Every abused kid knows what it means to be chosen. Every bullied child, every victim of crime, every silent sufferer has known the pinch of feeling noticed for all the wrong reasons. All the raped, the teased, the beaten, the harassed, they’ve all been chosen. And it sucks.
There is a type of suffering that involves neglect, exclusion or marginalization, but it’s a particular kind of pain to suffer the special treatment of targeted hatred. Somehow you feel implicated, responsible, and at fault. Why me? How did they find me? There must be something about me. They chose me for a reason. Somehow I made this happen.
Being chosen, being ‘picked-on’ or bullied, literally ruins you; it buries you in shame. When you’ve been chosen for abuse you don’t even want to bring the injustice to light; you just want to hide, to stay away from the attention. Even if the responsible powers do the right thing, catch the wrongdoers and seek to punish them, you are made uncomfortable by the outing of your testimony. In the confused moment of retribution, you feel somehow strangely responsible for their pain. Somehow even justice is corrupted.
This is the ruin of right relationship. This is the perversion of abuse.
I don’t mean the demonization of bullies (yelling “damn those perverts!”), but the perversion of responsibility and the corruption of kinship. We belong to each other, we are supposed to care for each other, and we abuse this responsibility when we misunderstand kin-ship for owner-ship. If we’re supposed to be a family then we shouldn’t choose each other like we choose an object, we should love each other like we love a gift.
What then could it mean to say that God has chosen us? How are we to understand the preferential option for the poor and the oppressed? We claim, in faith, to be the “chosen people”; what does this mean for the abused, those chosen unto ruin of whom I speak?
It might help, in the first place, to remember that God doesn’t choose us like a victimizer would, nor for the same reasons. We should never suggest that God’s plan is a “reason” for our suffering. And this because God doesn’t choose us in hate; we are not chosen for abuse. Instead it may be that God has chosen us in love because they did; chosen us for redemption.
God’s intention is never humiliation. God’s plan is for salvation.
I have been chosen in life by those who sought to do me harm. And I have chosen to hurt or selfishly ignore the well being of others, even those I’ve claimed to love. What a strange insight it was then, when I realized that in those sinful moments of choice I was also being chosen by God. I was being offered a hand up and out of that shameful place of ruin and welcomed back into the kinship of God.
Redemption is real.
I’ve witnessed it and I testify to it. When we choose to hurt or humiliate each other God chooses us, makes a claim on us. God reminds us to whom we belong, reminds us that we are family, chosen as sons and daughters. This is how, in the ruin of shame, God builds his kin-dom. God’s plan is for redemption. God’s choice is for love. We are no longer merely “chosen people” but we are the chosen people of God.
We are chosen like Jacob, who wrestled through the darkness of night until the dawn of reconciliation with his brother Esau.
We are chosen like Isaac, whose life was threatened by one who loved him, and yet was redeemed by a God who made Abraham’s sacrifice possible without compromising obedience or love.
We are chosen like Mary, who in the humiliation of a scandalous pregnancy was full of grace, and given a special share in God’s universal plan of redemption.
God sees to it that shame and humiliation will not drown in blood nor bury in ruin his precious and beloved sons and daughters. God’s choice is for redemption. As the chosen people of God we are returned from the ruin of shame and humiliation. In the act of redemption God embraces fully the humanity we reject when we choose to hate and humiliate others. And we who have been chosen in hate are redeemed, reclaimed, and chosen again in love.
This is the people, Lord, that longs to see your face.