TO ACKNOWLEDGE AIDS IN YOURSELF IS TO BE BRANDED AS MONSTROUS. Laetitia Hambablane (not her real name) is 51 and sick with AIDS. So is her brother. She admits it; he doesn't. In her mother's broken-down house in the mean streets of Umlazi township, though, Laetitia's mother hovers over her son, nursing him, protecting him, resolutely denying he has anything but TB, though his sister claims the sure symptoms of AIDS mark him. Laetitia is the outcast, first from her family, then from her society.
For years Laetitia worked as a domestic servant in Durban and dutifully sent all her wages home to her mother. She fell in love a number of times and bore four children. 'I loved that last man," she recalls. "After he left I had no one, no sex." That was 1992, but Laetitia already had HIV.
She fell sick in 1996, and her employers sent her to a private doctor who couldn't diagnose an illness. He tested her blood and found she was HIV positive. "I wish I'd died right then," she says, as tears spill down her sunken cheeks. "I asked the doctor, 'Have you got medicine?' He said no. I said, 'Can't you keep me alive?" The doctor could do nothing and sent her away. "I couldn't face the word," she says. "I couldn't sleep at night. I sat on my bed, thinking, praying. I did not see anyone day or night. I ask God, Why?"
Laetitia's employers fired her without asking her exact diagnosis. For weeks she could not muster the courage to tell anyone. Then she told her children, and they were ashamed and frightened. Then, harder still, she told her mother. Her mother raged about the loss of money if Laetitia could not work again. She was so angry she ordered Laetitia out of the house. When her daughter wouldn't leave, the mother threatened to sell the house to get rid of her daughter. Then she walled off her daughter's room with plywood partitions, leaving the daughter a pariah, alone in a cramped, dark space without windows and only a flimsy door opening into the alley. Laetitia must earn the pennies to feed herself and her children by peddling beer, cigarettes and candy from a shopping cart in her room, when people are brave enough to stop by her door. "Sometimes they buy, sometimes not," she says. "That is how I'm surviving."
Her mother will not talk to her, "If you are not even accepted by your own family," says Magwazi, the volunteer homecare giver from Durban's Sinoziso project who visits Laetitia, "then others will not accept you." When Laetitia ventures outdoors, neighbors snub her, tough boys snatch her purse, children taunt her. Her own kids are tired of the sickness and don't like to help her anymore. "When I canít get up, they don't bring me food," she laments. One day local youths barged into her room, cursed her as a witch and a whore and beat her. When she told the police, the youths re turned, threatening to burn down the house.
But it is her mother's rejection that wounds Laetitia most. "She is hiding it about my brother,"
she cries. "Why will she do nothing for me?" Her hands pick restlessly at the quilt covering her paper- thin frame. "I know my mother will not bury me properly. I know she will not take care of my kids when I am gone."
TIME February 12, 2001
Laetitia asks God, "Why?" Why has her life become a agonizing decent into loneliness, suffering, despair and finally death?
Is it because God has inflicted her with AIDS to be chastised, or corrected, with the intent of making her a better person? After all, she did have sexual relations with several men and now she is ďreaping what she sowed."
Is it that God allows this to happen to her because He is working from a grand plan that Laetitia can not comprehend?
Is Laetitia suffering so terribly because of the mindless actions of a pathogenic virus, and the lack of compassion of those around her?
--A mother who rejected her and literally walled her off from her home.
--Employers who discarded her.
--Neighbors who ostracize her and prey on her, adding to her sufferings rather then alleviating them.
So letís revisit Laetitia's original question to God, "why?" And instead of misrepresenting God's involvement in Laetitiaís misfortune by speculating from abstract theistic arguments about God, lets, instead, allow God to speak for Himself.
God definitively revealed Himself, or spoke for Himself, through THE Word of/from God: the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Not through scriptures, or our individual subjective experiences, mystical or otherwise. But through the real flesh and blood experience of Jesus of Nazareth who was the full presence of God among us (Emmanuel).
If we want to know what role God plays in Laetitia's suffering then we need look no further then Jesus of Nazareth. How did Jesus respond to the "Laetitias" that he encountered in Palestine 2000 years ago? Did he ostracize them; did he tell them that they got what they deserved; did he tell them that God inflicted their sufferings on them because it was for their correction and part of God's grand plan for the ages?
His response to them was so unprecedented and unique, that the Gospel writers had difficulty finding a word to describe it.
The word they used was splagchnizomai, which literally means a movement in the bowels. This was an attempt to express the profound, deep, visceral emapthy Jesus had for the suffering of those he encountered throughout Palestine. This is much more than mere sympathy or even compassion. Make no mistake about it, this was truly something new in the world. Not only was Jesus' empathetic connection with others the motivation for his reaching out to those in need, it was the causal basis for the meeting of those needs through extraordinary acts (miracles) of healing. Jesus healed not through divine omnipotence, but through his radical, unreserved willingness to open Himself to the pain and needs of others, and in return, empty and give himself completely to them to make them whole. The kenosis (self-emptying) of God reached it's fullest expression on the cross of Jesus, where God opened Himself completely to all of the pain, darkness, despair, suffering and death of the entire cosmos, and in return, poured out His ALL to all of creation. The resurrection of Jesus -- the cursed, rejected, crucified One--being the first act of the New Creation, is the unprecedented cosmic event that makes certain that God will become Emmanuel with all, and for all: everyone and everything. And ultimately, the great acts of splagchnizomai that occurred through Jesus in Palestine will become the universal reality of everyone.
So God's role in the suffering of the world is always that of healer and never of inflictor; liberator and not oppressor; servant of all and not manipulator of others. And likewise, our role is to participate in the leavening process of the unfolding of God's New Creation. By sharing the Good News with the 'Laetitias' of the world. The Good News that God is unequivocally good, that God has never been against us but always for us; that God will make all things right by overcoming all of the things that cause us to suffer--that oppress and dehumanize us. We know this is true because He has spoken unmistakably and decisively in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: the Word from God.
A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, "Where is God?" when a baby dies alone in a Calcuttan alley." In reply she said, "God is there, suffering with that baby." "The question really is, where are you?"
That is exactly right, God is suffering with that baby. That is the Good News: God shares the suffering of that baby, and all who suffer; takes their suffering from them by making it His own, and in return, imparting his life to them; healing them and making them whole. It is the Good News of the coming of God's presence, Kingdom, Society (whatever term is used) to describe the full significance and impact of God becoming Emmanuel. And it is NOT that God is causing, or allowing, that baby to suffer, which is not good news, but, in fact, cause for despair and hopelessness. The despair of Laetitia and others like her.
The question is not what God is doing about the suffering in the world, because He has answered that decisively on the cross of Jesus. The real question is, that seeing the true glory, or real nature, of God revealed on the cross, why aren't we acting to alleviate the suffering of the "Laetitias" of the world, instead of simply explaining it away as the will of God.