“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” - Luke 12:48b (NLT)
When I was in college, I spent a month doing missions works in Swaziland, a tiny little country next to South Africa that is being decimated by HIV/AIDS. They have the highest infection rate in the world and a life expectancy of only 50 years.
While it was not my first missions trip, nor my first trip to a third world country, something about my time there deeply affected my heart, and I wrestled with a feeling I had never experienced before in any of my other travels—guilt over being American.
For a month, I listened to children tell me stories about losing their parents and being taken in by a family member on the condition that their bodies had to be available to the head of the house any time he wanted. They told me how they were trading themselves for education, food and shelter because it was their only shot at a better life someday. They shared about power struggles in a culture that stills practices polygamy, where children became pawns in a game between desperate women. I heard about a wife falling out favor with her husband, so he intentionally infected her with AIDS.
I want to tell you these stories were isolated, but they came in droves at school after school, from student after student. We did the best we could, teaching them to take care of their bodies, addressing common myths surrounding HIV/AIDS, and having cultural exchanges with them. It didn’t feel like enough, but we poured ourselves out anyway.
And then we went home.
I headed straight from the airport to Starbucks, and 24 hours later, left for a little vacation with my family, sleeping off my jetlag in a plush resort and never having to worry for a moment that someone might take advantage of my body in order for me to have basic human needs met.
For the next year, I furiously wrestled with God, trying to reconcile His standard of justice with what I had seen, struggling to see how He could allow me to live in relative comfort and ease here in the United States while children were trapped in nightmares all over the world. That season cemented a call on my life to live for more than myself, for more than my own comfort and my own ambition. I did not fully understand what I had experienced, but I walked away knowing with unshakable certainty that the evil in this world is not from Him and that He was inviting me to partner with Him in standing against it.
Facing Reality Head On
There’s a buzzword in our culture that we’ve been hearing a lot lately: privilege. It comes up in a variety of contexts, and I confess, it rubbed me the wrong way at first. But I also felt there was something I was supposed to understand, so I’ve been asking God to teach me.
I’ve realized that the initial resistance I felt toward this word is because typically, a privilege is something we earn. For example, if my children clean up their toys, they earn the privilege of watching TV. If you perform your job well, you earn the privilege of a raise or promotion. You do something worthy; therefore, you are rewarded.
But in a social justice context, privilege generally refers to an advantage we have that we had absolutely no control over gaining, but still it results in a dynamic that tilts in our favor. We don’t choose the economic status we’re born into; we don’t choose our country, our culture, our race, our families, and so on. And yet, in the dialogue over current issues or events, there is sometimes an underlying sense that we should have chosen differently or we should apologize for being born into a better situation than someone else.
I believe that feeling—that strange, unwarranted sense of guilt—is a lie the enemy tries to whisper in order to cause division and to block compassionate revelation and understanding. This stops us from truly listening to each other’s stories and from being effective ambassadors of God’s kingdom. It stirs some to get defensive and others to get offended, and neither of those attitudes are good conduits for establishing God’s justice.
Instead, with humility and gratitude, we need to understand that we are blessed to be a blessing. Whatever situation you were born into, there is likely to be some advantage you had over someone else. Did your parents have a healthy, committed marriage that powerfully demonstrated love to you? That is a privilege. Did you have a hard-working single mother who powerfully demonstrated that you can overcome any obstacle in life? That too is a privilege. I could spell out scenarios all day, but the point is, we all need to ask God for His perspective on our lives. None of us have these things because we deserved them, or we were better than someone else; they are simply where we were placed, and now we have a choice to make about how we will use our position—to serve ourselves or to serve others.
What unique privilege do you have? What unique blessing have you been given? As Mike Jacobs likes to say, what’s in your hand? Whatever it is, we’ve all been entrusted with something we should be actively using, not merely for our own comfort or gain, but to push back against the injustice someone else is facing.
Last month, best-selling Christian author Ann Voskamp wrote a powerful, convicting post about her recent visit to Iraq and the destructive effects of ISIS that she witnessed firsthand. It was a call to action and awareness for the body of Christ that has spread like wildfire across social media and other internet platforms. In the post, she issued this challenge:
Don’t turn away, Church. Blessed are those who mourn and weep with those who weep and in the face of evil, how will we make our hands and feet into Cross-Shaped Love? ...The exact reason you are where you are—is to risk everything for those being oppressed out there. You are where you are—to help others where they are...The world needs people who defy cynical indifference by making a critical difference—and that could be us. Every single one of us can start changing headlines when we start reaching out our hands.
And in her words, I hear the echo of Jesus’ words: To whom much is given, much is required.
What can you do today, right where you are, to push back against injustice, to “defy cynical indifference by making a critical difference?” Who needs you to reach out your hands and throw them a lifeline? Who can you encourage or fight for?
We all have a privilege that has been entrusted to us, not because we deserved it, but because God wanted to give us a tool that would help someone else. He is inviting us to partner with Him in establishing His justice, righteousness, and mercy. Will you invite Him to give you His perspective? Will you let Him call you out of your own comfort?
What will you do with what you’ve been given?