We are now about a week removed from the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and a bit less removed from the sniper attacks on Dallas police officers that left Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson dead. This past Sunday we gathered to worship the God who is a stronghold for the oppressed, who does not forget the cry of the afflicted (Psalm 9:7-12). We prayed together for His justice to reign supreme in the face of the racial prejudice and revenge that marked this past week. Today I want to consider a little further how we, as imitators of God here on earth, might be part of that.
The book of Job tells the story of a man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). This righteousness was a shadow of the righteousness Jesus would achieve in His perfect life, the righteousness God would then graciously credit to us by faith. When such righteousness becomes ours through faith, it also becomes our aspiration to live it out in our actions. Job paints a vivid picture of what that looks like:
“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.” – Job 29:14-17
This is a righteous response to injustice. If such righteousness is also our aspiration, if justice is “like a robe and a turban” to us, what do we do in a time like this? Here are some ideas:
Please don’t gloss over this step as “not real action” or a “cop out.” While prayer can and unfortunately has been an excuse for inactivity in the face of injustice, all Christian pursuits of justice begin here, as Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If righteousness and justice are your clothing, prayers for God’s justice to reign on earth as it does in heaven should permeate your prayer life. Commit to praying regularly for issues of justice such as racial reconciliation and individual/corporate repentance from white supremacy.
Right now the evil “out there” is blatant, but don’t let that blind you to the remaining sin in your own heart. In Nehemiah 1:6 we read that Nehemiah was “confessing the sins of the people of Israel,” and then he quickly adds, “Even I and my father’s house have sinned.” When you’re confessing the sins of your nation/government/church/citizens, don’t forget to confess where racism, indifference, or revenge still have a hold on your heart.
The church is the people Jesus has made one, as he has broken down all dividing walls of hostility between ethnicities (Ephesians 2:14-15). Therefore, the church should be the community where genuine reconciliation between people of different cultures is happening, enjoyed, and modeled for the world. Notice that Job was meaningfully engaged with real people (“eyes to to the blind,” “feet to the lame,” “father to the needy”)! Look around you. Are there people of a different ethnicity? Have you pursued a meaningful relationship with them? Take proactive steps to move towards people who don’t share your culture. Have them over for a meal, invite them into your life, move into their world, not to fix them, but to understand and enjoy the image of God in them.
“Search out the cause”
Recently, I’ve been embarrassed at how little I know about issues of racial injustice. It is easy to see injustice when you are a victim of it, but it takes concerted effort to see it when you benefit from it. That means those of us in majority culture can all too easily overlook it; I know I have. Notice however that Job proactively “searched out the cause” of others, those he didn’t even know! Read a good book on racial injustice in America (such as this one), follow thoughtful African-American leaders on social media, including some who are speaking Biblically on these issues (e.g. pastors from our network here and here), and familiarize yourself with issues of racial injustice local to Philadelphia (e.g. the current debate around “Stop-and-Frisk” laws).
“Break the fangs”
To wear justice like a robe means not only loving and providing for victims of oppression; it also means fighting the oppressors! Racism and police brutality are systemic issues, and loving those victimized by them necessarily means fighting on a systemic level. That is why the sniper attack on Dallas police officers was such a senseless evil: It targeted people who didn’t have prey in their teeth, and whose job is actually to break the fangs of those who do (an extremely difficult job most police officers do honorably, in a manner worthy of our thanksgiving). While God assigns some to give more of their time to fixing the system (e.g. a lawyer or social worker), we are all citizens of a democracy and/or members of communities where we can steward our influence for justice. Participate in community meetings between police and citizens (my neighborhood has them once/month), contact your city councilman/woman (for our CC congregation here, for MNYK here), contact your state representative (find yours here), participate in peaceful protests/demonstrations (Job wasn’t literally breaking teeth), and when you are present and racist sentiments are being nurtured, speak up!
A list such as this can be daunting. To wear justice as your clothing is costly! My goal here has been to give you some ideas of what that can look like, not give you a to do list to finish by tomorrow. Jesus is the one who broke the fangs of the ultimate oppressor, Satan, at the cost of His life. He’s the only one with a finished to-do list, and it’s been credited to your account through faith. Hopefully this has given you some ideas for how the righteousness that is already yours in Christ will change the way you live in response to injustice. It’s an issue that is important to us as a church, and one we plan to continue talking about and taking steps forward in. Don’t try to take every suggestion I’ve made, but what’s one step you could get started on? May justice be “like a robe and turban” to us.