by John in the Bible’s Revelation.
Within the Khoi-Khoi tradition, a higher power enters the battle in solidarity with his creation and although the higher power emerges victorious, he is also wounded in the knee. When the Khoi-Khoi spoke of a higher power, the concepts of woundedness and solidarity were integrated. Boesak compared this to the Christian belief in a wounded and fallen, yet ultimately risen, Jesus Christ. In both traditions, Boesak observed that God is willing to fight for his children and suffer with them because he understands woundedness.
But what does a wounded God look like? Boesak referenced theologian Catherine Keller’s observation that God is too often depicted as overly masculine and humanistic. He reflected on images of God as a mourner, mother, or midwife, noting metaphors that portray God as a deliverer and liberator rather than a God in love with violence.
Concluding his lecture, Boesak turned again to the present day, observing that the struggle for racial justice is connected to both social and economic justice for people around the globe. “Hope is the womb from which all of these struggles are connected. Let us not dawdle but let us begin,” he concluded.