Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly of spirit, and you shall find rest for your souls.
A Great Lament
To understand why Canadians have given their time and trucks to a convoy and to a protest, we need to look past the politics to something deeper—to the cries of the heart.
Human hearts cry out for peace. And so while we can debate the specific actions taken in these protests, I do not think we can debate the reality of hearts crying out in a great lament.
Such cries have come from many places. The calamities of the novel coronavirus have brought all of us into anything but peace. We have debated with loved ones, battled with illness, wrestled with regulations, lamented deaths, and felt dehumanized at every turn.
For the Christian, hearing the cries of the heart, coming from people across the land, ought to stir in us deep compassion. We can see that many people are not only yearning for peace and relief, but they are also feeling marginalized and voiceless.
The Cry of Unseen
Of course, we can all point toward citizen-directed democracy as a chance for the voiceless to speak out. But in modern digital democracies, especially state-directed ones, citizens who are not constantly online adding their clicks to the algorithmic ebb and flow become essentially unseen and unheard.
The cry of the heart remains. Now the unseen essential classes are bringing their cries out of the digital shadows and into the streets. Few things are more physically noticeable than a Kenworth or a Peterbilt.
Layers of Rules
The cries of the heart from the unseen can be heard in many people who can be overlooked. Consider the biblical categories outlined in the household codes of the apostle Paul’s letters. The servants and children in these scenarios are tasked with submitting to their masters and their parents respectively.
What happens when they must submit to new authorities with new and fluid rules? Any employee who is not their own boss, or child under their parent’s proxies at school are forced to cope with multiplied layers of expectation and even demand. As we know, children will learn not to cry when they suffer if they know there is no relief. Their pain is held silently and internally.
In a similar way, employees have been forced to make excruciating choices, not out of persuasion but out of ultimatum. Choose to obey to stay. Don’t obey and there is no consideration of competence, status, experience, loyalty, or sacrifice that can allow you to stay.
Although some may see it as an easy choice, the fact remains that the obey-to-stay is powerfully coercive. As one article stated, “Threatening a worker’s job is the most coercive action an employer can take, let alone using that threat to tell workers what preventative drugs they should using.”
Without digital platforms, employees and children who are weighed down by obligatory layers of rules must live relatively unseen and unheard by the rule-makers. What is the recourse for these unseen and unheard people? They must step outside of the normal bounds of their relationships in order to let their cries be heard. The child stops what they are told to do and cries out to the parent or the teacher. The employee lodges a complaint with their union, or with management. The citizen writes their local government representative.
When parents, masters, teachers and employers are wise and thoughtful, they anticipate the cries, they pay attention to the real burdens which people carry. However when these authorities fail to be attentive, the unseen and unheard must find other ways to communicate.
The Social Contract?
Many people have struggled with speaking up. Sometimes they vent their pain on social media, though children often do not have even that outlet. In response, other people who have not felt the same pain can be unsympathetic to the cries of the heart.
So a culture of shaming the injured has developed. Like the child that stops crying because there is no sympathy or relief coming, many people have had to internalize their pain, fearing to speak up.
In the case of the social contract between governments and the governed, we know that attentiveness from the leaders is urgently required. Since the leaders are representatives of the people, they ought to be keenly aware of these cries of the heart and be eager to give relief in every way possible, even if it only means simply giving an opportunity to be heard.
The truckers’ convoy or any protest should indicate to a government that they might have failed in their responsibility to listen and relieve burdened people. Sadly, governments in the West have generally responded to protest movements in the last two years with callous indifference, or worse, shame directed toward the hurting.
Here is a place where the church can help. Whenever society starts shaming a tribe, a group, a subculture, the church could reach out to demonstrate compassion. The gospel brought down walls and opened hearts to the shameful sinners we all were, as such, reaching out to the outcast, agreeing or not with their stance, should be second nature in the church of Christ.
Sympathy for the Harmed
Remarkably, for all of the new awareness about abuse that has been garnered from the #MeToo movement, there has been little consideration of how a city or province or nation could be enduring patterns of harm or even abuse. Although arguments about the justification for pandemic measures can be debated, what has gone overlooked is the coercion cost. Even minor physical injuries have an outsized cost as they traumatize the victim.
Every pastor has seen evidence of these traumas in the mental, emotional and spiritual pressure which many congregants have endured. Surely this has animated many pastors’ costly advocacy for their congregants, even before governments, employers and the courts. Of course like many cases of abuse, the many unseen victims can respond with hurtful behaviour to themselves and others. Although the abuse doesn’t justify it, recognizing what has happened can help to explain it.
Weary and Heavy Laden
The Christian Scriptures have always revealed God’s great care for the outcast and the downcast. The cries of the Hebrews in Egypt were heard by the LORD. He acted and delivered them. But often God does not act on our timetable, giving rise to the cry, “How Long, O Lord?!”
Nevertheless, as Mary’s Magnificat revealed, there was a deeply held expectation of the Messiah who would fulfill the promise in a matter-of-fact way so that it could be said, “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk 1:52). And Jesus expressed the true human pain expressed in feeling unseen and unheard when he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:43).
Even as Jesus Christ suffered as an outsider, “outside the gate” we are called to metaphorically go to him in that outsider space. Surprisingly it is toward that socially marginalized place, “outside the camp” (Heb 13:13) that Jesus calls us. He summons all who are “weary and heavy laden” (Matt 11:28).
Not just the heavy hauling truckers of the world, but all who have been beaten down and marginalized so that their voice is unheard, and they suffer unseen. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30).
The Great Lament
Canada may be witnessing the beginnings of the Great Lament. Socially, people who have been grieved profoundly are taking up their pain and offering complaint. They lift their cry to our governments. They ask for relief. They trust they will be heard and seen. Surely Christians who see the downtrodden in pain can care for them with the comfort they themselves have received in affliction (2 Cor 1:4).
Canada may be witnessing the beginnings of the Great Lament.
But their Great Lament will only go so far. Governments are fickle. Human solutions are finite and flawed. Only a Great Lament to God guarantees that our pain is known, our complaints are heard, our requests considered, and our prayers answered. Only God can do this. We can ask, seek and knock (Matt 7:7), knowing God will listen and act.
We can have confidence that, “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). Through faith in Christ, with no condemnation, we can say with Paul, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:34).
The time has come for the Great Lament, yet we also have a deeper need for the kind of advocacy that every heart must cry out for, the Saviour who is Christ, the Lord.
What Is Our Role as Christians?
What is our role as Christians who have learned the cry to God in our own moments of misery? What can we do to help our country heal? How can we be salt and light as we witness a great divide and seem to see no real intention for dialogue? Here are a few thoughts.
We can cry and pray to our God who rules heaven and earth for this beautiful country that is confused and without any fear of the Lord in their care for each other.
We can model listening and compassion with every side, asking questions and demonstrating that empathy is often more powerful than arguments.
We can pray eagerly for the distressed, that they will not fall into violence in desperation.
We can pray for our government to care and listen to every citizen equally.
We can call our MPs, MLAs, and MPPs and ask them to find a peaceful ending to the crisis.