So much has been going on in the past week about what’s not going right in this world. Having not blogged in a while, I wanted to address a few things about this blog post before going on to my own reflections on the topic.
- There are numerous writings that I would recommend people to look into. I’d like to direct you to one particular piece of writing that might encourage you to think from the perspective of a Christian on how to relate to this issue at hand. Russell Moore, who is a Christian theologian, has written a couple of articles in regards to Christians’ relation to some of the tragedies that have transpired within the past month. Here’s the particular link to an article I found quite helfpul, insightful, and challenging: http://www.russellmoore.com/2016/07/07/shootings-justice-body-of-christ/
- I’m thankful that I’ve had time to discuss this topic with some other people before writing. I’ll have to admit that I have made some sinful and illegitimate accusations towards certain people with certain opinions about the topic. I’d also been a bit irritated on the overusage of the hashtag on social media, because I had thought people were hashtagging something without properly knowing the whole perspective of #blacklivesmatter or knowing the possible consequences of doing something so lighthardedly. These were rash thoughts that I was able to flesh out through conversation with some who are passionate about the topic and movement. I’ll get into some of these mistaken thoughts in a bit.
- This is a reflection, so it won’t be addressing some of the raw data and facts concerning the events that have transpired. This isn’t because the events are unimportant to mention. Rather, if you want the facts about what’s happened with regard to the police brutality and the reaction to such, just search for articles online. I’d assume you know at least the gist of what’s happened, unless you’ve been hibernating or consider Pokemon Go more important than the lives of fellow citizens. Still, if you don’t know what’s happened, there are plenty of sources (and a few videos) that will educate you far better than I can or will.
My original thoughts when I started to see #blacklivesmatter all over social media was that it was excessive and irresponsible. This wasn’t because I wasn’t a supporter of the movement. Rather, I thought it to be rather uncalculated and ignorant. Ironically, it was in my ignorance that I thought that the hashtag could inadvertantly perpetuate unnecessary bias and hatred toward police officers and authorites. I have to admit that I got caught up in allowing the ignorance of some of those who were commenting on the issue to get a hold of me to persuade me to think otherwise of what they were advocating for. Well, that’s my fault. That’s on me.
My wife Judy and I had an extensive conversation about why this movement matters, and she was able to enlighten me in thinking about some things I had not considered heavily. One thing that changed within my line of thinking was that the movement was not saying that black lives were the only ones that matter. The whole idea of all lives matter is, in fact, quite irrelevant to the issue, because the movement is not advocating for black lives above others. Rather, it’s merely asking for black lives to be thought of as equal to the lives of others. God often has a way of humbling the proud, and I’m grateful that he’s placed people like Judy in my life to correct me where I’m wrong.
CHRISTIANS CAN’T NUMB THEIR SENSES
As a Reformed pastor, one of the practices that I’ve gotten accustomed to is being very careful (often, too careful) with the Word of God and what the Word says. In fact, this is a sentiment against Reformed pastors from many that we spend too much time in the text and not enough time outside of it. All of our hours are spent in our offices exegeting passages about ministering mercy to others, and not enough time is spent actually doing it. Though I am convinced that Christians need to be proactive and do something when they feel compelled to, I’m still convinced that the Word needs to be handled with such precision. This is because I believe and trust in the Word of God and I believe in the power of the Spirit that’s promised by the Son when the Word of God is read, preached, and meditated upon. What I don’t trust in is the hearts of sinful men.
Where the Word of God is inerrant and without error, the hearts of men (even the best ones) are prone to wander and prone to faults. This is why there is validation, after some consideration, within my own thoughts that the best way for Christians to react is to just do something and react to their senses when tragic events occur. Sure, it may be great for there to be education reforms, less money dedicated to inmates, more money flowing through to make life for the impoverished more comfortable. For some of us, we might choose not to partake in little things like movements through social media, because we feel like we won’t make a difference. Change has to happen from the top down in this line of thinking. But here, we place too much trust in the hands of those on top of the food chain. Mankind has time after time proved right the doctrine of total depravity. Wealth, education, safe enviroments, and reputation doesn’t change that–at least not according to the Bible I read.
Judy challenged to think what would have happened if those following Dr. King had the same mindset. If the people were not going to voice their opinions, would drastic changes have happened? Sure, there might have been some pain and tragedies along the way, but all would agree that the end result is positive. It’s because the people rallied around a cause that they became a loud voice in unison. Then, those who had the power to make relevant changes were able to hear such voices. However, without the cries of the people, one has to imagine that the end result would have been different. Imagine if the majority of protestors had decided to just sit back passively because they thought, “It’s not going to make a difference anyway.” Christians ought not to be these people.
