Lupe had been held against her will by the smugglers she had paid on her journey from Honduras to the U.S. Seventy-five hundred dollars wasn’t enough for them to transport her, her daughter, and her friend, although that was the agreed upon amount. No, the smugglers wanted more, so they kept Lupe as a prostitute, separating her from her daughter and friend. They led the other two across the river, right into the hands of Border Patrol agents. They kept Lupe in a warehouse along with other migrants they were exploiting, leading her to different clients at different times. One client was abusive and left a gaping wound in her side that had to be sewn up.
In her first night in the warehouse, she fell asleep after being beaten by her captors. The next morning the captors thought she was dead. They poured cold water on her to see if there was any life left in her. “God why have you forgotten me?” she said aloud as she woke. “We are your god now,” the men responded.
Eventually, Lupe escaped with the help of one of her guards, paying him first with her body. Not long after she returned from northern Mexico to her home in Honduras, her five-year-old daughter, Julia, had moved in my with my family. Our home wasn’t Julia’s first stop. Julia was processed at the border and deemed an “unaccompanied minor”. She then went through the Office of Refugee Resettlement and was resettled in a home that neglected her. After the processing center and the neglectful home, Julia arrived at my home as our foster daughter. She lived as part of our family for four months while the persistent and creative work of social workers, the Honduran Consulate, and my family could make reunification of Julia and Lupe possible. When the day came, my husband Andrew and I traveled with Julia to Honduras and met Lupe face to face.
As I reflect on Lupe’s journey, especially her time in northern Mexico, I am pushed to the edges of my faith where doubt seems more comforting, more stable, and my faith feels shallow and immature.
Family reunification was joyous, sweet, shalom-like, and unforgettable. As much as I am deeply grateful I got to share in the joy, I’m also forever changed by the pain—the pain of family separation, the injustices of border policies, and the harrowing journey both Julia and Lupe endured. But especially Lupe’s inhumane suffering.
Why did God forsake her on her journey north? Why does God forsake so many who make the same journey? Sometimes I don’t want to lament. I don’t want to pray. I don’t want anything to do with spiritual disciplines because I don’t want to talk to a God who forsakes people. There are moments when I want to flip over whatever table God is sitting at. There are moments that the brokenness is too overwhelming, too sickening, too frightening.
Reflection stirs my feelings for revenge. I want revenge on the people that harmed Lupe and Julia—they were in danger their entire journey from Honduras to the U.S. I want revenge on the messed-up systems Julia suffered at the hands of in the United States. Revenge on the politicians who are completely out of touch with the humanity that is broken by the decisions they make. Revenge on the drug cartels that see humans as economic pawns and nothing more.
But what persists through every reflection is a question. When humanity is truncated, when human beings are dehumanized, I want to know: has God forsaken us?
This question sounds familiar. I’ve read it in my own Bible.
On the cross, below a sign written by his mockers that said, “King of the Jews,” Jesus asked a similar question of his Father:
“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:45-46).
Like Jesus, when darkness overtakes me, when it overtook Lupe, likely when it over takes you, we cry out, “Why, God? Why have you forsaken us? How long, oh Lord?”
I know lots of the standard responses. I could write many already-argued answers to this question. I could talk about God’s permissible will and his perfect will. I could say that the brokenness of this world is meant to be patched up by broken humans, who recognize their own brokenness in the process of healing each other’s wounds. I could say that the people of God were always meant to carry each other’s burdens, to learn to truly live in community, to empathize authentically. I could—and I will—say that we must learn to stop dehumanizing each other in language and in action, and that we can advocate for Lupe and those like her by getting involved politically.
But in the valley of the shadow of death the above answers won’t do. In the valley, we must reach out for the one comfort Christ gives us in the shadow of his own death. When Lupe screamed at God, she was embodying Christ himself. When we scream at God, “Where are you?” we are, in fact, imitating Christ. We are practicing a spiritual discipline that Christ, fully God and fully man, gave us. Humanity and divinity have collided. In these moments, the thin places of this world are created, and heaven and earth intertwine.
The messiah we would have never chosen in our own humanity—the vulnerable, outcast who rides donkeys and wears no armor—is the messiah our humanity desperately needs, the one who not only empathizes with suffering but also has a long personal and familial history of it.
I don’t know how to answer my own doubts about God and suffering. I really don’t. But I’m convinced the phrase “I don’t know” holds just as much divine weight as hallelujah. Sometimes getting over the fear of asking certain questions is just as important as any answer we may find.
If Jesus can ask what feels like a heretical question to God who is omni-present, then we can too. God isn’t scared of our humanity. We shouldn’t be, either.