It’s 2020 and racism is still alive. Thankfully, God is too. Here are three reflections on what the Gospel means for a world still wrestling with race and prejudice.
1. The Gospel is Not a Shortcut to Reconciliation. There are no Shortcuts to Healing, Only Deep, Gradual Balms.
Imagine you have a son, say 7 years old. He’s pushed down the stairs by your eldest son who is 10. He bangs his head against the railing, grazes his knee and cuts his arm. He’s never seen himself bleed before and is in a weeping state. The first thing you say to him is unlikely to be “By the way kid, erm – remember to forgive your brother, you hear?”
At this time, it is instinctive to want to provide solutions quickly. Many people are hurt and angry and we want to help. Yet we are reminded by the scriptures that “whoever makes haste, misses his way.” (Proverbs 19:2). We ought to be careful not to rush ahead to offer words that underestimate the problem of racism. It is helpful and important to acknowledge what has happened. To be measured. To come to terms with the seriousness of tragedy – to mourn. These are all important and necessary steps on the journey towards restoration.
In the book of Job, the most righteous man in the Land (in God’s own words), Job, is hit with devastating calamity fast and hard. All of his children are killed, his body is struck with sores from head-to-toe, and all his livestock are destroyed in a matter of days. When his friends came to visit him, they sat with him in silence – for 7 days. So deep was their grief for their friend, they mourned with no words (Job 1 – 2), (this was arguably their best choice of words given their ill advice later in the book!).
The Gospel is good news about God’s invitation to know Him in a relationship sustained by His love forever. The invitation was not free, as Jesus Christ, the Son of God became a man, gave His life, and rose from the grave to make it all possible. In dying, He destroyed the power of sin which separated us from God. In rising He proved His victory was permanent. So the gospel is an open invitation to anyone who will spend their life repenting from sin and trusting in Jesus. Yet it had a deep cost. It cost Christ His life. It was a painful, but yet necessary step for God to forgive us for our sins.
In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.Ephesians 1:7
As Christians, black or white, we should be careful when offering counsel during this time by attempting to quash people’s frustration with pithy statements that underestimate the problem of racism, and perhaps more specifically police brutality against black people. The Gospel offers real hope and serious restoration for our relationships with God and people through continual repentance and forgiveness. That is good news. There are no shortcuts to healing – only deep, gradual balms sustained over time.
Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:5). During this time we should remember that grief and hope are not mutually exclusive. They are intertwined, both helpful in making progress.
2. The Gospel Does Not Replace Racism. It is an Almighty Response to Racism.
“Racism is a sin issue!” is one quote that has been doing the rounds over the last few weeks. Some have quoted this to mean that if only everybody were a Christian, racism would go away. There is some truth here. All evil is a product of a sinful heart (Matthew 15:19). If God saves you, you are a new creation with new desires to love God and people, richly.
However, the statement still feels incomplete. The gospel is not a train that you jump on and leave all the problems of your heart at the platform. As believers, we carry ungodly unconscious biases even into our new life with Christ. We carry a carnal nature that must be crucified daily (Matt 16:24). Sanctification is a process. Repentance is a journey, not a one-time event. It is lazy then, to use spiritual words as a replacement for having difficult conversations that challenge our biases and help us to repent.
Racism is a sin, yes – that must be dealt with specifically and thoroughly rather than vaguely and hastily. When you have a tooth problem you need to see a health specialist. In fact, you need to see a dentist. The gospel empowers believers to take prescriptive action to be specific on sin and specific on how to cut out.
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”.Matthew 5:30
When people hear “Racism is a sin issue” it sounds like “well let’s pray for Jesus to save these souls and this issue will go away”. Well yes, we should pray for salvation. But that is not all we should do, neither is it all we can do. We can speak about the issue because sin thrives in darkness (Psalm 32:7). We can petition and contribute to changing the narrative on race. We can educate ourselves about racism and addressing our own racial biases. For more on what can be done, have a read of How Should Christians Respond to Racial Injustice.
