Image Bearers, Lament, and the Church

While we were working to navigate the waters of COVID-19 and formulate a plan for our church to re-gather, the horrific video of George Floyd’s death began to circulate. The outrage that has spread across the nation (and even the world) is palpable. People are trying to come to terms with what has happened, why it’s happened, and what should happen next. You know this already because you are all experiencing it every day.

While I’ve had private conversations with many, I haven’t yet spoken more broadly on the topic of race and justice. This hasn’t been out of reluctance or unwillingness (though perhaps I should have directly spoken sooner), but there is a complexity to these emotionally charged matters that is not easily communicated in a social media post or a short 3-minute video.

The hard work of processing these complexities is vital, and we will do it in the weeks to come, but for today let’s start at the beginning.

A Biblical Foundation
As a believer, I am unequivocally for the sanctity of life and the inherent dignity of all men, women, and children because God has stamped them with his very image (the Imago Dei – Gen 1:26-27). Black lives matter to me because Black lives matter to God. The Imago Dei is indelibly written on their souls and I share in that inestimable privilege with them. All peoples have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet amazingly God is redeeming people from every nation, tribe, and tongue for his heavenly praise (Rev 7:9).

A Historical Context
This means that when my fellow image-bearer — a Black man — is murdered on video, it causes God’s heart to shudder! Sin is grievous to God’s heart. I am grieving for the heartache that the Black community is facing as this is my nation, too. It’s affecting my city. It’s my friends who are hurting. And it’s not simply this one incident; it stands against the backdrop of historic, systemic unrighteousness, some of which has changed over time and some of which still needs to change, but all of which compounds the pain of these times.

A Beginning Response of Lament
I begin with love, listening, and lamenting. Are there broader issues and concerns that are also significant to address? Absolutely. (i.e. Critical Race Theory, confessing the sins of generations past, BLM organizational ideology, looting/rioting, etc). But for today I can speak to loving those who are hurting, listening to understand their grief, and lamenting the broken conditions of our world. Scripture calls me to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time and a place for everything under the sun — there is a time for grieving. For lamenting. For crying. For listening. For praying. For understanding. When a friend experiences death, they need comforters around them. People who will listen to their cries and their anguish and their fear and their hopelessness.

Listening does not require agreement with every careless word spoken in grief — it absorbs the sobs and the curses and the temporary hopelessness. It hugs and it holds and it communicates that you will still be there when the shaking is over. Can we be those kinds of people while also upholding the Word as the truth? I think that would be a faithful witness of the love of Jesus.

In John 11, Jesus shows up four days after his friend Lazarus dies. Martha and Mary are grieving and they blame Jesus for not doing enough — “If you would have been here our brother would not have died.” While true, it’s not a compliment. It’s spoken as an accusation against Jesus in a time of grief. What is the response from Jesus as he surveys the scene and he feels the grief of Mary and Martha and the others?

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” — John 11:33-36

Amazing! Even though Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead in mere moments, he first enters into the experience of grief with his friends. Jesus bawls his eyes out. Can you picture him standing at the grave of his friend and being overwhelmed at the destructive nature of sin!? It wasn’t his fault Lazarus was dead. He wasn’t morally responsible for it. But he grieves and laments for what he sees.

Keeping Many Truths Together In Tension
Here are a few thoughts that come to mind as important starting points for thinking through tragedies of any kind, but especially situations that can seem irredeemable:

  1. As Christians, we lament the evil in the world and recognize it as the result of sin.
  2. As Christians, we see that our own hearts are easily guilty of the sins we condemn, justifying ourselves with our own self-righteousness, and fully in need of the gospel as much as anyone else.
  3. As Christians, we are committed to exegeting the truth of the Scriptures to know God’s heart and mind and His saving plans in the gospel.
  4. As Christians, we are committed to exegeting the culture in order to apply the Scriptures wisely and with discernment to our context.
  5. As Christians, we listen to the experience of others and we weep with those who weep, even those with a different worldview or perspective.
  6. As Christians, we preach the ultimate source of deliverance in the gospel while we work toward true justice and reform where needed — to love our neighbor and reflect the glory of God.

These are not exhaustive but represent the need to hold together many principles at the same time.

And Let Us Love One Another
As I have spoken with many of you, I am aware that the temptation to division is formidable. We are a diverse body with varied political leanings, cultural backgrounds, and lived experiences. We support different causes, parse public statements in different ways, and bring our own hopes and fears to bear in each situation.

Yet, we each profess a shared love for Christ and his gospel! A unifying power that only God can provide.

I want to implore each of you: love one another. Be patient with one another. Bear each other’s burdens, even if you do not understand how they are burdensome. As we interact let us reflect the same love and patience that we experience from God with each breath we take.

Now is not the time to pull back from each other with suspicions, but to graciously press into our shared union with Christ and learn from each other. We are a church — bought with the blood of Christ. We are different and that’s good. I don’t expect us to see things all the same way. We are learning the way of Jesus together. Thank you for your patience with me as I know I am imperfect myself.

As we process these things together (and there will be more to come in the future) I’m asking us all to commit to the kind of unity with each other that Jesus died to achieve — differences of opinions and all. Jews and Gentiles. Black and white. Red or Blue politics. One in Christ.

I love you all!

With support from the Elders at Grace,

Pastor Chris