Cross-cultural adjustment can be a bear! All those missteps, misunderstandings, and faux pas bring hilarity, if not humility. It takes years of having a learner attitude and humble spirit to begin to feel at home in an adopted culture, even if we read and reread Culture Shock _______ (fill in your favorite country). Reading a book is not the same as living the reality.
So it is with our Christian walk. Somehow we think that if we read The Book enough, we will know what it says, and it will come out of our very pores. It is true that The Word is a Living Word that has the power to transform. Nevertheless, we have to work that out in practice in our daily lives. We can read Love one another, but having our lives demonstrate that on a minute-by-minute basis takes practice and some intentionality. Even as with cultural adjustment, it often takes many mistakes and misunderstandings until we really start to act like a native in the Kingdom
When I was first in Thailand, I misunderstood all sorts of cultural phenomena, sometimes without even realizing it. One example is the concept of may pen ray. May pen ray means “never mind, it’s okay, it’s nothing.” If someone offends, the proper response is may pen ray. Either the offender or the offendee may offer it. In my cultural naiveté, when someone practically knocked me over and then smiled and said, “It’s nothing,” my mature, culturally sensitive, internal response was, “It IS something.” The American mindset expects an apology, not a “Never mind.” This showed, however, that I did not yet have an appreciation for the importance of harmony in Thai culture and the function that may pen ray plays in maintaining that all-important harmony.
Similarly, we read our Christian life through our own cultural and personal grid. In the early years (to tell the truth, this whole life is the “early years” of our spiritual life), we do not really understand the values, motives, or workings of the Kingdom. It is easy to misinterpret earthly events, using an earthly grid. A common struggle among westerners is wrestling with issues of why God allows suffering. We read the spiritual life through the lens of a material, temporal view, and we wonder what God is doing. We often misinterpret pain and suffering through such a lens.
The thinking goes along these lines (not consciously, of course): My mother would not have allowed someone to hurt me…she loved me…I have pain in my life right now…God does not seem to be doing anything about it…maybe God does not love me.
So we read God’s actions through our earthly cultural lens, and we question: Where is God? What is He doing in allowing this pain? It all seems rather uncaring to us, and the reality of Romans 8:37-39 is foggy to us at best—that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not pain, not suffering, not loss, NOTHING!
As we grow in our understanding of God’s culture, through the pain of missteps and misunderstandings, we begin to be transformed by His living Word. Verses take on meaning—not really new meaning, but deeper, fuller meaning. We are all familiar with 1 Peter 1:7 which says our faith is being refined just like gold is with fire, but it often takes years of experiencing refining before we get a fuller view of the process and the kind of results that are important to God.
What does God do with suffering? The simple answer of course is that He redeems it. He is in the business of redeeming all sorts of things that look bad to us—like Jesus’ death on a cross. It looked pretty bad from an earthly, material, temporal view. From eternity, however, it was the ultimate Good. It takes faith that my current pain is somehow redeemable for both my good and the good of the Kingdom. It is to this that we are called.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
Nothing can separate us from His love; nothing can take us out of His hand. This is the world in which we live. This is the secure, concrete, unchangeable world that supersedes the one we see with our eyes.
The view from God’s culture can be pretty different from our own, but we can get glimpses of it more and more as we press on into Him, earnestly seeking Him. What a great cross-cultural adventure we are on—we are learning to live in the world that is unseen while stumbling along, bumping into what is seen.
Question to consider: How has living cross-culturally grown your understanding of God’s culture?