When the Iron Curtain in Berlin came down peacefully in 1989 after years of oppression, I thought this must be the hand of God. Communism had seemed like firmly held domination, and I was stunned to watch that wall physically being taken apart. Of course, there had been events that led up to that moment and one could argue that some are still under oppression, but it was an at important and visible step.
God regularly breaks into human history. He usually does so in small and unrecognized ways, but every once in a while he breaks out in a big way. The year 2020 has felt like a time when God broke into history by allowing a pandemic and, at least in the US, raising our awareness of racism.
I see a connection between what the Bible tells us of God breaking into human events and racial inequality in our society today.
One of many puzzling passages in the Bible is the story of David bringing the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem. The ark represented God’s covenant with the Hebrews and it hadn’t been consulted it during Saul’s reign (1 Chronicles 13:2-4). David wanted to correct that and made joyful arrangements to bring the ark home.
They moved the ark of God from Abinadab’s house on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. I Chronicles 13:7-8
But then, the oxen carrying the ark stumbled, and Uzzah reached out to steady the ark. Uzzah did what anyone would have done. No one would have allowed the ark to fall, but God was not pleased. Uzzah died on the spot. David was confused and angry.
Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. I Chronicles 13:14
I understand David’s anger. It made no sense to him. He was trying to honor God by bringing the ark to Jerusalem, but God’s wrath broke out.
In the next chapter we’re told of David’s contrasting reaction to God breaking into history. In this case, David had consulted God before he engaged the Philistines in battle, and God told him that he would be given victory.
So David and his men went up to Baal Perezim and there he defeated them. He said, ‘As waters break out, God has broken out against my enemies by my hand. 1 Chronicles 14:11
In one event, David was confused and upset over what God had done and in the next, he was grateful. God can, and does, break into human activity for his purposes, and we don’t always understand his actions. In many cases, we are angry like David after Uzzah’s death. We don’t get it. It makes no sense. What is God doing? Why is this happening?
What do you think God is doing in 2020?
These events recorded in 1 Chronicles have something to teach us. In the first case, there were laws for transporting the ark of the covenant, and those laws hadn’t been consulted. The Levites should have carried the ark, as they later did after David had apparently done some research. Uzzah died, not because a capricious God was miffed, but because the laws that he gave them had been ignored. God was protecting his glory and his holiness.
Like David setting up a procedure in which someone was likely to get hurt, systems have existed, and in some cases still exist, in which people of color are at a disadvantage. People of color have less wealth, are incarcerated more often and are less likely to own a home than white people.
What can we do about it?
First, we must analyze the facts. Resist the extremes and examine the reality. Not all people of color are victims nor are all white people oppressors. But there are attitudes and systems still in place that are unjust, and people are living with the results of those inequities.
We cannot ignore undeniable evidence that racism exists. I’ve lived most of my life in a largely white suburb of Chicago and have never been confronted with unfairness to people of color. My eyes have been opened.
Next, speak up. Gently correct friends, family and coworkers when they display ignorance about racial issues. This may be difficult. My husband had a conversation about this a while ago, and his friends didn’t get it. He stands by his position.
Finally, pray for God to break into human history to defeat enemies of equality and unity. God clearly desires that all people be treated with the same love and respect. Christians should be the first to act in unity with people of all economic and racial groups. Pray that we will lead in that effort. We can also consult the Lord for anything we can individually do to improve the situation.
It will take careful analysis to discern the truth and we’ll have to do some research. That’s what David did; then he was successful in bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. I pray that we will one day be able to thank God, as David did, for breaking out against the enemies of injustice.
God has been active in 2020. He wants the best for each one of us, although it may not always seem that way, and he can bring simmering racial issues to a boil to get our attention.
Has your thinking on racism changed over the last year? What do you think can be done about it?