Our country has been thrown into turmoil. How does God’s Word speak into the present situation?
There are a lot of pressing questions. Many Christians are scratching their heads as the world tries to pull them to polar extremes. In light of that pull, let’s open up God's Word today and glean some practical theological insights.
This post is not intended to be comprehensive. However, it is going to be longer than normal. Stick around. Let’s think and wrestle with God’s Word.
Interact. Leave comments. Ask questions. Yet, be zealous for unity and peace.
History, Imago Dei, and Sin
Racism - An American sin
Our country was founded with a great sin. The constitution legalized slavery. This was institutionalized racism. The three fifths compromise was evil. For that reason, our forefathers of the faith in the RPCNA did something that did not make them popular. In no uncertain terms they declared transatlantic slave trade and American chattel slavery to be a sin. (You can read more about it in Dr. Copeland’s Article here) As a denomination, we look to that history with pride. That legacy encourages us to be bold for Biblical truth today.
But, our heritage is not our measure for righteousness. The rule for faith and life is the Scriptures. So what do they say?
Racism & the Gospel
Colossians 3:8-11 says “8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (NKJV)
It is important to emphasize the last statement. “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”
There is no superior race. We are all equal opportunity sinners. However, in Jesus there is equal opportunity grace. I do not deserve grace. You do not deserve grace. None of us do. But, Jesus saves people of every tongue, and every nation, and every people. Today we would say every language, race, ethnicity, nationality, and socioeconomic class.
Racism is antithetical to the gospel. And, what is against the gospel is sin. Racism and the global scope of the great commission can not coexist. The idea that somehow one race is better than another flies in the face of Scripture.
We all come from Adam. We have one common ancestor. We are one human race. This means one race cannot be ontologically better than another.
All people are made in the image of God. God made us. God knit each one of us together in our mothers’ wombs. God gave every single person the breath of life.
God is the one who fashioned our souls. God is the one who has made our bodies. God gave us melanin. God gave us our hair color and our eye color. Jesus has made us this way. God formed us and made our bodies. He cares about our bodies because we are His image bearers.
Just today there was Facebook calling rioters animals. That ought to stop one dead in their tracks. No. Every single human being has the mark of God on and within them.
Not animals. Not problems. But people. People whom God fashioned. Rioters, police, protesters, bystanders all have a soul. Everyone has a conscience. We are moral beings. Humans are morally culpable for our decisions. Humans think. Humans make decisions, moral decisions, not just instinctual decisions. This is extremely important. We are made in the image of God.
Do not murder
Christians should rightly be upset, as God is upset, when one of His images is marred.
Do not murder. This command is true for all people, of all societies, in all places, at all times. The sixth commandment demands that we must protect our own life and the life of our neighbor. We must keep the sixth commandment.
This is especially true for Christians who seek to have God’s will done here on earth as it is in heaven. The Christian heart must not become calloused to the smothering of a human life. The Christian must not be callous to somebody being murdered. The Christian can not turn a blind eye to an innocent person being killed.
It is unrighteousness. It is injustice. God hates it.
Character, Law, & Sin
At this point I feel compelled to address a disturbing trend. There are going to be people who will make character assassinations against men like George Floyd. Indeed they have already begun. Before we hear those accusations we need to ask ourselves a few biblical questions though.
For the sake of time we will only explore Mr. Floyd. A store clerk called law enforcement because Mr. Floyd supposedly paid for his goods with a counterfeit $20 bill. Was it right to contact law enforcement about counterfeit money? Yes. It is here that we must be very careful as Christians. We do not know if Mr. Floyd knew the nature of the money. We do not know where he got that money. It is our Christian duty to uphold the 9th commandment and preserve Mr. Floyd’s good name until proven otherwise. This is one reason why our justice system is supposed to assume innocence until proven guilty.
But what does God’s word say about stealing?
First, if you went to God's word, could one find a requirement to kill a thief?
You would be hard pressed to find it. The old testament laws require reparation for stealing.
If you look hard enough you can find one instance though. There was one type of stealing that called for capital punishment, kidnapping (man stealing).
Exodus 21:16, “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” (NKJV)
What does the Christian find in these passages? Slavery. Kidnapping and selling into slavery is a capital offense.
If you have made it this far please do not callous your heart here.
These are human beings. Whom God created with inherent dignity.
The Reality of Sin
I can't personally vouch for the integrity of every single person who has been killed. Obviously I can't do that. I cannot say that George Floyd was a perfectly righteous man. I cannot say that he didn't have any sin.
Let me encourage you. Are you perfect?
There is a story of a woman who walked up to her puritan pastor and she said something like, “You're one of the most godly man I've ever known.” He responded, “Ma'am, if you looked into my soul you would spit in my face.”
The apostle says it another way in First John,
“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” 1 Jn 1:10 (NKJV)
I am not here to say that any one of the people who have been killed were sinless. Quite the opposite. Every single day my ministry is to sinners. Every single day, we fight together. We as Christians fight to put off the old man and to put on the new man. From what I have heard from George Floyd’s family, this is exactly what he was trying to do. He was fighting against sin. Fighting for Christ. I can't say that he was sinless. But, I can say that if he was in Jesus Christ, he sure was sinless.
If we truly believe in total depravity, we should not be surprised if there are systems of oppression. Please do not misunderstand me. This is not critical race theory. A Biblical worldview takes sinful biases seriously. The noetic effects of sin are real. We sin daily, not only in the things we do and say. We also sin in the ways we think.
