Ever since I was a child, I have always felt out of place. A refugee from the Vietnam war in hand-me-downs, I was often the weird kid in school. I’ve had my share of insults and underestimations in my life. As an adult in seminary, being female and Vietnamese, I was a unicorn. Even among Asian-American Christians, female Vietnamese Protestants are the minority within the minority. All that to say, I know what it’s like to be a little odd, an outsider, underrepresented, and misunderstood.
This last year has been a world of hate, hurt, and pain for many in our country. Political and racial tensions continue to increase, abuse and shootings continue to shake communities, and the tragedies don’t seem to stop. It’s easy then to blame the “other” in the midst of all the conflict. As believers, how are we to respond, especially those of us who have been hurt and under- or misrepresented?
Our world more and more lives with the belief that we are all essentially good people, but the Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Pastors sin. Saints sin. Everyone sins. Yet when sin occurs, we act quite surprised. How could this have happened? Self-proclaiming Christians tweet hurtful words. A leading Christian apologist commits adultery and abuse. A church member goes on a shooting rampage against Asian women. We live in a broken world with broken people. The spiritual battle still rages on, and, through it, there are casualties.
Our hearts ache for those hurt, abused, or who have lost loved ones. We mourn and lament and pray when tragedy happens. But we need to recognize this sin narrative to keep us from pointing all blame at the “other” and to help us see the good news for what it is––God coming to restore and reconcile all that is broken. We need restoration and reconciliation in our world with God and with each other, and Jesus fulfills that through the “already/not yet” kingdom. He has already started fulfilling His mission, but it will not be complete until His second coming. In the meantime, sin is still present, and we need to recognize its impact.
This world can be a fear-enducing place. But throughout the Bible, God tells us to fear not. Of course, fear sometimes helps us be cautious and careful in times of potential danger, but fear that leads to anger, anxiety, disobedience, or paralysis is what God commands us not to do. Instead, we are to have holy courage. The courage to do what’s right in the Lord’s eyes for the Lord’s purposes. The courage to step out of our own plans, hurts, and desires, and ask God how to be obedient in the moment. This takes a lot of discernment, wisdom, and patience.
We, however, want to immediately act out what we think is right; but many times, our impatience leads to further misunderstandings. Pray, search His Word, seek wise counsel, and then act. Stand up for God’s justice, stand up for those marginalized, but do so in a way that draws people to Christ and His kingdom, not to your own agenda, rights, and restitution.
Have a spirit of humility and gentleness.
Paul wrote that “Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
If Jesus endured persecution, misrepresentation, hatred, torture, death, and still acted in humility toward others, forgiving His persecutors, who are we not to do likewise? He, above all others, could have claimed, I don’t deserve this. This is unfair. Do you know who I am? Justice needs to be served. I’m being oppressed. I need to be heard! But He doesn’t. He continues in obedience, even to death on the cross.
Let’s take the humble and gentle road, the road of Jesus. But we go through this so often; we have to explain ourselves every time; we feel oppressed over and over again. In the words of Paul, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).
I know it’s easy to say and more difficult to endure, and perhaps seems too simplistic, but looking to the Word of God guides us in this struggle. Yes, there is a time to make our voices heard, to change people’s ideas, to change politics or programs. But there’s also a time to take a breath and tell ourselves: This world is broken. Sin and Satan are at work. But God is also at work. People will say and do hurtful things. I chose to dwell in God’s presence and know who I am in Christ. I chose to pray for a world that needs Jesus.
Love God’s image-bearers.
At the core of all this hurt and hatred is not seeing people as God’s image bearers. We Christians have as much trouble with this as unbelievers. Again, partly because of sin, partly because of Satan, and partly because of our own selfish self-interest. We all want to be right, to be heard, to be known. If we take a moment and realize God hears us, God knows us, and God loves us, we might not be searching for affirmations from others.
We also might realize our need to love—to care for, to protect, to honor, to value—all people with the imago dei (the image of God), no matter their ethnicity, gender, political affiliation, religion, background, résumé, or rap sheet. We need to love all these people with the love of Christ that says, “You are God’s creation, you bear His image, and He can restore and renew you if you desire Him to.” We never excuse sin, but we see God’s created beings beyond their sin and love them as such.
Embrace who God made you to be and use it for kingdom purposes.
Over the years, I have seen the blessings of being an outsider. I have been able to go overseas on mission with less suspicion as an Asian woman. I am more attune to outsiders at church, wanting to welcome them into the fold. I have understood what it means to be a foreigner as we are all foreigners on this earth until God takes us home. To be like Christ is to be a misfit. Those of us on the margins know a little better that it’s okay not to conform, not to fit in, to push against the tide of popularity or normalcy. Jesus never truly fit in either. He was oppressed, persecuted, and misunderstood often, yet lived a perfect life. Let us all be a little more like Jesus to be a light in a hurting, broken world.