I support a group called “Woman, Cradle of Abundance” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There’s one story that I haven’t been able to shake because the justice in it makes me uncomfortable. One of the women in their community had begun to show symptoms indicating she had contracted HIV/AIDS. Her friends prodded her to be tested so that she could receive treatment, but she found the idea so impossible she resisted. She even told her husband that the other women were encouraging her to get tested, and the suggestion infuriated him. The other women kept pushing the idea, to the point that her husband threatened to have them arrested. She was eventually tested for HIV/AIDS, and the test came back positive.
Confronted with the reality that her husband had been unfaithful, contracted HIV/AIDS and passed it on to her, she wanted to kill him. Her friends at Woman, Cradle of Abundance talked with her, counseled her, and helped her get the medication she needed to combat the symptoms. They encouraged her to forgive her husband as God has forgiven her in Jesus. She finally reached a point where she was able to forgive him. She shared with him her diagnosis, offered him forgiveness, and encouraged him to get tested so that he could get the medical care he needed as well. It turned out that he had already been diagnosed, and was already receiving the necessary medication.
When I first heard this story, I got especially uncomfortable at one part. Not the part where the woman contracted HIV/AIDS from an unfaithful spouse – that is, sadly, not rare in the DR Congo. It was the part where she was asked and agreed to forgive her husband for what he had done to her – for his unfaithfulness, for his dishonesty, for the disease he had spread, for withholding information and preventing her diagnosis and treatment. And when I heard this story shared with a group at my church, I saw a lot of squirming and discomfort at this point in the story too.
I realized that when we say that we want justice, often we mean that we want revenge, or that we want a world where things are fair. This man had done things – horrible things. We want justice, and to us that means that we want to see him get what he deserves. We want her agony to be righted. We don’t want God’s kingdom come. Kingdom come means forgiveness and reconciliation, and for all that we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it just doesn’t feel right when the rubber meets the road.
We talk loudly and often about peace, justice, equality, freedom and human rights. But as the church, we communally pray the prayer Jesus taught us, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And if God opens our eyes, we see that “God’s kingdom come” makes our stomachs churn. God’s kingdom offers hope and reconciliation not just for this woman, but also for this man.
It’s not that I don’t want women in the DR Congo to see widespread changes when it comes to rape, infidelity, child marriage, and a number of other issues that fuel poverty and violence against women. And it’s not that I don’t believe that a woman in this situation could with a clear conscience leave the man who was unfaithful to her. But her story is a reminder that God’s story turns upside down everything we hold dear about justice.
The transforming grace of God is bigger than our human visions of “rights” and “equality” and “justice.” God’s justice is so wrapped up in forgiveness that it’s so much bigger, so much deeper, and so much more incomprehensible than our own ideals – to the point that we can’t stomach it.
A native of Michigan and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Shari L. Oosting has worked in capacities including campus ministry, camp ministry, and small groups. She serves as a board member and treasurer for the nonprofit Woman, Cradle of Abundance. Shari and her husband Jason have been married for almost ten years and are having a blast raising their three children, Asher, Ezra, and Elia. Together they love cooking and gardening, and recently added backyard chickens to the mix.