BIBLE STUDY I
Rev. Park Jong Wha
Scripture Text: Isaiah 40:1-5
In the scripture verses from Deutero-Isaiah or Second Isaiah, the prophet tells the people that God comes to them to comfort them because God is their God. God comes to his people, God comes to us. We often read these verses when we are undergoing some suffering. We read these verses today because we are concerned about people who are suffering and struggling, and because we want to share the good news with these people.
How do we understand the role of URM? My opinion is that URM is to comfort people as God has comforted us. We have to comfort the people who are suffering and struggling and hoping.
What kind of comfort can we give to the people inside the Church and outside the Church with whom we live? One kind of comfort could be called "psychological comfort". God comes to us through our inner heart and comforts us. We can do the same to our people and to others. But the comfort described in Isaiah 40 means God comes to us. God comes into our history. God comes into the midst of our lives in a real way. When God comes, he changes our reality, our situation, and he changes us. Gods comfort means God comes to change our lives and to give us hope.
Can we the people of the URM give comfort to our people? Can we go into the midst of their lives to change their agony, their predicament and their suffering and struggling situation so that they may really be comforted? Isaiah gives us concrete examples of how God comes to comfort his people. In verse 4 we read that "every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low". In other words, the poor shall be lifted up and the rich shall be brought low.
In the ecumenical councils and conferences, we have been talking about "transfer of power". This is not just an ideology but a biblical truth. That every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low is a parallel. Where there is injustice, justice must be brought about. Where there is unrighteousness, righteousness must be brought about. In Western Europe, this idea of "transfer of power" was considered a leftist ideology and too revolutionary. The biblical message is always revolutionary. When God comes into our lives our situation will be changed. If we are living too high up, we will be brought down. If we are living at the bottom of the valley, we will be brought up.
URM work means working towards this kind of change. We cannot do it by our own power but by the power of God. It is by the power of God that lives can be changed and real hope can be experienced. The people in the URM are to prepare a way so that God can come to the people. URM cannot remain in the valley nor up high in the mountain. She must prepare the way for God to come to his people.
The second task of URM is to find out where are the valleys and where are the mountains in Asia. Who are those living there in the valleys, crying and suffering? We have to lift them up. Who are those living there in the mountains? We have to bring them down. The lifting up and the bringing down are two actions which belong together.
Solidarity with the people in terms of lifting up is related directly to the parallel task of bringing down. Only by so doing can there be the social and economic justice that God intended people to enjoy. To be in solidarity with the suffering and struggling people means that we have to take sides against the unjust and the unrighteous.
Rev. Cho Wah Soon shared a short and simple story with me about her experience in working with people. She said that there may be three stages in working with people the URM way. In the first stage, we persuade the people in order to get them on our side. This is called "conscientization", a word we know well and often use. The people begin to trust us because we help them. They are happy because we teach them. We have given them something.
In the second stage, after the people are conscientized, they know. They become aware of how they ought to live and then they proceed to become self-reliant an self-sufficient. They also begin to be critical of us, the ones who teach them. Rev. Cho said that the second stage is the most difficult stage in the experience. We probably will feel hurt because our people whom we love are critical of us.
The third stage can be called the stage of solidarity. It is a stage when we are able to live with them. In the first stage, we taught them. In the second stage, we were criticized. It is in this third stage that we are able to discover and experience true solidarity with the people. At what stage are you now? At what stage is URM work in Asia?
Comfort in Rev. Chos understanding has three stages. God came to us, he taught us, he gave us something and we were critical of him. But God understands why we are crying and why we are struggling. He does not reject us. He does not forsake us. He accepts us and forgives us so that he can live with us and we can live with him - Emmanuel!
The last definition of comfort is living together, living in solidarity. God is in solidarity with us even though we are sinners, forgiven sinners. In Korea, we are very happy now because of the developments in Eastern Europe. We hope that North and South Korea can be reunified in the near future. Then everyone will be truly happy. On one visit to Western Europe, the Korean President remarked, "If North Korea could be an East Germany (meaning that if North could be as open) then we will be very happy." One opposition leader responded, "If South Korea would be as open as West Germany, it might be more helpful than for North Korea to be like East Germany."
The revolution in Eastern Europe is very important and helpful to countries all over the world. Capitalist countries are eagerly offering economic and political aid to the East European countries which actually belong to the First World, the rich countries. They are so concerned about the East European developments that they are more than willing to invest their money and impart some of their technological know-how to them. We, in Asia, have not experienced them to be so eager to help the poorer countries in the Third World. Although we rejoice at the East European changes, we are sad that the poor countries in the Third World are always forgotten.
This problem is also true of the South Korean Churches. We are so caught up with the East European development towards reunification that in the process we have forgotten the agony, the predicament, the suffering and struggling people in both the North and South of Korea, and the poor who are around us. In this case, URM has a double task. We have to be open to the world, across ideological differences, as well as be open to our people whom God comes to comfort.
Isaiah lived six hundred years before Jesus was born. Even in his time people were already waiting for the coming Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about the coming of Christ. It was only six hundred years later that Jesus the Messiah came. Today, he is here in our midst. Today we are the ones who will have to be the voice of the Second Isaiah to make known Christ to our people. We are the Isaiahs of the twentieth century. We shall have to prepare the road, not for ourselves, but for the glory of the Lord, in order that all humankind together may see the glory of the Lord appear on earth. May God come to us so that we might go forth with him to comfort the people.
[This Bible Study was presented at the 21st URM Committee Meeting held in Seoul, Korea from 24-26 February 1990]