Take a mere cursory glance at the world around us and into our own hearts and we see division, opposition, hatred, hurt and broken relationships. The painful exposure of the racial divisions in America in recent weeks has reminded me of three things: how fracturous and diminishing this disunity is for our personal and shared human experience of life as imago Dei (made in the image of God), how much it grieves the heart of God who created us and how unique and singular is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bring true healing, reconciliation and shalom. We, as individuals and as communities, fall short of life that is truly life apart from the power of reconciliation - a reality born from the heart of God our Father, brokered to us through Jesus Christ and manifested today by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Reconciliation is the restoration of relationship. Restoration implies a recovery of something which was lost. It is rooted in the past, present and the future; a former relationship of unity, a present reality of fracture and future promise of wholeness and peace. There are many apologetics for the uniquely Christocentric Gospel narrative - inked by the prophecy, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth - but when I think about the Gospel story, I see a story which tells the truth about our human experience as it relates to fractured relationships and the promise of reconciliation. God's power is the only one able to cover that span of past, present and future.
The racial and ethnic divisions in our nation and in our world provide a commonly experienced place of reflection for this discussion on a uniquely Gospel-rooted reconciliation. If the world has a conversation about healing racial and ethnic divisions, I often hear it move only to the realm of equal rights and diversity. Yes, those are ideals born from the heart of God who made us equal in his image - and it is from a Biblical view of the the world that the African-American civil rights shouts of "I AM A MAN" and #blacklivesmatter have been justly born. However, if we stop at equal rights or merely celebrate multi-ethnicity we fall short. God calls us to unity, to reconciliation, not merely diversity. A snapshot from Scripture reveals his heart:
John the Seer's heaven-born vision of the age to come echoes the proclamations of the kingdom of God: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9) God is not a distinguisher of persons; he shows no favortism.
And, Paul the Church-planter's exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought us this history-changing truth: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28) God doesn't just save people from sin/death and into heaven, he saves us into a new family where we are called to sit at the same table as folks we are much different from.
And, Jesus our Lord subverted everything we thought about how the world should work by telling us straight from the heart of God: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Jesus doesn't call us to tolerate our enemies, or relegate them to the margins, but to press in and love them.
So, at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ alone and no other place, we rightly see our common human experience: we are poor, incapable wretches bent on getting our own way - however slyly, subtly, cleverly or blatantly we may pursue it! We've offended God, each other, ourselves and creation. Broken relationships everywhere. But, by the grace and kindness of God our Father in Jesus Christ, we have been offered terms of peace!
So, when I think about the racial divisions in our nation - be they at a personal, neighbor-to-neighbor level or at a systemic, national level rooted in centuries of oppression upon a minority people group - I ONLY see hope in the story of the King who came to redeem lost and messed up people by shedding his blood for us and restoring his rightful kingdom through reconciled relationships - firs to God and then to one another.
I've had the privilege of spending time in to places in our world often known by the history of racial division - South Africa and Memphis, TN - and I will soon be traveling to a third this coming January - Rwanda. Whether it be Desmond Tutu's and the Church's "Truth & Reconciliation Commission" in South Africa which championed forgiveness as a means towards progress rather than "eye for eye" or mere tolerance of the "other", or Dr. King's Gospel-driven ethic of racial harmony and forgiveness for a racially-torn America or the application of the Gospel to the ethnic hatred and genocide in Rwanda, these are stories of the salvation and healing that only comes from God's grace and Jesus' call for us to "love our enemies."
We can rearrange the furniture all we want in our cities and nations (and I am certainly not diminishing intentional movements toward honest dialogue and more just ethics and laws - these things should be prayed for and championed by the Church, not relegated to "the world"), but until we are reconciled to God and to one another through Christ, the promise of lasting healing remains empty.
This may all sound like hyper sentimentalism and idealism, but in the words of GK Chesterton: 'The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."
Until we honestly see the extent to which we've each been an enemy to God our Father who simultaneously sent Christ to die for us "while we were yet sinners", we will treat the "other" as someone to be tolerated, tamed, manipulated or marginalized. Thank you, God, for your grace which saved us, is saving us and will save us!