It was a rainy day. Skimming the headlines, I quickly realized the newspaper was going to make it gloomier. When I sat down to read my Bible I decided to read Lamentations. It seemed appropriate.
Lamentations is a short book of the Old Testament that is is an outpouring of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. It is a tearful expression of national suffering, a recognition of guilt (Lam. 1:8), repentance (Lam. 3:40-42) and hope in the love and faithfulness of God (Lam. 3:20-24). Everyone was affected. Everyone had good reason to lament. Lamentations is a book that records national suffering.
George Floyd’s death has given us all cause to lament policies of racism endemic to our nation. Black and brown Americans will no doubt lament more personally than white Americans, but we join them in grief and lament.
I lament the existence of hundreds of years of outright racism and the less obvious, but just as dangerous and oppressive, institutional racism. It shouldn’t be. Most of us do not consider ourselves racist, but we have received a crash course in structural racism and implicit bias. The oppressive laws and practices of decades ago have affected our perceptions of black people today. That is something we should all wrestle with.
The word sin isn’t typically used in political or cultural discussions, but racism is a deep, complex, individual and national sin. Would anyone disagree with that statement?
If you agree, then you know that we have to tackle this sin spiritually.
Solutions for sin involve humble soul searching, confession (agreeing with God about your sin), repentance (turning away from sin) and restitution. Legislation, peaceful protests or angry statue toppling may be satisfying, but they won’t change hearts, and hearts must change. Many politicians, wrapped up in their messaging, brands, and polls, no doubt feel that confession and repentance are quaint spiritual concepts that have no bearing on the issues. They are dead wrong.
We may all agree on the fact that racism is sinful, however solutions to the problem are all over the place. Education, protests and legislation to purge police of racist cops will help, and I’m sure there are many Christians working toward those remedies, but they won’t solve the problem. They are treating the wound but ignoring the underlying infection.
Sin must be recognized and confessed if we want God to heal our land. I pray that individuals, communities and businesses will acknowledge where they have demonstrated racism or implicit bias, and that our culture will be transformed as a result. That is not too difficult for God. We’ll see if it’s too demanding for us.
Which brings me a broader and more profound lament; the Church continues to lose influence in American culture. This is heartbreaking. The Church should be the voice of justice, freedom, truth, peace, unity, righteousness and love, and in many cases it is, but that has not always been the case. The Church has had its problems and was complicit in racist practices in the past, but the Church is still God’s instrument to accomplish his will in this world. It’s up to us, and way too often, we fail. Thankfully, God doesn’t fail.
Lamentations was written after Jerusalem was overthrown, and Jeremiah along with other prophets had forecast exactly that if people didn’t wake up. They didn’t. Judah continued in its idolatry, oppression, greed, injustice and “they followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jeremiah 2:5).
America isn’t to that point yet. I believe this is a warning for the Church and our culture. Will we wake up? I hope so. Never forget that God is merciful and compassionate, as Lamentations 3:21-23 reminds us:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
God arranged for the book of Lamentations to be included in the Bible, and he welcomes our expressions of grief; our lamentations. But, we shouldn’t stop there. After we have lamented, confessed and repented, I believe God will give us work to do for his glory.
Christians, the Church, are God’s hands and feet in this world, so after lamenting we should pray and look for God’s answer in opportunities to speak truth and work toward reconciliation.
Where are you in this process? Lamenting? Praying? Acting?