By Rob Renfroe –
One of the great counterintuitive truths of our faith is that God brings good out of bad. What human beings mean for evil, God often uses to bring about a new and better day. There is no greater example than the cross. Our Lord Jesus – pure, innocent, and compassionate – made to suffer the most painful and shameful death the Roman Empire could devise. And from this terribly heinous act, God brought forth his most gracious gift – salvation for all who will believe.
Our country is reeling from an atrocious, unjust act – the killing of George Floyd, made worse by the fact that it was perpetrated by one, and watched for nearly nine minutes without objection by others, who were sworn to serve and protect their community. For the God who brings good out of evil, this is certainly an opportunity to do something dramatic and powerful that will change our world for the better. And as the people who serve that God, we have an opportunity and a calling to join him in what he is doing.
I do not know all that needs to be done. I do not know what God will call upon you or me or his church to do. And I certainly do not know the depth of pain my African American brothers and sisters have experienced throughout their lifetimes. But there are some things I do know. And so do you. So do all Bible believing followers of Jesus.
We know every human being is made in the image of God. In fact, this is the first truth God’s word tells us about what it means to be human. “So, God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Every human being possesses immense, inherent worth not because of what he or she achieves, how they live, the social status they enjoy, or the race they belong to. Every human life has infinite value because every person bears the image of God.
We know racism is wrong. If every human being is created in God’s image, racism and prejudice are not simply sins against a person or a community, but against God himself. We know as persons who hold the Scriptures to be true, we must condemn however our society promotes racial stereotypes and we must recognize, confess, and repent of whatever prejudice lives within our souls. We cannot be neutral, look the other way, or be satisfied that our nation has made great strides in the past to overcome racism. It still exists, sometimes in ways that are hard for some of us to perceive. So, we must ask God to give us “eyes to see” and the courage to call it out whether we discern it in our institutions or in ourselves.
We know diversity is a blessing from God. The human race that God created is a beautiful tapestry of races, ethnicities, and cultures. Our appreciation of God’s creation, the wonders of his grace, and his calling upon our lives is made richer and more powerful when we embrace this diversity and learn from the experiences and the perspectives of others who are different than we are. When our pride or our need to justify ourselves or our fear keeps us from receiving the stories and the gifts those who are different from ourselves can bring into our lives, we not only impoverish ourselves, we also deny God’s good creation.
This is true for humankind and even more for the church of God. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free … The body is not made up of one part but many” (1 Corinthians 12:13-14). We need each other. We need poor and wealthy, male and female, young and old, developed world and developing world, “red and yellow, black, brown, and white.” We need everyone in the church. And as individuals we need relationships with people who have different experiences, perspectives, and stories. Without such relationships, we will never see the world or God’s plan for the world rightly and fully. We know this is true because God’s word tells us it is. And we know we must be intentional about creating relationships that cross the lines that too often divide us.
We know our hearts often deceive us. Jeremiah tells us “the heart is deceitful above all things … who can understand its way” (17:9)? It’s possible, no, it’s likely, that we will be blind to what resides within our hearts. We will convince ourselves that our intentions are more righteous and our motives more pure than they truly are. We will be oblivious to the prejudice that dwells within us – and sometimes because we want to be ignorant about who and what we are. Without knowing it, we will try to protect our image of ourselves as good and decent folks by not being willing to look deeply within our own souls and admitting what we find there. This doesn’t make us bad people; it makes us human beings who possess a fallen nature. But we know it’s there, this tendency to hide the truth about ourselves from ourselves. We know this because God’s word tells us so. Consequently, we also know we must examine ourselves and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us whatever prejudice lies within us.
I don’t know what God will do with this terrible moment we find ourselves in. But I know what I can do with it. I can look within myself, admit what I find there, confess it, repent of it, and ask God to change me. And so can you. And that will be a start.
We know we are called to be peacemakers. Not peacekeepers, but peacemakers. Making peace in times of turmoil and misunderstanding can be frustrating and even dangerous. But it’s a ministry that we are called to. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). I do not know all that peacemaking will require, but I know that it begins with listening. For me, it means continuing the conversations I have recently had with black friends and colleagues. Listening to black parents and grandparents tell me how worried they are about the safety of their children and grandchildren every time they leave the house. Hearing the fear beneath the words of African American men who have told me they are regularly pulled over by the police for no other reason than they are in “the wrong part of town” – their town, their hometown. Talking with black pastors, as educated, gifted, and committed as I am, who grieve that because of their race they will never be given opportunities to serve many of our great churches that are predominantly white. And hearing the painful truth that many of these pastors are concerned that the same will be true even after we create a new Methodist denomination.
Peacemaking begins with listening, but it doesn’t end there. For true peace to be made, there must be equal opportunity for all people. There must be justice for the victimized. There must be accountability for those who perpetrate violence. There must be an admission on the part of white folks that many of us have chosen to remain ignorant regarding race in our country and the suffering persons of color have endured. We must admit this, confess it, and repent of it and of all the ways we have been complicit. There must be outrage on our part in the face of injustice and racism. And there must be real change in our hearts, in our country, and in our churches
We know we are fighting more than flesh and blood. Paul tells us that our struggle to advance God’s Kingdom and its values is against “the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul understood that there was more to the ignorance and the evil we encounter than what dwells in the human heart. There are spiritual forces at work, organizing the systems and the structures of our world in ways that are counter to the will of God and his good design for creation.
We cannot be naïve. If we believe in the Bible as God’s word, we must expect to find sin within the institutions of our fallen society. We cannot minimize the work of “the evil one,” “the prince of this world,” to only individual temptations. His plan is more encompassing and his powers of deceit far greater. His desire is to infiltrate and warp all that influences humankind. Our entertainment. Our government. The media. Education. The Church. We must have “kingdom eyes” to look at society’s institutions. And we must be willing to call out unrighteousness and injustice wherever we see them, and we must work to reclaim these institutions for the glory of God and the good of all humankind.
I do not know how God will use this moment. But I know he will be at work for good. I know that you and I and all who name the name of Jesus must ask for eyes to see and a determination to act in accordance with God’s will. I do not know everything I need to know for this moment. But I know enough to begin to make things better. And so do you.