Photo credit via The Hill
It is difficult to even appropriately word these opening sentences as I attempt to speak to what I, and the rest us, are currently witnessing take place in Charlottesville, Virginia. In what can only be considered a demonstration of racism, the “Unite the Right” rally was supposedly the unified protest against the removal of Confederate land marks, specifically a statue of Robert E. Lee. Instead of being a gathering for historians and concerned citizens who wish to thoughtfully, and peacefully, discuss when and how we should remember the mistakes of the past, it has only been a gathering for hate and bigotry. It has resulted in horrifying headlines depicting white supremacists waving confederate flags, swastikas, and neo-Nazi insignias. Slideshows give us an inside look at the fist fights, bloodied faces, and the destruction left after a motorist drove into a crowd of anti-protesters. Now a 32-year old woman is dead, many more are injured, and Governor McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency.
What are we to do when we see blatant hatred and racism celebrated in such an egregious manner? How are we as followers of Christ to react when we see such darkness?
In Ephesians 5:11 we are given this command, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Each of us who cling to Christ are commanded not to remain silent in the face of darkness. Rather, we are to shine a spotlight on the works of wickedness that they may be exposed and seen for what they are.
This got me thinking, how can I participate in illuminating the dark reality of racism in light of the Gospel of Christ? Certainly there are smarter and wiser individuals who can speak to the practical steps we must take in facilitating racial reconciliation. Surely, there are more knowledgeable theologians and scholars who could write entire books on the subject of race and scripture. What then is left for someone like me to say?
Well this is my attempt to shine a spotlight on how racism is defeated in the Gospel by walking us through the fundamental unity that the human race shares from creation to glory. Hopefully this will also resource you to speak biblically to this issue in your own circles. Together we can denounce the darkness and uphold the light of the Gospel and the power of God to reconcile to himself a people representative of every nation, tribe, people, and language.
A Unified Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We all know this verse but we so often miss its deep meaning. This is the very first verse in the whole Bible and we already have a basis to defeat racism. The fact that God created means that the earth and humanity is not merely a cosmic accident, the chance result of a meaningless process. Instead, the human race is the thoughtful creation of an infinitely meaningful God. This by itself is stunningly important yet we understand it more fully when we come to Genesis 1:27.
God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them…
This image that humanity bears sets us apart from the rest of creation as the representatives of God on earth. We are here to reflect the glory of God. This is foundational to how we relate to one another and to God. We find throughout scripture that God reveals himself to be a trinity of three persons who share together the divine nature in perfect unity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Why does this matter? It matters because we are not to reflect one lonesome individual who has been perfectly content to be by himself for eternity past. No, we were created to envision the vast unity and joyful relationship of a God who has never been alone. We were created to reflect God in how we relate. We see this in God’s declaration over Adam that it is not good for him to be alone. We were created for unity and diverse relationship.
An anthropological point to make is that scripture teaches us in Genesis 1 and 2 that all people are ultimately the descendants of two people: Adam and Eve. There are not separate races of people. Fundamentally speaking, we are all distant brothers and sisters. God’s word does not leave room for us to consider anyone higher or lower based on skin color, status, nationality, or any other biological fact including mental or physical handicaps.
A Unified Fall
Not only do we share in a united beginning as image bearers of the triune God, we share in the fallen nature of Adam. Genesis 3 depicts the events that lead to Adam breaking covenant with God in disobedience, destroying the unity that was enjoyed by all of creation, and scarring the universe with sin and death. Romans 5:12 tells us, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” We have all inherited the nature and guilt of sin through Adam and now share in the curse with one another.
This has destroyed our ability to relate with one another and has left us as a hateful, selfish, mess. As divided as we seem on days like yesterday when we see people pepper spraying each other, the irony is that we are still unified in our sinful rebellion against God. Our hatred for one another is our collaborative declaration of blasphemy against the God that created us in His image. The bigotry of racism that we express towards others is simply an outward symptom of our inward hatred of God and love for sin.
A Unified Hope
Yet in the midst of the darkness of current events, we have an abiding hope and this too is found in the beginning.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. – Genesis 3:15
In this interaction, God is speaking a curse over the serpent for his part in tempting Adam and Eve to rebel. This is also the first time we see a glimmer of hope in the midst of an utterly destructive moment. Known in academic circles as the Protoevangelium, or “first gospel”, these words from the lips of God are the first declaration that sin and death will be defeated. The words, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”, are a prophecy of Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross. He will indeed die for the sins of the elect, but this is only a bruise on the heel compared to the death stroke that will be dealt to darkness. Through his work on the cross and his subsequent resurrection, Jesus defeated death and made it possible for salvation to come to his people.
