Reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner awakened memories of my time in Afghanistan. I read a history of Afghanistan while I was deployed there that quoted a British Army officer who visited Kabul. He described it as a garden city whose gardens were more like those of British villages than any other place he had visited in Asia. It was not so when I visited it after forty years of war. The novel encompasses that time of terrifying transformation for Afghanistan. Gender, ethnic, social, and religious prejudices and abuses appear alongside a compelling narrative about how love, faith, and resilience helped some to survive.
Within the story too is the main character’s grappling with issues of integrity and character as he seeks his agnostic father’s approval while he studies the Koran and learns Muslim prayers in school. He fails crucial tests of character. He struggles to redeem and forgive himself. In adulthood, as he comes face to face with gripping reminders of his moral failures, he falls to his knees as he remembers how to pray.
He prays for forgiveness. He seeks hope for himself and a young boy that he seeks to rescue from sexual abuse. He prays to survive attacks from enemies. He is frustrated by corrupt religious leaders and complicated immigration laws that threaten his rescue attempt. His fears, his struggle with himself and enemies, and his return to a praying faith reminded me of Old Testament psalms of prayer that cry out to God for respite from enemies or confess sin that threatens relationship with God:
“My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’ … How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors. The arrogant dig pits to trap me, contrary to your law … They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts” (Psalm 119:82,84-85).
“Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. How long, LORD God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful” (Psalm 80:4-5).
As we seek to please God, as we learn to pray from those who have gone before us, we realize, like Amir in The Kite Runner, our sin and our desperate need for God to act on our behalf. Each of us goes to him in prayer, but like the Psalmist, we pray as individuals within the context of a community of faith. The challenges that I face and the ones that the fictional Amir faced may not be yours, but each of us encounters crises that we cannot solve alone. Many of us do not agree on matters of doctrine, but as we humble ourselves and bow before God in prayer, we submit to His will, even when we protest the situation in which we find ourselves. Many of the characters in The Kite Runner, including Amir, are Muslim. His skeptic father fears religious clerics coming to political power. His fears proved to be justified. The horrors and injustices that follow drive Amir to pray to the only God he knows for relief. He seeks and submits as all who seek God must. That submission means that we will pray for others who also need God’s love, especially those who seek him.
The author of The Kite Runner unveils injustices that were (and are) reality, that reveal how even “good” people do horrible things, and how some managed to survive, to recover, and to mature in such circumstances. Sexual abuse, ethnic discrimination, corrupt politicians, and bullying all appear. The story at times is quite graphic and horrifying, but such horror has been reality for too many, whether in Afghanistan since the 1970’s, in Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, or even in the United States. The Kite Runner somehow still is a story of hope as well as a cry for honesty and compassion.
In my own life, I, like many of you, have fought doubts and struggled through desperate situations. We pray, although we may have to battle through our own skepticism to do so. God calls us, despite our fears, to trust and to obey. He calls us to love and to help others who need him as much as we do. Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Millions suffered died horribly in concentration camps because of their ethnic identity. You and I do not live under threat of incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp, but you may be threatened by persecution and evil where you are. Your life may be at risk. Lets pray together for justice, for hope, and for love to prevail and for the our world to reconcile to a God who so loved the world that he acted to save it through Jesus. Let’s pray that we will be agents for reconciliation, not agents for prejudice and oppression. Let’s pray that we will find unity through our faith in the God who hears.
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.