Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of people show positive support for change in America. But it’s ironic, maybe even hypocritical that anyone in this country would ever call Americans to come together on anything. Politicians and media relentlessly lobby us to see our identity through so many different lenses, like Republican, Democrat, conservative, progressive, boomer, Millennial, black, brown, white, Asian. As a result, communities have become so incredibly siloed, it’s hard to imagine now anyone saying, at least with a straight face, “We should come together.” They blew up the we a long time ago! Putting it back together doesn’t seem to be on their agenda.
When the Church was confronted with internal racist allegations in the formative months of her development, they were all able to come together to find a resolution that, as the text says, “pleased everyone.” In spite of the deep racism embedded in that culture for thousands of years, both Gentile and Hebrew believers in the New Testament were challenged to see themselves through the same lens, through the Cross of Christ. Knowing Jesus is a really good idea for a lot of reasons, like not having to go to Hell (can’t forget that one). But if you want to solve the world’s problems, and bring an end to injustice, and heal a divided people, then you need to bring people to the Cross.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
That’s what the Apostle Paul wrote. A Jewish zealot for most of his early adult life, he fought against Jesus, at least until He met Him. After that, he didn’t just embrace Christ, he completely embraced the Gentile world. He had to, because Jesus isn’t just non-racist. He’s against racism. Paul picked that one up pretty quickly.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
Brothers and sisters, regardless of who we are and where we came from, our identity is now in one thing. Christ! That’s it. I’m sorry to sound dismissive about all the other identity “qualifiers” that we like to attach to ourselves. Some of them might actually frame the ways we engage our common mission. But the reason we now can solve the problems that used to confound us is because we are all in Christ.
That’s why a “therefore” appears at the beginning of that verse 12. Without the reality of verse 11, we would never have a legitimate shot at verses 12, 13, and 14. There would be no real compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, or love. There is no basis to unite sinful people except through the one thing we all share. Our sin. And forgiveness for sin is only found in one place. The Cross of Christ.
But this is David’s protest, not Paul’s, so let’s keep moving.
To heal a fracture this deep, people have to stop setting aside the Cross before they discuss the resolution. Don’t forget, The Civil Rights Movement was led by a black Baptist preacher. It was initiated by pastors. No doubt, white pastors were ridiculously slow to get on board. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King pleaded with church leaders who preferred “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.” His message was compelling because it was clearly biblical. It was generated out of the biblical conviction that racism was offensive to God on every level.
Racial prejudice offends God personally because He’s madly in love with every ethnic group. It offends Him theologically because we were all created in His image. And it offends Him pragmatically because it short-circuits the purpose He commissioned us to pursue, to bring the Gospel to the entire world. (By the way, that’s all in the Bible!)
Dr. Kevin Smith, a professor at Southern Seminary, captured it well. “The Bible was central to the energy of the Civil Rights Movement. In planning meetings, preachers and laypersons read from its pages. In public disputes, everyday people quoted its promises and its truth regarding the dignity of all humanity, regardless of skin color. It would not be a stretch to suggest that the Civil Rights Movement would have lacked moral fiber (and one might further say divine blessing) without the underlying truth claims drawn from the Bible.”
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
The Bible is flat-out powerful! That’s why it is still the number one selling book in the world. By a lot. And it was foundational in creating The Civil Rights Movement. The Bible elevates racial equality, and condemns any attitude of superiority or the desire to hold power over people. When it’s marginalized in solving a problem, things go from bad to worse.
There are certainly some great people in politics. But the very nature of a political process changes any conversation that gets thrown into that arena. When politics hijacked the conversation about race in America, the focus changed from a quest for justice to a quest for power. And it sucked the heart out of a movement. The reason Jesus is the only One who can put the heart back into it is pretty simple. He has absolute power and He’s not a politician.
We watched the same man killed a hundred times from ten different camera angles and we’re all thinking the same thing. “That’s just horrible! What can I do to encourage change?” But we also watch people leverage a man’s death as an excuse to destroy entire communities, and a sense of righteous indignation swells in us. By all means, we want to take a moral stand against racism but, holy mackerel, looters should also be held accountable, shouldn’t they? So, we go off.
