How might a ‘Bokim’ awakening challenge our culture of contempt?

02 Jul 2019

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In so many ways, our nation is being rent and buffeted by divergent world-views and hostile agendas regardless of our political orientations, religious views, race, identity and cultural backgrounds. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s beneath so much turbulence, suffice to say there is barely a day that goes by where more contention is promulgated through our media. We are indeed polarised seemingly unable to move from debate to dialogue. How do we stop this unrelenting societal-wide aggressive and damaging posturing?

“In 2014, The American National Academy of Sciences commented on ‘motive attribution asymmetry’ — the assumption that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s is based in hate — suggests an answer. The researchers found that the average Republican and the average Democrat today suffer from a level of motive attribution asymmetry that is comparable with that of Palestinians and Israelis. Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.  People often say that the problem in America today is incivility or intolerance. This is incorrect.

Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. In the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” [1]

To move from ‘contempt’ to ‘care’; from ‘worthless’ to ‘worthy’ requires an intentional choice and deliberate attitudinal change. The question is how.

Our hearts must be challenged and softened; our behaviours modified and regulated.

Those of us who engage in Scripture might remember a rather intriguing account of the Israelites being rebuked by the Angel of the Lord in Judges 2:1-5 (NLT). 

“The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said to the Israelites, ‘I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you.  For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this?  So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.’  When the angel of the Lord finished speaking to all the Israelites, the people wept loudly.  So, they called the place Bokim (which means “weeping”), and they offered sacrifices there to the Lord.”

Let’s be honest for a moment.  We don’t like to be rebuked – least of all by God. Sometimes perhaps we need a genuine rebuke; a reset and a reframing of our orientations so that we are more akin to the heart and character of God.

‘Bokim’ became renowned as a place of weeping. Not simply personal weeping but collegiate corporate sorrow, regret and anguish expressed loudly and honestly. A cry of genuine concern for everybody’s wellbeing. As Christians, I wonder if we have lost this ancient practice.

“The process of an inner transformation—similar to that occurring in a rite of passage, in prayer, conversion, and penance, wherein tears that wash away sins play an important role as the very means of this transformation—is carried out in order to attain a new order, ever-present on the horizon of the Christian worldview. Such a new order of the eschatological times was described by Jesus as the moment of the inversion of the order of the matters of this world, when he associated, in his Sermon on the Mount, mourning, tears, and suffering in this life with laughter, spiritual comfort, and beatitude in the world to come [Matt 5:5].

Thus, tears invested with religious efficacy, in the framework of this cosmological stance, were a manifestation of the otherworldly among us. The mysterious outburst of tears, perceived as ‘coming from the heart,’ was understood as the effect of an intimate, spiritual transformation induced by God”. [2]

May we long for genuine transformation within our nation, beginning with those of us who choose to follow Jesus. May our prayers echo the Psalmist (25:16):  “Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in distress.”   May we together be open to Godly rebuke – a poignant reminder that there is only one steward of the Earth and our role is to follow His lead. May our tears be heartfelt and lasting – perhaps our nation depends on them, a signal to a hurting world.


Dr Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director


[1] See New York Times Article:

[2] Nagy, Piroska. 2004. “Religious Weeping As Ritual in the Medieval West.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice 48 (2): 129–130.