Racial Justice and the Image of God

Note from Randy: I hate what has happened in our country since George Floyd died while in police custody after his neck was pinned to the ground for a prolonged period in which he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. I hate what was done to Floyd, and I hate what others have done in effectively punishing other people by burning, destroying, and looting from them. (On the other hand, I have participated in peaceful protests myself, and I definitely defend the rights of others to do so thoughtfully and with self-control.)

To understand what’s happening in our country takes more than watching news and social media—it requires understanding history. I love Benjamin Watson and his character, integrity, and passions for Jesus and justice for all, including the unborn. I’ve read 50+ books on racial history and justice, many back when researching my novel Dominion.  Ben’s book Under Our Skin is the one I recommend most. In these reflections he wrote last week, Ben said this:

As Christ-followers, there’s a certain way we need to carry ourselves in the midst of injustice. We have a responsibility to do so. Our primary goal in this life is to bring God glory. That doesn’t mean we don’t address the issues of our day or engage in civic debate. As citizens and members of our specific communities, we should not remove ourselves from the situations that desperately need our attention. It does mean we have a mandate to engage in a way that brings glory to God and ultimately points people toward Him and the things He cares about. We are to do so in a way that is different than those who don’t know Him.

My son-in-law Dan Franklin, teaching pastor at Life Bible Fellowship Church in Upland, California, shared the following thoughts on Facebook yesterday. May Jesus be honored, justice prevail, and peace be upheld for the sake of all people.

Racial Justice and the Image of God

By Dan Franklin

Perhaps the core reason that racism is so evil and incompatible with Christianity is because of the foundational teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Many ancient cultures believed that only rulers or royals bore God’s image. But the Bible begins with the idea that every human being bears His image. This means that crimes against human beings are taken personally by God. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker.” Human beings have dignity and value and profundity because they bear the image of the almighty God of all.

This also gives new profundity to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:12 (often called The Golden Rule): “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” We thank someone who gives us a gift—in part—because we would want to be thanked. We apologize when we are rude because we would want an apology if someone were rude to us. We want a defendant in a court case to have a vigorous and competent defense because we would want those same things if we were to trade places with that defendant.

When we see a man killed unjustly by a police officer, we want that police officer punished. This is not because we hate the police. This is not because we value one race over another race. This is because if I were killed unjustly by that police officer, I would not want him to go unpunished. And we also want him punished because we want all people to know the wrongness of that action, so that it is less likely to happen again.

On top of this, if I were part of an ethnic group that had suffered greatly in this nation, I would want others to show patience and compassion toward me whenever I got angry over acts of injustice and oppression. Even if sometimes I spoke too loudly, said words I shouldn’t have said, or blew up in frustration, I would hope that others would understand where I was coming from. Because of that, I know that this is God’s calling for me.

I don’t approve of the riots and the looting. I believe that they are absolutely counter-productive. I have no desire to excuse them. But I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us to look with empathy and to ask what kind of hopelessness and grief might lead us to act in a similar way. I am no better than any looter. I am no better than any rioter. I can sit in my safe home and say that they are acting wrongly (and I believe they are), but I would hope for some grace from others if I were so hopeless and angry and grief-stricken that I lashed out in a destructive way. We can have compassion without showing approval. We can seek to understand without seeking to excuse.

Not only am I no better than a looter, but the scary reality is that I am no better than any murderer. I have the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on my hands. He died for MY sins. I believe that murderers should be punished severely, but I also thank God that His grace extends even to those of us who have sinned most egregiously, so that we can have new life and new hope.

Racism will always be with us because human beings will always—this side of Jesus renewing the earth—grab hold of ways to make themselves feel superior to others. We will use race, money, athleticism, attractiveness, social status, or anything else. And racism is a very real temptation for every single one of us. I don’t believe that there are racist people and non-racist people. I believe that all of us are vulnerable to act out in racist ways if we believe we can benefit from it. Thank God for His mercy for all of us.

As we grapple with the ongoing reality of racism and prejudice, we as Christians must cling to the reality of God’s image in each of us. Before spewing out a gut response to any situation, we ought to pause and make sure that we see ourselves in the person we are about to speak against. Before stereotyping and pre-judging, we must pause to see our faces in those pictures, videos, and stories. If we do, God will supply us with the humility to navigate these waters, to move closer to one another, and to experience more of the healing that the Great Physician has brought us.

From Randy: Finally, this is a beautiful and heartfelt prayer from long-term Minneapolis resident John Piper. It’s full of grace and truth, including but not limited to racial justice. I recommend listening to it rather than reading it, because you will hear something in John’s voice that words on a page or screen can’t capture.

Photo by munshots on Unsplash