Have you ever felt paralyzed by the injustice of this world? I have.
There are days when I just want to stand up and scream with the inequality all around me. As I listen to people sharing their struggles, I often feel powerless to make a difference. It sometimes seems that what I have to offer the people around me is so inadequate compared to the overwhelming need. These are the days when the vibrancy of color and life of our community cannot overcome the need and the hopelessness.
There is a phenomenon called Baader-Meinhof. This occurs when the thing you read, heard, noticed, experienced or were told about crops up everywhere. For example, you discover coffee mixes by Frozen Bean and suddenly everybody is talking about this same thing. You see it advertised. It shows up on your Instagram feed. Friends start sending you packages with frozen coffee mixes. This has been happening to me lately. Not with coffee, but with the idea of bearing witness.
I began to notice the term “bearing witness” in things I was reading or listening to, and I knew there was some truth for me and not just a coincidence. I believe God is speaking through different people and experiences and it has certainly caught my attention.
This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bear witness: “1. to show that something exists or is true; 2. to make a statement saying that one saw or knows something.”
And according to the Psychology Today website, bearing witness is a term that refers to sharing our experiences with others, most notably in the communication to others of traumatic experiences.
I first noticed it in Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors. She had been struggling through a long season of grief. And she was questioning where God was in all of that and how could she possibly continue to open herself to the pain all around her. Ultimately. she concludes the most powerful thing we can do is acknowledge and see each other.
“I cannot heal. I cannot perform miracles. Even for all my trying, I cannot make sure that someone will receive salvation from Jesus. But I can be a witness. I can look at another’s broken, bleeding mess and say, ‘I see you. I am with you. I will not turn away.’
“It is a great honor to share the life of another, to bear witness in a way that says, ‘You matter. This matters. Your story matters.’ Because it does. It matters to God.”
I read the book Night by Elie Wiesel long ago. But just recently somebody brought the foreword by François Mauriac to my attention. He believes that the power and strength of the book is in bearing witness to the horror of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel tells us events that are unthinkable. And because he has told us his first-person account, we can never not know again.
I have recently been studying the book of Acts. It has been a joy to see the impact of the early church on so many people and communities, but it has also been challenging to read the passion the early believers had sharing the Good News. In Acts 22, Paul is telling his story to the people of Jerusalem and how his life was changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:15).
And in the next chapter, Paul is again instructed to bear witness: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:11).
So what is so powerful about bearing witness? How can it make a difference?
The social scientist Brené Brown sheds some light on what happens when we don’t see people around us in our community. I keep a journal of quotes and the following one by Brené Brown on losing trust is yet another key to bearing witness.
“If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement.
“When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing and fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in.”
Brown is talking about relationships. And the harm that disengagement does to relationships. So how can I pay attention and invest and fight for my community? How can I be engaged? I don’t want to just pay lip service to this. Yet the problems run so deep and life can be so hard.
So I will bear witness. I will bear witness by praying to God about what I see. I will bear witness by sitting in my community and sharing with the people in my community. Sometimes that will take words and sometimes that will take listening. I will bear witness by writing about what I see.
Because the people in my community matter. And as I bear witness I have hope that I can make a difference.
How about you? Does this idea of bearing witness give you hope as you see injustice in your world?
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