When all people have to say is “Racism is a sin issue” it is almost as though the gospel is silent on everyone’s moral responsibility to do what is right – which it isn’t. When you become a Christian, God gives you His eyesight to see morality as He does. To view sin, not as some ‘naughty’ or ‘cheeky’ action, but ugly and cancerous. To view holiness, not as a ‘good-goody two shoes’, but as separate and completely different in nature. Your perspective on morality is far more incisive because it is being seen through the lens of Christ.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart.Matthew 5:27- 28
Jesus here shows that adultery, usually understood as a physical action, already happens in the heart of a person before they physically engage with anyone. That is the lens of clarity, precision, and perfection through which God sees morality. So when a handcuffed black man is choked to death for nearly 9 minutes on camera by those responsible for protecting citizens – the gospel does not swap that from the murder it is, to something else it isn’t. It tells us that it is wrong. It tells us why it is deeply wrong and why we should be upset. Also, we should be sure of this- if we are upset at sin, God is appalled (Prov 15:9). This is why His comfort is a great one. Because He understands injustice better than we do. He understands our pain better than we do. So the gospel does not move the goalposts of morality as culture changes. The goalposts are firmly rooted in God’s perfect, unchanging law of what is good and evil.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.Hebrews 4:15
‘Despised and rejected by men, He was well acquainted with grief’Isaiah 53:3
We should remember that the Gospel is not good news because it is convenient for people. It is good because God – who is good, lavishes love unto us – who are not good. “Oh, you’re racist? repent and believe Jesus and you’ll be fine. See now wasn’t that easy!” No, the gospel is not “convenient and easy” because reconciliation is not convenient and easy. It is messy and hard. Have you ever had to forgive someone who seriously wounded you? Do you remember how that felt? Have you ever overcome an addiction to a bad habit? Do you remember how militant you needed to be to end the cycle? This is the gospel. It is inconvenient. It is not cute at all. There is a daily dying to self (1 Cor 15:31). There is mourning (Matthew 5:5). There is blood (Eph 1:7). So it is disappointing to hear Christians underestimate the moral responsibility of every person to do what is righteous – be it matters of race or any other issue. And yet as Christians, we have hope in knowing that we do not fight sin in our own strength alone but with the power of God’s Spirit at work in us (Romans 8:13).
Eternity places our greatest problems into perspective. 500 years from now issues that are big today may not feel as prevalent then. Grief tends to lose its intensity over time – but facts don’t expire. Sin yesterday, is still sin today. Injustice yesterday is still injustice today. Similarly, the Gospel places our deepest problems with race into perspective. The Gospel does not change a lie into truth or a painful experience into a pleasing experience. Instead, the Gospel places all things into perspective in light of what we know to be true about God. Rather than a delete button, the Gospel is actually a great revealer – a piercing light shining on every evil thought, every hateful act, every sin everywhere. It exposes all that is wrong with the human heart against the backdrop of the Cross where God’s justice and His mercy intersect (2 Cor 5:21).
3. The Gospel Shows That Injustice and the Suffering it Produces is Not Meaningless.
Black people who have died at the hands of police brutality are a reminder that all is not well with our world. It is broken. And yet in God’s wisdom, He routinely intends for good using the same situations His enemies intend for evil. See the examples below:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.Genesis 50:20
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.Acts 2:23
From God’s perspective suffering is never meaningless. On one level we can already see global signs of solidarity never seen before in response to the killing of George Floyd (read There is Hope in the Midst of Racial Injustice). The point is that God does not waste our suffering. As Christians we have confidence in God’s ability and intention to use all evil, injustice, and oppression, to accomplish His purposes for our good – without removing our responsibility to do what is right (Romans 8:28, 2 Peter 1:10). Through suffering and grief we can know more deeply His God’s comfort. We can know more truly His compassion. We can know more intimately His promises and ultimately know Him, better.
So to summarise, the Gospel does not provide a shortcut to restoration from the scars of racism – healing takes time. The Gospel offers reconciliation between us and God and between ourselves as people, through continual forgiveness and repentance. The Gospel shows that God ensures no suffering is wasted but is purposeful to fulfill His plans for His glory and our joy.