“Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land.’” —Exodus 3:1-15
When we hear the story of the burning bush, we are usually distracted by the bush that is not consumed by fire, the unexpected nature of the encounter, the response of Moses, and the command to remove his sandals. What we may not remember is that the next line is a word of consolation from the Lord. Unbidden, unexpected, and certainly not an obvious choice, God promises deliverance. The slavery and abuse that the people of Israel have been encountering has been seen and known by the God who loves them. And there is a promise, even amidst those real trials, of God’s presence and care for their plight and a vision of a time beyond immediate suffering.
As people of faith, we can add our gaze to that of God’s. We can acknowledge suffering, share the promise, and be the witness and voices that help bring about deliverance. As we continue to see the horrific suffering of the people of Ukraine, we can add our prayers to those of others that will help end this unspeakable violence. We can give money to relief organizations. We can tell our own lawmakers we support U.S. efforts to assist the people of Ukraine.
In addition to global conflict and war, there is the everyday suffering that so many of us bear and encounter. The suffering of those with long illness. The suffering of those who are lonely and afraid. The suffering of those who are in the grips of addiction or abuse. Those places of suffering and bondage are also seen by God. The same deliverance we claim for the people of Ukraine can be claimed for the whole human family. God desires our freedom—freedom from bondage so we can be free to create the kingdom now.
It is a delicate balance to look at the suffering of the world and yet not be overwhelmed by it. The key, I believe, is that we must seek out those burning bushes. We must look for the reminders all around us that God is present and is aware of our suffering. That solidarity that we find in prayer, that deep accompaniment with our humanity, is what ultimately allows us to remain hopeful while not succumbing to denial. It is a spiritual practice that we do individually and a community.