Thursday, December 06, 2007

A New Look at an Old Story

I was talking to some colleagues of mine about how to share the Gospel here in Gondor the other day. Now, you might be thinking that since I have been a follower of Jesus for 33 years now and I have a Seminary degree that surely I know all there is to know about the Gospel. Here is what I know: God is so big that there is always more to know! And here is something else I know: The way that I heard the Gospel and responded almost never works here among Muslim people. My story, like most Western Christians, goes something like this. I felt guilty. I worried about eternity and what God wanted from me. I felt inadequate and hopeless. I finally, through reason and logic, understood that Jesus died in my place, for my sins. Often at this point we throw in a court room illustration with God as judge and us as defendants and then Jesus enters and defends us- not by claiming our innocence but by taking our punishment on himself. We thank God for His mercy and grace and we are so overwhelmed by gratitude that we choose to follow Jesus anywhere He leads. This is the truth, it is awesome and everyone should be excited about it. But everyone isn't. Muslims here in Gondor are profoundly disinterested in such a story. The courtroom story misses their hearts by a million miles. Some acknowledge the truth to the claims of Christ we present but they are not overwhelmed with gratitude- they don't even seem terribly interested. Why not?

The answer is that we Western Christians live in what some sociologist call a 'guilt-based' society. We understand reality by categories of right and wrong. Sin is bad- wrong- and must be punished. Here in Middle Earth Muslims operate on a different system. Their reality is dictated by 'honor and shame'. An act is either 'honorable' or 'shameful' and shame must be dealt with or it affects the whole family. A very good friend of mine from Mordor lost his father when he was a young man. Enemies came to his house at night and stole his sister to be a bride for one of their men. The father fought with the men and lost. After they left he had a heart-attack and died. My friend's family was shamed by the actions of their enemies. In order to restore honor he should take his revenge on them. Now, a very interesting point here is that it does not count if these men are punished some other way. If the police had arrested these men and put them in jail that would not count to bring honor back to the family. Only a family member could exact the necessary revenge to restore family honor. The trouble was my friend had just become a believer and refused to act in this matter. He forgave the men who did this act- the man who married his sister died violently a couple of years later but not at my friend's hands. In Mordor many of people still think that my friend acted shamefully by forgiving his father's murderers. My friend is at peace because he knows Jesus. But how do we tell the old old story of Jesus and his love to people who think like the people of Mordor and Gondor and throughout Middle Earth?

Back to my discussion with my colleagues. So, one of my friends told a joke to illustrate honor and shame. Once there were two Oxford professors who went down around the bend of the river from their school in England to go skinny dipping. After swimming with no clothes on they laid on the bank of the river to dry off and fell asleep. They awoke to the noise of rowing and voices and looked up just in time to see a boat full of students coming around the bend of the river. Both men stood up with their towels. One put his towel quickly around his waist and the other put the towel over his head. The students pointed and laughed. When they had passed by the teacher who had put his towel around his waste said, 'How will we be able to stand before our students in class tomorrow- and why didn't you cover yourself instead of covering your head? The other professor answered, "My students know me by my face!"

Well, the point is clear I hope. With shame-based cultures what you do is not as important as how you are perceived. This is shocking for those of us with a guilt-based culture but you will be surprised at how forcefully the Word of God speaks to honor and shame. Instead of Jesus the trial lawyer picture Jesus the redeemer. Muslims have pretty hard time seeing Jesus as God or God's Son but what if we put it this way? Man's family is shamed because Man has behaved foolishly and allowed our great enemy Satan to shame us all. Man cannot defeat Satan, only God can do that. So, God sends His Son to become Man and He thus joins Man's family. Jesus defeats Satan at the cross and blows open the gates of Hell defeating Satan's Kingdom. Man's shame is covered and honor is restored by the redeeming work of Jesus. As you look through scriptures see if you do not see honor and shame being played out again and again. Many people believe that Muslims are resistant to the Gospel but what if they are not resistant? What if they have not yet heard the story that God has been so clearly telling all this time? What can we do about that right now?


GuyMuse said...

In our own context, one must save face at all costs. I have learned over the years to never cause someone to lose face. That is one of the worst things that can happen, and almost impossible to fix. Another related aspect in the culture here is that things aren't really "sin" unless they are caught. If one gets caught doing wrong, then they acknowledge it as sin. But as long as they don't get caught, they can find plenty of reasons for justifying their actions. This holds true for much of the Christian population as well. There are so many of these kinds of things to deal with. It takes years just to begin to understand these cultural differences, and woe to he who has to learn these lessons the hard way!

marie said...

Wow! Super illustration. This sure helps to understand how Muslims think. Your explanation of the gospel in Muslim-speak is great.

Many blessings to you and your family!


BKC said...

Guy raises a good point about getting caught. This is a huge part of the whole honor/shame mentality. There is shame is getting caught and being exposed doing wrong. There is not shame in doing wrong itself. In your scenario, Strider, I think this is worth adding. Our shameful behavior as men is 100% known to God 100% of the time.

Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

Strider said...

Guy, excellent thoughts here. Face-saving is definitely a part of the culture here that needs to be addressed. It really is the true stumbling block of the cross. If they can get passed the fact that we are foreigners and really hear what we have to say this is where they stumble: How could God lower himself to become man and then lower himself further to die on a cross as a criminal? It is shameful and we would never choose this so how could God choose this? Love is the answer to that question and when that is understood then we have really communicated the gospel.
So, yes Brian I am all for incorporating Guy's ideas into the picture.
Marie, thanks for the kind words as always. It is my intention that this blog leads to greater understanding and thus to more informed prayer and support.