BY: Tongun Lo Loyuong, RSS, FEB/27/2013, SSN;
For those of us unfamiliar with the technical theological phrase “cry of dereliction,” – it is a theological expression of the puzzling biblical utterance of “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” – the last words/lamentation attributed to Jesus on the crucifix, moments before his death (see Matt. 27:46; and Mark 15:34). Biblical scholars and theologians have long found this to be one of the troubling verses in the New Testament. If this was God’s son, and God sent him to save the world from sin, then why did God abandon him while he was submissive to God’s plan and when he needed God the most?
Consequently, several interpretations of Jesus’ cry of dereliction emerged, two of which are mainstream and worth mentioning for our purposes here. The first is the theological explication championed by the biblical literalists, which tend to argue that in the cry of dereliction, God abandoned Jesus to preserve God’s Holiness, for God could not behold or be associated with our sin, which Jesus took upon himself on the cross.
Therefore, God turned the other way, which then provoked Jesus’ cry of dereliction for being abandoned by God. This was all part of God’s atonement plan for Jesus, aimed to achieve the objectives of the salvation plan for which Jesus volunteered. But the constraint with this type of interpretation is that it contradicts the pervasive biblical presentation of God as loving, accompanying, comforting, and assisting particularly in our trying times.
However, it may be asked, if God is willing to turn the other way in the face of gross injustices and wickedness, how the hell are we supposed to overcome the powerful evil and corrupt forces of greed in this world?
The second salient theological discourse of the cry of dereliction, which I find more appealing maintains that it is not in God’s nature to abandon God’s children. According to this school of thought, the verse must be interpreted metaphorically. Understood this way, the cry of dereliction is in fact a cry of vindication. This is consistent with Old Testament’s lamentation practice of prayer, such as found in Habakkuk 1:13, and the opening line of Psalm 22 and other lamentation passages in the Scripture.
In this form of prayer one is justified to raise complaints to God about deep sentiments of pain and suffering. It is an indication of a strong faith and intimate relationship with God, where one rhetorically questions God’s vindication intervention policies and sin-tolerance practices in the face of persisting injustices. In so doing, one knows that good will ultimately prevail over evil.
It is in the context of this latter theological explanation that the choice of the somewhat provocative title in this piece lies.
In this season of lent, a cry of dereliction is fitting and depicting of the endless suffering of an average voiceless and powerless South Sudanese throughout our history, and more recently during and after the “liberation struggle.”
As was the case with Jesus, it is indeed not hard-pressed to suggest that most South Sudanese feel God-forsaken in light of the prevailing deteriorating social, economic, and political state of affairs. “What kind of life is this?,” a friend recently quipped with disgust when sighting one of the extravagant convoys of our “liberators” marauding in the dusty streets and the overwhelmingly underdeveloped and poverty-stricken environs of Juba.
In a manner consistent with being locked in the colonial logic, the convoy sped in the narrow streets of Juba with such an aura of arrogance that does affirm the dawn of new phase of a colonial period in South Sudan. How disenchanting to see the lack of any moral conscience in the political leadership of this God-forsaken country.
Few will disagree that since the signing of the CPA, and the advent of the southern independence, most South Sudanese are by now resigned to the fact that the so-called “liberation” of South is no better than the preceding liberation of Sudan from the Anglo-Egyptian rule before it. Second class citizenship remains the order of the day and abject poverty persists.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of value added by successive empty “liberations” of the greater Sudan from different colonial masters both from within and from without, is a persistent pattern throughout the history of this country. This is an undesirable legacy that will continue to dominate the mindset of some of our people in the South for a long time to come.
It is ironic that we do not seem to learn from our tragic history. Such was the case with the so-called “independence” or “liberation” of Sudan from British colonialism in January 1956. The South came to suffer from another cycle of colonialism, of Arabic and Islamist mentality of domination that led to a southern mentality of resistance, which resulted in the birth of the liberation struggle in the first place.
Yet, no sooner were we supposedly liberated, than the emergence of yet another batch of colonial masters ensued. It is more painful this time because these are supposedly our own brothers, but who continue to be victims of the intractable colonial and slavery legacy in this country. These people need some serious help. They even unashamedly dare call a fellow southerner a slave.
As his Lordship Bishop Pio Lako, the Auxiliary Bishop of Juba recently aptly put it, “some of our people continue to tell our people to sit down.” “We liberated you, or we sacrificed more than you in the liberation struggle — so goes the pretext for justifying their master’s status entitlement in Juba, nowadays.”
Sit down. “We are born to rule.” Born to rule what? What is this liberation? As Jok Madut Jok once forcefully phrased it, “liberation from what and to what end?”
If Sudanese liberations’ history is, therefore, anything to go by it seems we are locked in the liberation struggle for God knows how long. Often after a liberation has succeeded, those who have made selfless sacrifices are overlooked or even rewarded with a form of punishment and subjugation, while the opportunists and those conspicuously known for political whoredom and harlotry and conspired with the enemy, are rewarded and end up reigning supreme.
As a result, one is left but to cry in dereliction to God, why have you forsaken us when we needed you the most while we continue to be subjected to all forms of undeserved suffering and indignity for more than 1160 years of our documented history to the present.
How long will the women of Jonglei continue to suffer from violence and rape as a result of the so-called cattle rustling? How long will the children of Warrap and Unity States in the peripheries continue to die from hunger, malnutrition, and curable diseases while some greedy elite few in the center enjoy ugly filled bellies and health purchased from quality healthcare overseas by South Sudanese public funds?
How long will the people of Central and Eastern Equatoria States continue to lose their lands to those in possession of power and gun? How long will the youth of Western Equatoria continue to form vigilantes in order to defend their women, children, and property from insecurity and brutality created by LRA and local criminals?
How long will the people of Greater Bahr el-Ghazal States be massacred by security forces with impunity and support from the corridors of power in Juba, and be incited to commit atrocious inter-communal violence amongst each other?
How long will the elite and corrupt few continue to enrich themselves, while the whole country wallows in abject poverty, unemployment and lack of adequate social service provision? How long will the freedom of press, and the basic human right to freedom of expression be suppressed?
And how long will those who attempt to speak out against these vices be framed as rebels and unpatriotic, and arbitrarily imprisoned indefinitely and without due process, or in worse case scenarios be eliminated or made to disappear?
In short, will we continue to suffer indignity and human rights abuses indefinitely?
Framing our problems in terms of a cry of dereliction seems a theological construct that best conceptualizes and gives meaning and perhaps, a sense of much needed consolation and hope that signs are written on the wall that vindication is well underway to South Sudanese.
And so we raise our voices in the cry of dereliction as a God-forsaken people eagerly anticipating vindication sooner rather than later. The clock is ticking!