I’ve been hesitant to post anything about the Black Lives Matter movement for a variety of reasons. First, people’s responses are highly charged right now, and laying out my thoughts to be critiqued and barraged seemed intimidating. Second, because I’m not one to write about things I’m not fully certain on in my heart and mind. The last few weeks have been filled with a lot of questions, reflection, and more questions. Third, I haven’t posted because I knew it wouldn’t be true about my words but about myself. I thought it would be better not to post at all than to post and risk the motivation being about wanting the recognition or vindication of standing for justice.
To be honest, none of those reasons have been resolved. But I’m learning and trying to remember that even if my words only affect one person, it was still worth it. I know there will be people that disagree with what I say or are offended at conclusions I draw. My intentions are not to create arguments, but to create reflection. Because if you’re anything like me, these last few weeks have been a sobering reminder that maybe we’re not as far along as we thought we were.
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Let me begin by saying this. I don’t care how you responded to the Black Lives Matter movement in the past few weeks. But I do care that you responded. I truly believe that this response will look different for different people, and that is okay. Some people took to social media publicly, some talked to family and friends privately. Some listened and tried to learn, others were overwhelmed and confused and couldn’t find the words. While others went to protests, some watched the news, some wrote in journals, many prayed. We need everyone doing each of these things so that there is room for people to talk and there is room for people to listen.
It’s risky to judge people for how they’ve responded, although it’s entirely natural. However, we all have a part in doing something to respond. We all have the responsibility to listen. We all have the responsibility to learn.
For me, the first several weeks were private for me.
Trying to wrestle through thoughts and try to understand what was happening from all perspectives. Then came talking to friends and family. Then came reading and watching and soaking up information. Now comes processing and sharing. All need to be active.
I think the reason I’ve been so slow to respond is that I couldn’t reconcile my feelings of confusion, judgment, heartache, grief, anger, empathy, and love with one another. I’ve felt so many emotions at once that I haven’t known where to begin. And yet through taking this time to learn and to reflect, I’ve been able to identify that at least for me, these emotions are much deeper rooted and are tied to things in my life that will be harder to eradicate than what a post on social media or my presence at a protest might change.
There are three words that keep repeating over and over in my mind when I think of all that has happened in these last few weeks and prior; words that I want to understand better and walk alongside believers in changing the connotations and the actions behind these words. The words are these: Repentance, Justice, and Love. I wish I could say I was an expert on these attributes, but these days I’m wondering whether I ever understood what they meant at all.
I think the overwhelming heart response to the recent tragedies has been grief and heartbreak, as well as anger. These are right feelings to have as we see what is happening around us. It’s easy to think we’re justified in our response because we’re angry and heartbroken at what we’re seeing on the news and in our communities, and of course, we hate what happened. But do we deplore the conditions that brought about these actions?
I want to push even a little further. Now that people are learning more about systemic racism and our eyes are open to how we’ve steadily been working towards these moments, we begin to hate those things, too. We hate laws, amendments, ways we’ve been taught, things we’ve been trained, or privileged to ignore, we hate all of those things. But at the end of the day, there’s still a condition even deeper to hate, and that is the sin lying behind all these subsequent actions, reactions, and inactions.
The verse that comes to my mind right now is Ephesians 6:12:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Is this battle against people right now? Yes. Is it against rulers and authorities in the human realm? Yes. And we should continue to fight. But ultimately this is a spiritual battle – one against the sin in our hearts and the darkness of our world due to the spiritual forces of evil.
Until we are aware of this reality and start praying and fighting against that, we won’t see change on any scale – personal, communal, national, or global. We feel safe choosing a side, choosing a stance, choosing a response, choosing knowledge, but choosing any of these things without also choosing repentance is futile. We need to dig deep and be willing to face what’s in our hearts. And then we need to be willing to get on our knees and ask the Lord to transform our hearts.
Justice has a word that carries a lot of action with it. It can be used in social, political, spiritual, or personal applications. There is a lot I could write about when it comes to what justice looks like from a political standpoint and what changes I believe need to happen at various levels to begin providing justice for people who desperately need to see justice done because of them, to them, and for them.