This is God’s work of reconciling back to himself a people once separated from Him. Romans 5:10 says that it was in the midst of our aggression against God that He reconciled us through the blood of Christ. In this we find hope that despite the present apparent disunity, God is calling to himself a unified people according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Unified Mission
It is to this work of reconciliation that we have been called. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God has “entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.” So not only is God reconciling sinners to himself, He is inviting us into this work. We are the ones who have been given this message of reconciliation. This is in reference to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 where he commands us,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
If you claim to be a follower of Christ, you have been commanded to go and to make disciples. The biggest emphasis I want to make here is that Jesus doesn’t say “go find your white friends and tell them about me”, or “go find your black friends and tell them about me.” He says to bring this message of reconciliation to all nations. The Gospel is not for only one specific group or demographic. It is the good news to all nations that our creator God is reconciling back to himself those who were separated from Him at the fall. We who call ourselves Christians are unified in our responsibility to preach this good news and to dedicate our lives to making it known.
A Unified People
This message is not just about being freed from sin, nor is it only about not going to hell. It is a promise that we will be taken out from whatever category that culture presently puts us in and will be made a part of a family unified under the banner of Christ. Galatians 3:28 says,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
To say it simply, there are now only two groups of people as far as the Gospel is concerned: those who are in Christ and those who are still enemies of God. When we trust in Jesus, we are brought into oneness of fellowship and unity with the rest of the family of God. We inherit a shared purpose and a unified devotion to Christ. We are no longer defined by what we once were but by what we now are: children of God. This message of reconciliation brings hope to us in cultural moments like this because it opens up the possibility that a hateful Neo-Nazi can meet Jesus, be redeemed, and enter into reconciled brotherhood with people from every nation.
I love that I get to come together on Sundays to worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ who are quite different from me. In fact, they might be so different that if it were not for our shared faith in Christ, we might not have a reason to even know one another. This is the diversity that speaks to the reconciling power of the Gospel! Where else can you go and see black and white, rich and poor, master’s degrees and GEDs, young and old unified in relationship forged by the redemptive work of one Savior? This is what it means to be reconciled together, taken out of the world and made a part of the family of God.
A Unified Future
Perhaps its days like these that you feel most hopeless. Not suicidal but simply depressed at the state of the world and wondering when the end will come. As a Christian, I often share these feelings. I wonder how long wickedness will go on without punishment. However, it is only as a Christian that I can truly have hope in these times. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul writes that he does not want anyone to be uninformed lest they grieve like those who have no hope. This message is for us today. We may still grieve the darkness, but we should not grieve in the same way as the world.
Those who hold to a secular worldview have no real basis to hope because life is ultimately meaningless and there will be no final restitution. Wickedness will not be punished and righteousness will not be rewarded. In fact, those who deny the existence of God have no basis for the concept of good or evil to begin with. Consistency on their part would be to simply do away with labels “right” and “wrong” and make the most of their pointless existence. Mourning, then, is simply a waste of time if you do not believe in God. I would venture to guess that this kind of futile thinking falls under what Paul might consider to be “uninformed.”
What exactly then is Paul saying we should be informed of? When Paul was speaking of grieving with hope, he was speaking of the promise that we will be raised to life with Christ, that our bodies will be perfected, and we will dwell in the presence of God forever. This is the hope that meets us in the grief of burying a loved one. It also meets us in the midst of pain, disappointment, and distress and strengthens us to look courageously into the darkness, knowing that it is only temporary.
Let us focus more broadly on the unity that we will experience once that happens.
Revelation 7:9-10 says,
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
This is the grand view of our blessed hope in Christ! It is in scriptures like this that we begin to catch a vision for the glorious power of God to gather and unify. At the end of all suffering, pain, wickedness, racism, rape, murder, pornography, abortion, divorce, greed, corruption, cancer, miscarriage, all suffering and sin, we will be left as a perfected multitude of innumerable worshipers reconciled from every corner of the earth in consummate unity in the presence of God. We will experience an unimaginable oneness with people from every other race and nationality as we gather with joy at the throne of God to worship for the rest of eternity. With this as our hope, we can begin to speak to the brokenness that our country faces.
As Christians, we have been tasked with the work of preaching the message of reconciliation to those who are far from God. We have been called to see the Gospel go to all people, of every skin color, of every nationality, of every demographic. We go knowing that Christ is with us in this work and that God is ultimately the one who does the work. We just have the privilege of being his instrument. This is how racism is defeated, not by shouting down a white supremacist, or by throwing punches at people who probably deserve it, but by proclaiming Christ. Only this message can put an end to racism and make a family out of those who once hated one another. God alone can truly reconcile the scattered.
This conversation on race is ongoing and my words here cannot begin to scratch the surface of this broad and far reaching issue. We are all learning and will continue to become more informed but we must never use that as an excuse to stay silent. It is right for us as bearers of the Gospel and as children of light to expose the darkness for what it is. Encourage one another in dark times that the evil we are witnessing is only temporary and will one day be dispersed. Spread the hope of the Gospel in a broken and disunited culture.
Speak truth. Denounce evil. Preach Christ.
Ephesians 2:12-22 ESV
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.