How we as a nation respond to tragedies of injustice reveals how well we have prepared to get closer to a just society. In the unfortunate shadow of recent events, a horrifying truth has become clear. The lessons of the past have not been heeded. What is worse, they have been used as weapons.
How we as a people called Christian, engage in the conversation of justice also reveals how well we have internalized the Gospel of Jesus, and how well we have embraced the difficult work of the ministry of reconciliation. Again, the events that have transpired in recent weeks have exposed a trajectory that can only be described as devastating. The witness of many claiming to be a part of the Church in these last few weeks has been laid bare. We have rejected the fountain of living water. We have hewn for ourselves broken cisterns (Jer. 2:13). We have walked away from God for the gods and idols of this world.
You would have to be completely blind to miss how the world appears to be growing dark. The light of God seems to be waning in those places where it is needed most. How do we account for this? How do we explain the drift in this direction?
It can only be explained as an abandonment of the unifying and fortifying power of the Gospel of Jesus. It can only be described as a rejection of the most fundamental realities of our identity in Christ.
We have rejected the call to make disciples of all nations (ethnos).
We have rejected the power of the Gospel to transform murderers into saints, prostitutes into princesses, paupers into kings, and slaves into freedmen. We have rejected the purpose of the church to declare truth both to power and to the poor. We have rejected the responsibility of the ministry of reconciliation we have been called to. We have rejected the promise that comes from being made one in Christ and for Christ.
We have rejected the reality that to see as God sees is to see past the flesh and see to the heart. We have rejected the hard work of forgiveness and replaced it with the easy path of blame and even indifference. We have rejected the deep and dangerous call of dying to self and even of forfeiting our lives, even for our enemies.
We have rejected so much of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus, an ambassador for Jesus. We have rejected the power of God for the power of fame. We have rejected the truth of eternal life for the lie of living our best lives now.
We have rejected every good and perfect gift being given to us because we have longed for short-sighted pleasures this world has to offer. We want our reward now. And then we are surprised with the consequences of these exchanges.
This is the life we have chosen, and now we cry out for relief. This is the society we have fashioned, and we have fashioned it in our own image. And now we cry out in horror at the distorted image we see being reflected back at us.
Dear friends, this is us as we are.
We cannot change ourselves, only God can do that. We cannot love our neighbors as we ought, only God can do that through us. We cannot love our enemies when we hate the people we are becoming but cannot escape. We cannot be conformed into the image of Christ when we are trying to incarnate the next version of what social media says is good.
We are one nation. Warts and all. We all are responsible to chart a way forward. The atrocities of the past cannot be undone. They cannot be erased. We cannot escape the consequences. But the past must not be repeated. And it cannot be relitigated. True forgiveness, true learning, true sacrifice requires our letting go of our need for revenge.
How long will we hold on to that which is infecting us, rotting us from the soul on out? How long will we demand justice while perpetrating injustice in the process?
Two wrongs do not make right. They reinforce the evil of the cycle.
At some point we must realize that in order for change to come we will have to receive in our own bodies, the same way Jesus did, the suffering of the unjust realities of life we see. It is only then that those who are longing for change will know how to be free from chains they have felt. Only then will those who are the victims of injustice have advocates worthy of their suffering.
We must learn to be afflicted but not become the perpetrators of affliction to another generation. It was not until today that I have begun to finally understand the words of the Apostle Paul.
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 ESV, emphasis added)
Enough is enough. I am not speaking to the world. I have no authority over them. But, I speak to those who, with me, reside within the bounds of the mystical body of Jesus Christ. The walls of separation were broken down at the Cross. We must never take part in building them back up. God laid waste to that which keeps us from one another.
To those who have laid claim to the name above every name. We must repent. We must turn away from violence. We must turn away from the hardness of heart that would consume us. We must plead with the Father to replace our heart of stone with one of flesh. We must embrace the prospect that we are like sheep being led to the slaughter. Not as a political cause, but as a righteous act in the name of the one true God.
This is the burden that I have felt but could not find a way to express. This is the passion that has been percolating within my soul these last few weeks.
The world in which we live is suffering. It is heading headlong into the abyss. And there are some who claim to be Christian, who claim to speak for the church, who are participating in its destruction. Rejoicing in the calamity befalling our nation and communities. May God have mercy upon them.
Whether we have found a voice to our fears or not; whether we have been able to find ways of being instruments of change or not; whether we are ready or not. The time is now upon us. We must call upon our Helper, the Holy Spirit of God, to gird us up for action. It does not have to look like everyone else. But the time for waiting must end.
How do I know? Because through it all, whether through active choice or passive complacency we have forsaken our identity. We have forsaken our calling. We have forsaken the sacrifice of Christ. It is frightening to step into the breach. To take a stand, even if it is among our circle of influence. But we must reclaim what has been slipping away from us.
I plead that all of us repent. Let us turn back to Jesus. Let us turn back to God. Let us turn again to the only weapon we have been given, the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17b).
God has shown mercy to entire nations before. I pray that he will show mercy to us now.