A young man is dead. The man who killed him has been found “not guilty” of murdering by reason of “self-defense.” The media on the left and right is exploding with analysis, accusation, race-baiting, and outrage. People on social media are either celebrating or lamenting. Politicians, celebrities, and other elites are making emotionally charged political statements on both sides of the case. The question is how do we respond as Christians who are citizens of the USA and of God’s kingdom.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on this case. I have personally seen racism but don’t claim to know what it means to be black in America. I am not a leader in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am a Christian pastor. My attempt at answering how we ought to respond is limited to my desire to faithfully proclaim the gospel to a people who need to live well as citizens in two kingdoms.
I do not believe our response as Christians ought to be restricted to a particular set of behaviors, with the exception of prayer. I am not sure what your lot in life is and in what manner you are compelled to respond. Your responsibility here is likely different if you are a politician, pastor, homemaker, mechanic, or college professor. However, I do believe our response to this situation can rightly be grounded in at least three different attitudes of our hearts and minds.
1. We ought to grieve over our fallen world.
I did not celebrate the day George Zimmerman was declared not guilty. I grieved for the parents and family of Trayvon Martin. No matter how you feel about this case, it is tragic that a family lost a young son. Death is a terrible and relentless enemy that pursues us all. I grieved over the racism and division that is so prevalent in our world. It does not matter what you believe about the nature of this case. The fact remains that the debates surrounding the case have exposed a people who are divided over racism. Racism is at heart the hatred of the image of God in another person and is always tragic. We thus should grieve over the fact that an entire group of people suffered egregious injustice in our country for hundreds of years. Let us not so quickly dismiss the ongoing effects of that wound and the manner through which that same group of people now view the justice system. Finally, I grieved over the sinfulness of humanity. Our sinfulness leads to all manner of offense against God and one another. We can see that sinfulness abound in many ways surrounding this trial and the response to it. We ought to grieve because we love God and thus hate what offends him. We ought to grieve because we love people and hate what hurts them.
2. We ought to be thankful for a God who is just and has shown us immense kindness in common ways.
Whether you believe justice was done in this particular case or not, you can affirm our God is just. Whatever happens in human justice systems God is not lacking in his application of justice. He will finally and fully avenge all sin. Further, we ought to be thankful for the common kindness of God we see in a human justice system that tries cases in a courtroom before jurors and not in the mass media before the populace. Our system doesn’t always get it right but I remain thankful we do not live in a country with a kangaroo court.
3. We ought to find hope in the character and work of God as supremely demonstrated in the cross and resurrection.
We grieve but not as those without hope. We are hopeful because we have a God who is both just and merciful. We believe God has demonstrated his justice and mercy most clearly in the cross of Jesus Christ. God demonstrated that he will not and cannot just let sinners slide by. He paid the penalty for sin due to all of us in Christ. He simultaneously showed his mercy toward sinners in willfully punishing our sin in his Son. This is gloriously good news in which we find hope. However, our hope does not end there because the story does not end there. Jesus Christ was also bodily resurrected from the dead thus being vindicated. Jesus’ resurrection carries the promise that God will resurrect our bodies as well. This means that Satan, sin, death, racism, and injustice don’t have the last word. Jesus has the last word and what hope he provides!
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)