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Thoughts on injustice

Dear Grace Family,

We are in the midst of a troubling time in our nation. Between the unjust killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests and riots, I am sure that many of you have been overwhelmed and concerned. Though I touched very briefly on the reality of injustice in the sermon on Sunday, I thought it would be helpful to address some of these things at more length, to see what God’s Word has to say to us in this time.

There have been several helpful statements and articles, such as this one from our brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention and this one written by Phillip Holmes at Reformed Theological Seminary. I commend them to you as helpful resources to think and pray through these issues.

As I think about what to write here, there are several things that seem important to emphasize:

First, we must always remember that our Lord hates injustice and has a special concern for the vulnerable and marginalized. If you worshiped with us during our series in Deuteronomy, you may remember that this was a common theme that God emphasized over and over again:

  • “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land the LORD your God is giving you.” – Dt. 16:19-20
  • “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.” – Dt. 24:17-18
  • “’Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” – Dt. 27:19

In Isaiah, the Lord even says that he hates the worship of those who are complicit in injustice:

  • “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Is. 1:15-17

As God’s people, we must share his heart for the hurting and oppressed. We are called to love what he loves and to hate what he hates. We are called to weep with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn (Rm. 12:15).

Friends, we cannot claim the name of Christ and be indifferent to the injustices suffered by people of color in our nation. We must recognize that our long and tragic history with racism – from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the civil rights movement – is not merely a thing of the past. It may not look the same, or be quite as obvious, but it is an evil that is alive and well today. We must name it for the sin that it is, grieve it, and confront it when it shows itself in society and in our own hearts.

The church of Christ must be the place where the dividing walls of hostility are torn down, where any differences we may have – whether race, culture, education, political affiliation – pale in comparison to the unity we have in Christ by the Spirit (Eph. 2:13ff).

The church must be the place that can hold complicated and difficult realities in tension with one another. Where our doctrine of sin can help us to understand that institutions can be broken and corrupt because they are made up of individuals who are broken and corrupt. This is nothing more than the doctrine of total depravity played out in a corporate setting. By God’s grace, we are not as sinful as we could be, but we are corrupted by sin in every part, as our Confession of Faith teaches, we are “wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.2; Gn. 6:5, Jer. 17:9, Rm. 8:7). This corruption shows itself, not just in our individual sins and blind spots, but also our corporate sins and blind spots (Dn. 9).

We can acknowledge this reality, while at the same time being grateful to God for the blessing of police officers, who risk their lives to uphold justice and peace – a job that is made nearly impossible when some act corruptly. We must continue to pray for these law enforcement officials, who continue to serve on the front lines in an increasingly difficult and complicated environment.

Second, we must evaluate injustice appropriately. It is important to recognize that the murder of George Floyd has not been the only injustice in the news over the last several days. While many have sought to protest peacefully, others have taken part in violent and destructive riots. This, too, is injustice and it is important to acknowledge it as such.

But while we must call out all forms of injustice, we must not make the mistake of thinking that all injustice is equal. Yes, rioting and destroying property is sinful and wrong, and yes, we should be bothered by it. But please do not miss the fact that it is far more tragic and devastating to take the life of an image bearer of God than it is to destroy property. We must grieve both, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that they are equally grievous. Scripture is clear that while all sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, not all sin is equally heinous (Jn. 19:11, See also: Westminster Larger Catechism 150-151). The loss of life is always worse than disorder and the destruction of property.

I fear that if we find ourselves more upset about the riots than the murder that led to them, it might be an indication that we do not fully share our Lord’s heart for the hurting and vulnerable. May our constant prayer be for God to make us a people after his own heart!

Third, on a related but different note, let me caution you about your use of social media during this time. The more that I think about social media and see how it is used, the more convinced I am that Neil Postman was right when he warned that the kinds of technology we use to communicate inevitably shapes the quality of discourse we are able to have. For all the blessings that social media technology has given us, civil discourse is not one of them.

While there are certainly other factors at play, it’s no accident the division and polarization in our nation has increased with the rise of social media. That is because these platforms inherently undermine thoughtful, critical engagement. In other words, hashtags and memes are not capable of nuance, and complex thoughts can’t be fully articulated in a tweet. By their very nature, they are designed to make a statement more than to invite a discussion. At a time when many are guilty of talking past one another rather than listening to one another, let’s give extra pause and thought to the kinds of things we post. Resolve and commit yourself not to say anything through a screen that you wouldn’t say face to face. And let us all heed Paul’s warning, which is just as relevant for Facebook as it is for talking face to face:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Col. 4:5-6

There is much more that could be said, but let me close with this: Church, our Lord cares deeply about justice. And through his death and resurrection he has ensured that justice will be done in the end. Even now he is ruling and reigning over all things (Ps. 2, Ps. 110, Rev. 4-5). He is in control, sovereignly working for his glory and the good of his church. And one day he will return, to set all things right. Every injustice will come to light and be exposed and the Judge of all the earth will do what is right (Rev. 21:1-4, Gn. 18:25). He will heal every hurt, right every wrong, and wipe away every tear from our eyes. And until then, he has promised us that he is indeed near to the brokenhearted, that he works to save those who are crushed in spirit, and that not a single one of our tears falls from our eyes unnoticed by him (Ps. 34:18).

Brothers and sisters, in the midst of this difficult time, when we are reminded of the brokenness of our world and the devastating effects of sin, look to him in hope and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

In Christ,

Pastor Eric