Like many others, I’ve been processing how to respond to the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that has resulted. There is so much being said that it is overwhelming, if not impossible, to keep up with. Add to that the heaviness of the situation and it is tempting to just ignore it.
As a pastor, there are other factors that make it difficult. For one, I do not believe it is the duty of a pastor to respond to every crisis or injustice that happens in our country. Additionally, for most conversations happening on the national level, there are bound to be a number of different reactions within a church (perhaps as many reactions as there are people!). I want to be very careful not to say: “This is the one and only faithful way to respond as a Christian.”
That being said, I am called to shepherd the flock God has brought together here at Roots, which involves helping us think biblically about all of life. And God’s word certainly has much to say to the various thoughts and emotions people are feeling right now.
So here are nine truths from Scripture that are relevant to our current situation. Much of this will come from Romans 12:9-13:7, which I recommend reading slowly and prayerfully.
- “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). The death of George Floyd was evil. The punishment did not fit the crime in the least. This was an injustice whether you define that legally or biblically. We should ahbor, detest, be unnerved by evil in the world, for the primary reason that God abhors what is evil.
- All people are created by God, in the image of God, and as such, are to be shown dignity (Gen. 1:27). We should hate and repent of any tendencies in ourselves to withhold dignity and value from an individual or a group of individuals, whether minority groups like African-Americans, professions like law enforcement officers, or socio-economic groups like the poor, the rich, the educated and uneducated. We should also hate when dignity is withheld due to societal/institutional injustices. This doesn’t mean we ascribe innocence or righteousness to an individual or a group of individuals (“All have sinned”), but it does mean we acknowledge our tendencies toward pride and selfishness.
- Borrowing a point from Jonathan Leeman, biblical justice “involves punishing the oppressor and lifting up the oppressed.” Depending on your political leanings, you likely prioritize one of these more than the other. But God clearly is concerned with both. We’ll get into God’s concern for punishing the oppressors below, but it doesn’t take long to find Scripture passages about caring for the poor and oppressed. Psalm 72 describes a just king as one who will “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.” How to best care for the poor is a massive topic with many different opinions, but there is no doubt that as poor and needy recipients of God’s grace, we should have compassion for the poor and needy (I highly recommend the podcast Effective Compassion on this topic).
- “…never avenge yourselves…” (Rom. 12:19a). It is not your responsibility to make sure every wrong done to you (or others) is avenged. If you think it is, you will eventually be “overcome by evil” (vs. 21) and give into a cycle of increasing violence. This doesn’t mean you can’t seek justice for wrongdoers in various ways (the justice system, voting, protesting, running for office, speaking out, etc.), and it is certainly honorable to do so for the sake of wrongs done to others. But as a believer, we must keep in check our personal bitterness and vengefulness. And this is only possible if we…
- “…leave it to the wrath of God” (Rom. 12:19b). The reason we don’t avenge ourselves (or others) isn’t because we don’t care about justice, but because we know that God will bring final and perfect justice in the end. All of the injustices outside of our hands are not outside of God’s hands. Leaving our longing for justice in God’s hands allows us to show others the grace and forgiveness that God has shown us.
- Keep your hopes for justice in this world tempered. “Leave it to the wrath of God” requires a huge amount of patience, trust and longsuffering. It requires us to recognize that despite our greatest efforts, this world will never be whole. Whatever good we can accomplish through government, protests, education, etc. will not satisfy our yearning for justice. Until Christ comes, sin will still run rampant. This isn’t an excuse for not using what means you have for pursuing justice, but it is a warning to check the source of your hopes.
- “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). Many people are wondering what they can do to address injustices in our society. Consider various ways you can do that in the places and relationships that God has placed you, but don’t forget to do these things. Until Christ returns, we will have a need to continue in patient hope for God’s redemption, crying out constantly in prayer.
- “…be subject to governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1). In a moment like this, it’s hard to deny that governing authorities can become corrupt and no longer be “God’s servant for your good” (vs. 4). Remember that thing about all having sinned? But we must be careful not to respond with disrespect and insubordination to governing authorities as a whole. At one and the same time, we should honor and submit to the authorities God has put in place AND call them to recognize true justice and human dignity.
- Remember that true heart change happens through the gospel. When we are awakened to the depths of sin and brokenness in our world, it is tempting to think that the gospel of God’s grace for sinners is irrelevant and impractical. It is tempting to think that the hearts of men before God is a secondary issue at best. But all rebellion on the horizontal plane (man/woman to man/woman) arises from our prior rebellion on the vertical plane. We dismiss God and his loving and wise rule in our lives, and instead everyone does “what is right in their own eyes” (repeated refrain from the book of Judges). And so our greatest need is for God to change people’s hearts, which he does through the proclamation and reception of the gospel. Through the gospel, people acknowledge God as rightful Lord and King, repent of their sin, and embrace God’s mercy. And from this heart change flows all kind of fruit, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).