This past week (July 3-9, 2016) has, once again, brought the issue of race relations to the forefront of our minds. We have witnessed black men killed by white police officers and white police officers killed by black men. We have seen protests, violence, and a plethora of news headlines recounting the events. Tragically, this is all too familiar.
There has been no shortage of people naming the very real problems we face. And this is good because in order to fix a problem it must be named, called out, and defined. But where there has been a lack of consensus is in naming solutions. It is obviously much easier to name a problem than to solve a problem, but those challenges should not hold us back.
Of course, the main problem we are dealing with at this moment is conflict (sin: hatred, jealously, envy, strife, anger, fear) between human beings. This conflict between human beings manifests itself in many different ways, including drawing up battle lines between the different races. In particular, relationships between whites and blacks living in the United States have been the most tense (though that in no way diminishes the racism experienced by others). This deep seeded conflict (racism) between human beings is as old as human nature.
What I appreciate about the Bible (among many things) is that it doesn’t side step the sins that are rooted in the hearts of each of us. It names them, prods at them, digs them up, and provides a solution. In Ephesians chapter two, after recounting the horrors of sin, its consequences, and the desperate need for God to graciously provide sinful humanity with salvation through Jesus by faith, the Apostle Paul brings racial reconciliation into view. The racial, religious, and cultural tensions between Jews and Gentiles were ripe, but God was at work saving them through Jesus, and now they were living in closer proximity than ever before.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. The important word here is “alienated.” The Gentiles (all those who were not Jewish) were alienated from God, alienated from his people, and alienated from salvation – with no hope in the world. This alienation led to conflict, hatred, and yes, racism. The Bible names the problem… and then provides the solution.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The profound reality of what Jesus accomplished at the cross, through the shedding of his blood, has brought near to God those who were once alienated. How? For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Through Jesus, God has created a people for himself. People from every race and socioeconomic background, through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, have been (and can be!) brought together as one people. In Christ, there is no longer multiple peoples, but one people – God’s people. It is this community of people who, without diminishing their God given races, allow their union with Christ (i.e. being in Christ) to define first and foremost who they are. It is this union with Christ which takes us from being strangers, hostile, racist, and hate filled towards one another and, through a glorious struggle, brings about friendship, brotherhood, and peace.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Through Jesus, God has taken people from every race and brought them together as one. It is this newly created people that has become a dwelling place for God; we share in the same Spirit who is at work in each of us. We can see clearly Paul’s theology of reconciliation: through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, humans are first reconciled to God and then to one another.
It is now within the people of God that we Christians are able to live, though imperfectly, within a people that pursues racial reconciliation through Christ. It is within the people of God that we can fight injustice, seek forgiveness for past racism, listen to our brothers and sisters of other races, pray with them, and challenge systemic racism in our country. This is a reality that can be experienced in no other place except the community of God’s people, because it is in and through these people that God is accomplishing his purposes in the world.
My brothers and sisters, as we are once again confronted with the daily reality of racial injustice in our country, we cannot lose sight of this gospel message. It is through the gospel that God has spoken to us the hope of true and lasting racial reconciliation. Because of what Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection we can have confidence that in the end every wrong will be made right, every injustice will be overturned, and lasting racial reconciliation will be accomplished. It is this gospel that will fuel the fight for justice and reconciliation here and now, and it is this gospel that gives us hope that all we are fighting for in this life is not in vain. If we lose sight of this message, if we don’t let it guide and shape our words and actions, we have nothing to offer the world that it does not already have. The cross of Jesus is our only hope for true racial reconciliation.
For further reading on this topic I recommend John Piper’s book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.