(This article first appeared in the February issue of the Anglican Journal.)
For quite a few years, a growing number of indigenous people, concerned about the renewal of their communities, have insisted, directly or indirectly, that only God can save us. Experience shows that, for many people outside and even inside the network of indigenous ministries, this needs some explanation. While many people have first-hand knowledge of God’s seeming intervention in troubling personal situations, even they might find it a little difficult-perhaps even dangerous- to make dependence upon God’s action the foundation of a strategy of community renewal and reform.
To help people understand, it may be helpful to explain what dependence on God alone should not imply: it does not mean that one is unable to look for help from political, social and educational institutions, or that these bodies don’t have a responsibility to contribute to a solution; it also does not excuse people from personal responsibility, hard work and active faith; and, especially, it does not mean that looking to God for help will eliminate the demand for justice and right living. Those who have used exhortations to faith as leverage for power, and those who have used the call for faith as a vehicle to demand a sectarian or specific denominational program, should find no encouragement in the indigenous proclamation that only God can save us.
What this does mean, however, is very important: God is active in creation and history, and there is a holy path to justice that God promises and insures in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God will hear the prayers of the people of God, in their need and hope; the people of the land are particularly and conspicuously included. Our problems are always and everywhere spiritual as well as physical, and this means, especially for indigenous people, that the spirituality of the people of the land is and must always be a thing of spirit, as well as a thing of material existence. Our elders have always said there is no good way of life without the life of God and faith.
Many indigenous activists and leaders have tried different paths to wholeness. For them to say that only God can save us is a measure of the urgency and pervasive complexity of our problems. But it is also a way of saying that there is no meaningful answer apart from the life of the spirit. This is a conscious and considered rejection of many of the values that animate our larger society’s fever about material wealth. Today, we should join with our indigenous leaders in a choice for the spiritual way of life and cry out to God for hope and saving help. Without it, there is no meaningful future-for anyone.