We should grieve. We should grieve over the loss of life. We should also stop and realize that there are ramifications that come from a system of oppression. The evil reality of slavery and Jim Crow in our country still affects people today.
My boys can do things that some of my friends' boys can't do. A while back a black friend told me about instructing his son. He has to tell his son when (not if) he gets stopped in a neighborhood how he is going to respond to police officers. He has instructed his son to go above and beyond in respect. To respond with, “Yes Sir,” and “No Sir.” He has to instruct his son to be a Christian man, to take Romans 13 seriously. Any back talk, resistance, or sudden movement can be taken as aggression and can result in severe consequences.
Why? Because there is a system bent against him. This is a Christian father. He feels the weight of having to tell his son about how to interact with police. The black Christian father has to tell his son about the likelihood of being prejudged based on the color of his skin. The black Christian father has to look into his boy’s eyes and tell him, “It is not the content of your faith but the color of your skin by which you will initially be judged.”
This is a sad world we live in.
Protests & Police - Riots & Stealing
With that ground work laid. What has happened in our country has gone far beyond protesting. What is shown on social media and television is far beyond our first amendment rights of protesting.
There is anarchy and riots in the streets.
How can we think Biblically about protests, riots, and looting?
The Civil Magistrate
The government, presidents, senators, mayors, governors bear the sword to enforce moral law. God tells us in Romans 13 that He appointed them to this position. The civil magistrate is to enforce the law, punishing evil doers.
The 6th & 8th Commandments
One of those laws is the protection of life. But another law is the protection of property.
Not too long ago I posted about keeping the 6th and 8th commandments in tension. During the Covid-19 crisis we had/have to preserve both life and livelihood.
In our present context we need that same balance.
And there are many things that have happened that are outright evil. Christians need to be able to call it evil.
It is wrong to destroy other people's property.
It is wrong to destroy other people's livelihood.
But, not every protest is a riot.
Call Sin - Sin
We have been flooded with images from our cities. But, protests and riots are not monolithic. There are different people, different factions, different ideologies, and different goals within this movement.
There are Martin Luther King Junior's in this movement right now. There are pastors and congregants praying as they walk through their neighborhoods in peaceful protest. Christians are protesting: Black, Asian, Indian, and White. I have friends all throughout the country who are marching in peaceful ways.
But not everyone marching is of the same mind.
There are anarchists. There are people of lawlessness right now. We should condemn that. We should say that anarchy and lawlessness are wrong. We should be able to tell the difference between someone who is there to loot, destroy, steal, injure, and harm.
There are some who are so pent up with frustration that they do not know any other way to express it. And before we would necessarily condemn all of them. Remember that is what happened at the Boston Tea Party after they had exhausted every lawful means. Some people are just plain upset. It's understandable.
But, some factions in these riots just want to burn the world to the ground.
We should recognize that there are those who hate the Government. There are those who hate America. Some hate our civilization. Some just want to see the world burn. There are some who just want to loot and steal.
We should call sin, sin.
We should call sin for what it is when someone's life is unjustly taken from them. When someone is is starved of oxygen until their brain starts to shut down. That is sin.
We should also call sin for what it is when someone purposely decides to rob and destroy businesses. Both are sin. It is “both and” not “either or.”
Maintaining the Truth
How else does God’s Word instruct us?
Christians must be truth tellers. As we browse social media, watch the news, and consume images, use discernment. We must be careful about what we hear and what we believe.
The ninth commandment is, “You shalt not bear false testimony against your neighbor.” The Westminster shorter catechism helpfully says, “the ninth commandment requires the promoting and preserving of truth between man and man, especially in witness bearing.”
Christian, promote the truth.
If we cannot find the testimony of at least two or three witnesses, withhold judgment. Christians should press the pause button on sharing ideas that might bear false testimony. We should be slow in judging a specific person, or people group, or protest.
There are many factions that are operating within these riots. There is a lot of disinformation out there. Christians must promote the truth.
So be careful about what you hear. Be careful about what you believe. Be careful about what you say.
God is at Work
Toward a Christian World View
Lastly, first John 3:24-4:1 says,
24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (NKJV)
God has given us His commandments. God has given us His Word. We should take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Christians should look to his Word to guide us as we try to parse out what we are seeing. We should go to God’s Word as we try to weed through our present situation. We should seek to follow His commands.
As Christians, we should want to bring Him glory. God is at work even in this time of unrest. Might this be a time where I can repent of sin, where you can repent of sin, where our country can finally repent of sin?
People are longing for justice and peace.
Christian, let’s not speak according to the media's dialogue. Let’s not follow along with the world’s storyline. We can tell where true peace is. Christian, we can bring people to Jesus Christ where they will truly have their hearts overwhelmed with peace.
We can say to our neighbor, “You are right! There is something desperately wrong with this world. But, one day everything will be made new again.”
Brothers and sisters, be angry and do not sin.
Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.
There is a theological trap door be be careful of. God is sovereign. Should that comfort us? Absolutely. Be careful to not fall into the trap of brushing everything under the rug in the name of God’s sovereignty.
Remember that God hates sin. He will punish it.
So will we have our hearts broken? Will the Christian community weep with those who weep?
Will we hate sin? Will we call sin for what it is?
I pray we look to God's Word to understand what's going on in our broken times.