Instead, I simply want to look at what biblical justice looks like. We see example after example of justice in the Bible, some wrathful, some peaceful, and many in between. And yet the best narrative of justice I can think of in the Bible is the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is a story of a God who loves and defends the vulnerable, a God who is righteously angry over injustice, and yet who remains tender to both the victims and the perpetrators of injustice.
I find this example beautiful and yet very difficult to attain.
I find the righteous anger and the complete holiness of God in his response to injustice baffling because I am so far from that. To me, justice feels more like a deserved yet vengeful quest, a right to be had at any cost. I struggle to know what that looks like in my life in how I respond to all sides of the recent events. So to read of a God who does so is comforting and inspiring. May we seek justice for those who need it.
This is the hardest one for me. Although both repentance and justice both require action, love keeps tripping me up. I can quickly think of examples of how I’ve loved others and can quickly become angry at those who don’t.
Early on in my reflecting, I thought of Jesus’s command to love others, and how if we just would learn to follow the commands of loving God and loving others, that the other commands of not murdering or of honoring others wouldn’t even be necessary. Truly, we do not love others as God intended.
And then I took a closer look at my own life. It was easy for me to say that black lives matter and that I love my black friends, coworkers, students, neighbors. Yet saying I loved those who wronged, hurt, and murdered people? That was a different question entirely.
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I have forever struggled with the line between love and acceptance. I’ve blurred my desire for either one with the other and confused them for each other at times. And yet let me be clear in saying that they are two separate things. I can (in theory, it’s much harder in practice) love wrongdoers with the love of Christ without accepting what they have done. We should be horrified and angry at how people treat other people, and yet we are still called to love. And that’s where I’ve been hung up the last few weeks.
So that command to “love your neighbor as yourself” has been playing over and over and over again in my mind.
This command calls us to love not only our black brothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends, but also loving the police that have both committed horrible crimes and who have fought to protect people. It means praying for those we follow on social media who post things we don’t agree with, and it means loving the people that aren’t saying anything. It means loving ALL, not just choosing who we love.
Of course, this is a time our emphasis needs to be on the black and brown communities and we need to continue putting that emphasis there. But I think sometimes in movements like these we jump to loving the victims (as we should) but we also forget to love our enemies and perpetrators. We forget the other commandments that go along with loving all, such as blessing those who persecute us and doing good to our enemies.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know how to do this. I think it still begins with repentance and with justice. It continues with an action that fights complacency. Sometimes love is discipline. Other times love is compassion. I don’t have these answers and I’m betting you don’t either. But I know that I need yet another change of heart, and I need to pray that the Lord would transform my heart to look more like his in how I love ALL my neighbors.
In conclusion, I want you to read Micah 6:8:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
In times like these, it’s a verse that is often used and should be used. I think it perfectly (yet unintentionally) sums up the same three attributes I wrote about tonight of justice, love, and repentance. And yet what has struck me about this verse is the temptation to only do one of these things. We can justify harsh and vengeful justice if we only look at the beginning. We can honor passive kindness if we only focus on the middle. And we can forget to make it about anyone other than ourselves if we only work on our pride issues by focusing on the end of this verse. But the Lord requires all three of these actions from us, and I believe all three to be enacted in tandem.
Like I said in the beginning, I don’t truly care what this looks like in your life. I don’t care if it means joining in protests, posting on social media, reading articles, or talking around the dinner table. But I do care that you are finding a way to do all three of these things for the sake of our neighbors to the glory of God, now and for always to come.
Let me leave you with this passage that convicts me time and time again and has gripping relevance to the situations going on around us:
Romans 12:9-21 – Marks of a True Christian
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Come, Lord Jesus. May these recent events stir our hearts to the need we have for you in our own lives and in our broken, sick world. Bring us to repentance for the ways we have forsaken you and your people, the ways we have hated instead of loved, the ways we have perpetuated injustice over justice. May we find strength in you to stand in the face of opposition and declare justice; to stand in the homes of the hurting and declare hope. Come, Lord Jesus.