I had the great privilege once of preaching at a conference where one of the other speakers was Sharon Hersh, adjunct professor of counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. A story she told during her talk on “The Gift of Suffering: God’s Compulsion for Our Liberation” was one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard.
Dr. Hersh recalled visiting a village in a region of Cambodia once strong with the Khmer Rouge, which of course gave the Cambodians the evil Pol Pot and were responsible for enough torture and murder to constitute genocide. The people in this village, Hersh said, never venture far from home. Most of them have never been outside the village. It is too dangerous. While the days of the Khmer Rouge appear to be gone, the pain and anger is of course not. To be identified with the Khmer Rouge in any way is to risk one’s life. So these villagers are cast-offs, prisoners in their own land, hated for the presumed sins of their fathers.
Hersh said that a Christian church service in the village might have been one of the most vibrant experiences of worship she’d witnessed. There was so much joy, so much emotion, so much confession, so much exaltation of and desire for God. They were excited, expectant, enthusiastic, enthralled. “Is it always like this?” she asked a local.
“Yes,” came the reply. “They believe that God is the only one that wants them. And so they want him.”
That phrase—They believe God is the only one that wants them—was so heartbreaking and thrilling at the same time. “To be totally known,” Dr. Hersh said later, “and still to be wanted is the way to liberation.” I know that this gospel truth has made all the difference in my own life.
… You who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.