I read a lot. Not as much as I’d truly like to, but I do read a lot. And widely. Of all the books I’ve read in my lifetime there are some that have stuck with me long after turning the last page.
The Mark of Lion Trilogy (Francine Rivers) changed my life. Not only did I learn a ton about first century Rome and the culture of that time, I also fell in love with characters who challenge my faith and understanding of humanity and of God and history. Same is true of Les Miserables (Victor Hugo).
Many attest to the power of Roots. Powerful, indeed, but Alex Haley struck my heart more with the sequel, Queen (which, for some reason, is no longer in print).
I suspect most of you have heard of these titles; perhaps read them yourselves. Few, though, seem to know of The White Mary (Kira Salak). This book also makes my list.
Now, I’ll not recommend the book widely because, while expertly written, it contains a number of common triggers, including offensive language, violence, sensuality, and at least one graphic sex scene. Why, if I don’t freely recommend it, is this novel on my list?
The White Mary
This contemporary novel depicts the story of a woman striving to make the world a better place. She works as journalist covering the darkest parts of humanity: human trafficking, war, genocide, and the like. She believes that if she can shed light on these atrocities, she can bring an end to them. But she finds that she can’t. No matter how hard she works, no matter how much of her life she pours into fighting, the darkness continues and even seems to grow.
Her greatest battle turns out to be within herself. She struggles to reconcile how good her life is at home with all that she sees while traveling the world. Why should she get a safe and warm apartment? Why should she have people love her? Or respect her? Why should she have nice clothes and money to spare? It all seems so unfair and random. The injustice eats away at her, quite literally fueling self-destructive patterns. This, she sees as her penance or an attempt at societal equilibrium. The story follows her on a journey of discovery toward inner peace.
I relate to this character, perhaps more than most. Definitely more than people think I should. No, I’m not engaging in self-flagellation or asceticism, but I definitely relate to the guilt she feels over being blessed. I relate to her desire to make the world a better place.
And I struggle to reconcile grace with injustice.
Why do I get to live in a beautiful house with a fridge overflowing while another mother, perhaps more worthy than me, has to choose which of her children will get to eat today? She watches them sleep in the dirt, unconsciously swatting flies, and wonders how they’ll survive. I think little of the money it takes to send my daughter to private dance classes and sign my son up for exclusive baseball teams while she wrestles with the truth that, if she were to sell just one of her daughters into slavery, the whole family might survive years off the funds. Why do I get doors opened for me and free discounts while a dark-skinned friend of mine instead gets followed by security through the same store? It’s not fair, and it’s not right.
This Broken World
This world is broken. Ridiculously, painfully, obviously broken. I want to fix it, but I can’t.
Three years ago I co-founded Justice Network. Our mission statement is “to educate, equip, and empower our friends and neighbors to become abolitionists.” We’ve come a long way in a short time. Starting with just two of us, we now have a large network that meets regularly, works with other organizations, and sponsors regular events and initiatives with a worldwide impact.
That’s no exaggeration. Our #HTChallenge incited social media posts from 19 countries on 6 continents in 2015. We reached over 758,000 people with total impressions over 6.8 million.
That’s a significant impact, and I played a pretty big part in that. But it’s not enough. My efforts are never enough.
Over the years I’ve tried to promote dialog on a number of social issues, big and small. I’ve written about homosexuality, poverty, adoption, human trafficking, race relations, even redshirting. Each and every time I write with prayers under my breath. I want to make a difference. I want to help. And each and every time I get bit in the butt. And the face. And the heart.
There is always someone (often many someones) who question my right to speak, who misunderstand my words and argue my points, who attack me personally, who take the conversation in a direction never, ever intended.
Dialog is good. I want people to think through these things, so I don’t mind the discussions that follow.
But it’s hard. And it hurts.
The process often leaves me wondering if I’ve made any positive impact at all.
Perhaps I’ve even made it worse.
It’s not my job to fix the world.
Our world is broken because we’re alienated from the God who made us.” — Alistair Begg
The protagonist in The White Mary traverses a strange and complicated journey. I don’t want to spoil the book for any who wish to read it, but the end left me feeling hollow. There was an ending, but not a solution. She doesn’t know God. She doesn’t acknowledge a sovereign Creator and, therefore, can never truly make sense of this chaotic, broken world.
The story is different for me. It’s different for you, too, if you trust in God.
I cannot fix this world. But I know the God who can.
I cannot heal the hurts. But I know the Grace that can.
I cannot make everything right. But I know the Savior who can use all things — even horrendous injustices and pain — for His glory and for our good. (Please note that He doesn’t cause these trials, but that He can use them, even make them beautiful by bringing us through them.)
A moment ago I said the story is different for those who trust in God. I choose those words carefully. It’s not just about believing in God. Even the demons believe in God (James 2:19). We need to TRUST in God if we desire to have peace, if we want to have freedom from that inner battle.
We need to reconcile with God, connect deeply with Him, if we want to have any lasting peace or positive impact on the world.
My friend James Watkins wrote a great post about teaching the whole story. He asserts, and I agree, that many fall away from faith in God because we too often fail to tell the whole story of how He works. (Read his post HERE.)
God doesn’t work according to our logic; He doesn’t think the same as we do. As a result, His actions sometimes seem inconsistent to us. We want a formula. We want to know that if we do the right things, we’ll have a good life. But sometimes the very best of people have really rotten, miserable lives!
Look at Noah. He was the last remaining righteous man and he had to suffer public ridicule and witness the destruction of the whole earth.
Look at Job. He was more righteous than any other of his time, and yet he lost his entire family, his farm, everything.
Look at Jesus. He was the perfect Son of God; even He didn’t escape pain and wrongful accusation, even a humiliating public death.
Yeah, this whole wealth-and-prosperity Gospel makes no sense. It’s completely unbiblical.
“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” — John 16:33 (HCSB)
I cannot explain why I have a life better than I deserve. But I can praise God for this grace and share generously with every opportunity. I can love freely and unconditionally those within reach.
Let’s be honest: I’ve never been good at apathy, and so my struggle may continue. BUT — In the face of that, I will continue to seek God, continue to praise Him even when I cannot understand the brokenness and chaos around me. I choose to trust in Him. For He has conquered the world.