If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them. I count them my enemies. Search me, God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:19-23)
A thread of righteous indignation runs through David's precatory Psalms. (Precatory refers to a desire that you have no power to enforce.) David believes he is on the right side of history and cries out to God to prove it to him. It’s like he’s leading us all downtown, marching to protest the actions of bloodthirsty, evil, rebellious adversaries who deserve our hate and abhorrence. If that sounds a bit dramatic, remember, those aren’t my words, they’re his.
No one likes to march alone. We all want other people at our side. After all, popular support adds weight to our opinions. But if you could get God to join the march? Man, you’ve got something going on! Problem solved, right?
We love political conversations because politics always gives us someone to villainize. We may not be perfect, but our integrity is still greater than our political enemies, right? It’s a simple strategy. Keep the conversation focused on other people and maybe you can avoid being the focus. Announce, "God will be joining my protest!", drop the mic, and keep walking.
David had a lot of issues. Virtually all of them were public because he was the King. But those sins weren’t his focus of this inquiry. Neither were his secret sins, the sins he alone knew about. In the middle of this rant about how horrible his enemies were, it dawned on him (through the Holy Spirit’s impression, I’m sure) that there may be sinful attitudes in his own life that he was incapable of even knowing about himself. Our biggest problems are the ones we can’t discuss because we haven’t allowed God to reveal them to us.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
The movie IQ came out in 1994, so a lot of you probably never even knew it was a movie. As part of the storyline, an auto mechanic developed a friendship with Albert Einstein. So we have this really down to earth blue collar guy having conversations with arguably the most brilliant man in the world. They’re walking down the street one day and Albert Einstein asks the guy, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” And the mechanic says, “What are the chances of that happening?” 26 years later, it’s the only thing I remember about the movie, because I thought it was so funny.
“So God, are you thinking about me what I’m thinking about me?”
Seriously, what are the chances of that happening?
Here are some things I learned marching alongside of David myself.
1. I need Divine help to understand me. (“Search me, O God, and know my heart.”) If David wanted to know what God already knew, I guess I should too.
2. My trials reveal my weaknesses which, if I’m honest about them, can encourage my growth. (“Test me and know my anxious thoughts.”) Times of testing don’t always produce character, simply because we sometimes fail the test. Through testing, though, our character deficiencies are always revealed. What we do with the revelation is up to us.
3. “That’s just the way I am!” doesn’t cut it anymore. (“See if there is any offensive way in me…”) Our thoughts don’t offend people. But misguided thoughts will always lead to offensive ways. That’s why the Bible tells us to take every thought captive (that’s a “what”) in obedience to Christ (that’s a “why”). If we think wrongly about people who are different than us, then we will act accordingly. And wrongly. So what are we ever going to do?
4. Let God lead the march. (…and lead me in the way everlasting.) If He doesn’t lead the march, it ain’t going anywhere.
Which brings us full circle. "Search me, O God, and know my heart." It's kind of like a real estate inspection. One is required before you sell a house, so you have to hire an inspector. But you really don’t want them to find things that are wrong because, if they do, you will have to pay to have them fixed. That’s how we would like this to end. We want to be “spiritual” enough to ask this Divine Inspector to check out what might be lurking inside the walls, but we hope He won’t uncover what we know might be in there. But this Inspector doesn’t miss anything, so be careful what you ask for. And, if you are bold enough to ask, I hope you're also wise enough to listen.
I hope we’re all willing to ask God if there is any racism in our own hearts, before we protest. Some will undoubtedly pray, “Lord, please reveal to me that I am not a racist.” But I think this one would be more helpful.
“Lord, show me if there’s anything sinful about me.” If you own up to His response, no one else even needs to know. But you can’t fix a problem if you don’t understand the problem.
That’s what I believe the Holy Spirit told David, smack dab in the middle of his march for justice.