In fact, it’s the Lord who hears the voices of the afflicted. There’s a reason why he hears our prayers, even as a sovereign and all-knowing God. He not only listens to the contents of our prayers, but he listens to our heartbeats and wipes the tears off of our cheeks. Our God feels our pain and Immanuel is with us in our affliction. Let’s never forget that the essence of the gospel places us in the position of needing to be helped and needing to be heard. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is to visit those who are in affliction, because we’ve been visited in our affliction. Yet, this isn’t anything that should be foreign to us. We’re the ones who have cried out to God for help, and he’s sent us his Son. We were those who had no shoulder to lean on, so Jesus offered up his, as his shoulders sank and his organs slowly collapsed on the cross, where the weight of our sin brought his heart to hang low.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Spirit not only causes us to know but also causes us to feel. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Lord uses emotions like anger, regret, and delight to describe the ways he feels toward his creation. Knowing the gospel means we feel the necessary emotions that are produced with such knowledge. These are emotions that we can’t neglect. When we feel the pain of those who lost loved ones, we enter in by connecting with the emotions the gospel brings forth for us. When we sense connecting emotions in such a way, the response is one that comes from the gospel that shapes our hearts and our faith to believe in the God of this universe.
Revelation mentions the cries of martyrs who are asking for justice. We seek for justice, and we seek for wrongdoers to be brought to be punished as they should be. Yet, sometimes, justice does not prevail. To those who need assurance of justice, I’m reminded that Moses instructs us that vengeance is the Lord’s–not ours. All things will be brought to justice in the last days, and we can be comforted in knowing that justice is not ours to exact. What we know is that the God who will bring proper judgment to all wrongdoers is the same God who has spared us from our own wrongdoings for those of us who believe. When wishing proper judgment on others, let us bring ourselves to envision the justice that we were spared from first.
Therefore, we hurt with those who hurt, because we react to pain. We react with our hearts, because we’re given new hearts. We are advocates for change, because the Spirit is constantly at work to change us and conform us into the image of Jesus. Understanding pain and affliction is at the heart of the gospel, and losing this jeopardizes us and our churches in losing the gospel flavor that makes our community different. It’s not human emotion that sets us apart. It’s emotions that connect us to the gospel that sets us apart and propels us to action. Let’s not disconnect ourselves from our emotions, brothers and sisters. Let’s hurt for those who hurt and weep for those who weep.
SOME GENTLE SUGGESTIONS
I’m definitely no expert on ministering to the hurting. Too often, I’m consumed by the things I have and the needs of my own heart. Yet, while considering some of the things mentioned above, I want to offer up a few suggestions:
- Pray. As mentioned earlier, God hears the prayers of his saints. Why and how this alligns to his sovereign will is more mysterious than revealed much of the time to me. But one thing I do know is that praying helps allign our will with God’s. Praying also helps shape our hearts to those that run after the Lord’s heart. Pray when you can, and pray for those affected. This is not a redundant or useless exercise, because the Lord uses prayer to bring his children closer to him to share the heart of the shepherd to those who are shephered.
- Reflect. Think about how the gospel has shaped your understanding of pain and suffering. Reflect upon the pain and suffering that Christ entered into in order that he might share his glory with us. Let the death and resurrection of Jesus be the starting point in how to hurt with others.
- Share. I’ve been reminded recently that we are able to share in others’ suffering much better when we look toward a common sufferer. In A Grief Observed, Madeleine L’Engle writes the foreword to C. S. Lewis’ classic. Lewis wrote in reaction to losing his wife to terminal illness, and L’Engle, likewise, lost her husband as Lewis had. Yet, she reflects that it wasn’t until halfway through the book that she started to connect emotionally to Lewis. He had entered marriage with his wife knowing that she would die soon. She, on the other hand, enjoyed many years with her husband where he was perfectly healthy. Even similar outcomes warranted a different set of emotions. But what they had in common was that they looked to a common sufferer. They could relate to one another more perfectly in this way, and we ought never to underestimate the power of looking toward a common sufferer. What can we share with those who have undergone tragedies that we haven’t? We can’t tell them that we understand. But we can tell them that we know someone who does. In fact, he knows all about dying unjustly. He knows all about dying though one wasn’t deserving of death. We point our arrows toward him, because he can and does minister to the hurting, the needy, and the broken. Bring them Christ, because he can bring them home. To a place with no more tears, no more pain, no more dying, no more injustice. He’s died and risen to ensure this.