A Reflection on the Death of Ahmaud Arbery

Not Again…

In the past several days, new information has come to light and our nation has suffered a severe blow. That blow came in the form of the untimely death of a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, in Southeast Georgia, at the end of February. Not only is our nation dealing with the ramifications of Covid-19 at every level, but the ugly specter of racism has reared its head once again. The circumstances still have to be properly investigated (and this failure only exacerbates the problem) and the results of this process may very well contribute to feelings of “nothing ever changes.”

As an ethnically Latino man, as a native-son and resident of Georgia, as a pastor in a ministry that serves congregations that are majority Black and Latino, I have been trying to process how to respond. It is not easy and the reasons are many.

When events like this take place I find myself compelled to speak, as many others have justifiably done already. But I know my heart well enough to know that if I speak in a way inconsistent with my faith and convictions, I may very well do more harm than good. I do not want to speak in anger, even though I am angry. I do not want to succumb to hate, and then become guilty of the same sin as those who killed Ahmaud. As a believer and follower of Jesus, I want to speak in a way that helps bring me, and those who listen to what I say, closer to Him.

I know emotions are running high. I know that the calls for action are continuing to climb. I know that when news like this happens, we feel the frustration and emotions of what we can only describe as regression. I know because I feel it too!

But, I had to hit the pause button. Not because I didn’t want to speak out. I had to take a step back because I know that once I speak, I could never take those words back.

Trying to Understand

As our nation grapples once again with the actions of a few, I am convicted by several realizations that this has exposed in me. Introspection is an appropriate response to times like this. Not to make it about ourselves, but to determine if we too have become susceptible to the influences that lead to tragedies and injustices we have seen too often.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, as a believer in the God who speaks and reveals, I am convinced that the problems we face are fundamentally spiritual problems. They may and have manifested themselves in physical actions and resulted in unthinkable tragedies. But these actions are the final expression of what has been broken in humanity from the fall.

As a member of the body of Christ, I believe we have failed to see what God said about the war we are fighting. And it is a war. We are fighting principalities and powers that are spiritual. But the weapons of the secular world can only control the body. They cannot change or heal what is truly broken in the human heart. It is only the power of God, working in and through faith that can bring about the transformation of the soul and the mind. Not everyone will agree. I will concede that. But, I am trying to live as consistently as I can. I believe the foundations of my faith provide answers to what we have seen repeated in our nation.

What I have come to realize in the shadow of Ahmaud’s death I will attempt to summarize in the following way.

First, injustice in any form, against any person is an affront to the character of God. It must be confronted and it must be denounced. The violation of the image of God in any person is a damnable act. It is irreversible and it damages not only the victim but also the perpetrator and all who witness it. One of the primary reasons injustice is so harmful is that it leaves a vacuum in the lives, minds, and spirits of all who are affected by it.

Second, any calls for justice will ultimately leave many of us unsatisfied. This is an unfortunate consequence of living in a world filled with brokenness. For those who seek and desire justice, they will never be able to genuinely enjoy its application. The effects of the trauma received can never be erased nor forgotten. For those who deserve to be punished, nothing short of vengeance will suffice. But, that action belongs to God, and God alone.

Third, and this may be the most difficult one to accept, we will continue to see and feel the frustration sparked by Ahmaud Arbery’s death, and others like it, as long as we continue to point the finger at others, after the fact, rather than also looking inward before they happen. Until we confront the sin problem that exists within each of us, we will continue to be drawn into the darkness of a world wanting of God’s presence.

I do not know what you are going to do. I am not telling you what you should do. I can only tell you what I am going to do.

I will seek to be just in my own actions. I will seek to comfort those who have been victimized. I will pray for our nation to see that what it needs is revival and not more laws.

I will continue to call those who will listen to repentance and to greater obedience to Jesus. I do not have the power to change the world. I do not even have the power to change myself. All I can do is surrender to the one who can.

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I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and author. I am an avid Cubs fan and a lover of Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza.

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