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When God Smiles

Archbishop Desmond Tutu considers the human predicament
from God's point of view
by Jessica Roemischer

WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT: In your acceptance address to the Nobel Prize Committee in 1984, you began by speaking about the “deepening crisis in South Africa”—the discrimination, evictions, brutality, and daily murder faced by blacks in your country—which you called “apartheid's 'final solution.'” As a religious leader in that time of widespread violence, how were you able to sustain your people's faith in the possibility of freedom and justice?

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: You probably need a modicum of suffering to help you realize what it means to belong to the Church. I'm not certain that Christianity flourishes properly where people are comfortable. It is a faith ultimately for sufferers. For example, the story of the fiery furnace in Daniel, Chapter 3, is a nice story. But for people who are having a rough time, it's more than that. You preach to them, “Now look, this injustice and oppression are like being thrown into the fiery furnace. The king threw three guys into the furnace and then went to find out what had happened to them. And he counted, 'One, two, three . . . and there was a fourth!'” We used to say to our people, “God is not over there; God is here. The God we worship is not a God who gives you good advice from a safe distance. God knows your suffering, and God is in this fiery furnace with us.” So a lot of the Scripture came alive at that time. God said to Moses, “I have heard. I have seen. I know. I will come down.” And I would say, “Don't think that our God is deaf. God has heard our cry in this awful country. God is not blind. God knows what's happening to us, and just as it occurred then, God will come down and one day lead us out of this bondage.”

Watch the recording
of this interview. A rare glimpse into the heart of this beautiful man.

WIE: I was very moved by an invocation you recently gave in which you prayed, “God, help us wipe the tears from your eyes.” In a world that continues to be filled with so much anguish and conflict, we often pray to God to help us ease our suffering. Yet you were asking God to help us ease His. How do we “wipe the tears from God's eyes”?

DESMOND TUTU: The images that we have of God are odd because God—this omnipotent one—is actually weak. As a parent I understand this. You watch your child going wrong and there's not very much you can do to stop them. You have tried to teach them what is right, but now it is their life and they are mucking it up. There are many moments when you cry for your child, and that's exactly what happens with God. All of us are God's children.

I frequently say, I'm so glad I'm not God! Can you imagine having to say, “Bin Laden is my child. Saddam Hussein is my child. George Bush is my child.” Oh! All of them, including me. Can you imagine what God must have felt watching the Holocaust? Watching Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Watching Rwanda? Can you imagine God watching Darfur? Imagine God watching Iraq and saying, “These are my children here, and they are killing my other children. And I can't do anything because I have said to them, 'I give you the space to be you and that space enables you to make choices. And I can't stop you when you make the wrong choices. All I can do is sit here and cry.'” And God cries until God sees beautiful people who care, even if they may not do earth-shattering things.

There is a fantastic story of a so-called colored woman who was driven from her home and ostracized by her family because she had HIV/AIDS. She came to live in a home for people who suffered from the disease, and there were white men there who would help her because she couldn't do anything herself. She was all skin and bones. They would carry her like a baby and wash her, bathe her, feed her. Then they would put her in front of a television set and hold her. And this was during the apartheid years. I visited this home and said, “What an incredible lesson in loving and compassion and caring.” It was transfiguring something ugly, letting something beautiful come from a death-making disease. When God sees that, a smile breaks forth on God's face and God smiles through the tears. It's like when the sun shines through the rain. The world may never know about these little transfigurations, but these little acts of love are potent. They are moving our universe so that it will become the kind of place God wants it to be. And so, yes, you wipe the tears from God's eyes. And God smiles.

Archbishop Tutu was interviewed at the Quest for Global Healing Conference in Bali, December 2004.


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This article is from
Our Consciousness Issue


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