Bible study emphasizes ‘there’s goodness beyond us’

Safwat Marzouk: “Prayers of lament are not prayers of lack of faith.” — Mennonite Church USA Safwat Marzouk: “Prayers of lament are not prayers of lack of faith.” — Mennonite Church USA

As a person of Egyptian heritage, Safwat Marzouk sees the stories of Genesis and Exodus from a different point of view.

He’s a descendant of the bad guys.

He’s rejected the options to “get rid of my Egyptian identity or get rid of the Bible,” Marzouk said during one of three Bible study sessions he led for all participants July 7-9 at the Mennonite Church USA convention.

A better option is to consider what the ancient stories teach about power and justice, said Marzouk, former ­associate professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

“As you read the Bible, who do you identify with?” he asked. “What if we read the text through the eyes of the Egyptians or the Canaanites or the Gentiles? Not the insiders.”

This can help us see that there is “goodness beyond us.”

Sometimes we see this truth when we work for peace and justice with those from other faiths.

But “sometimes we fear the other within the faith community,” he said. “We are trying to get rid of differences and reach an idea of purity and we miss the opportunities where God can enrich who we are by the differences within our community of faith.”

Exploring the theme of “Shalom Justice Amid Pandemic and Racism,” Marzouk presented the story of Joseph.

From his position of power and apparent identity as an Egyptian, Joseph empowers his brothers — but only after they have completed a journey of moral transformation from apathy to empathy by experiencing what it means to be the “other.”

This is an essential journey for all who work for peace and justice today.

Next, Marzouk explored the story in Exodus 1-2 of the midwives (Hebrews or Egyptians? the text is not clear), describing them as “mighty women who resisted fear and xenophobia.” They saved the lives of the Hebrew babies, including Moses, whom Pharaoh had ordered killed.

In the context of suffering due to the pandemic and racism, he encouraged reclaiming the language of lament from the Psalms and prophets.

In psalms of lament, the appeal to God for help does not always produce a divine response.

Some express anger at God: “Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?” (44:23).

“Why is this type of prayer, which is so strongly present in the Psalms, so absent from our worship?” he asked.

Does our experience of power make us less likely to pray this kind of prayer?

Do we think our relationship with God should be only about joy?

“Prayers of lament are not prayers of lack of faith,” he said. “This is a faithful language to relate to God.”

“When we are crying, ‘How long, O Lord?’ we open our ears to hear the prophetic voice, urging us to think, reflect, repent, change our ways and give up abusing our power.”

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. Read More

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