To say that this year has been a challenge for humans would be an understatement. We’ve been united globally in collective grief, yet ripped apart by our opinions on how to deal with our tragedies and said grief. We’ve experienced, and with the numbers rising, are still experiencing a pandemic together, yet we’ve been separate in our actions. This incident has uncovered a lack of patience and mistrust of authority and each other. The fragility of mental health in our nation has been exposed as suicide hotlines were overwhelmed during the height of social isolation. With our actions, we state who we determine most important. Either way, it seems, someone will be damaged or will die.
Then, as if tensions were not high enough, yet another unnecessary act of violence, a murder was committed against a black man, George Floyd by a police officer while several others watched. “How many cheeks does this community have left to turn before the anger overflows,” I asked myself as I read the headline. Days later there was rioting downtown. As a white person and someone who has rarely not been given the benefit of the doubt based on outward appearances, I’ve felt unqualified to add anything of value to the conversation, knowing that any words will likely come across as trite or self-important. In fact, I am unqualified.
But God’s Word is not. For days I’ve been buried in thought, gone for long walks, and have prayed, wondering how to respond. From that, I was brought to Romans. As I sat at my desk reading these passages, ones that I’ve read many times before, I wept and hoped that no one would come barging into my office.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Romans 13: 8-10
Some of my neighbors are at higher risk of contracting a terrible virus and dying from it. Other neighbors don’t have the mental or emotional fortitude to be socially isolated. My neighbors come in different skin colors, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders. Some neighbors were born with more obstacles in their way. Have I lived in love with these neighbors, denying myself and my rights for their good, or have I built my comfort on the backs of those less fortunate? Am I even willing to look beneath my feet to see?
“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
While I am thankful that this world is not my home, I must resist the desire to sleep through it until the end. God has called us to face the pain and live wide awake, walking in light and carrying that light into every dark corner of the world. How much do I have to hate my neighbor to withhold the knowledge of eternal salvation from him?
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions […]
For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.’
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
Romans 14: 1; 8-13
My responsibility is to protect my brothers and sisters, not passing judgement over opinions. One of our biggest cultural problems is that we’ve come to believe that our opinions are truth. My truth is mine and therefore fact. While I live my truth, I’m blinded to the ones that I cause to stumble, forgetting that we will all bow before the throne of God and each give account for our love or lackthereof.
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Romans 15: 1-7
As the perfect Son of God, Jesus had rights, rights that far exceeded those of any other human. He could have ordered armies of angels to attack His offenders. He could have called down fire from the sky. He had the right to not be crucified. He had the right to be worshiped. Yet, out of His love, love for the Father and love for us, He laid down every right and made the greatest sacrifice that history has ever witnessed. In a world where we cling so tight to hold on to what we believe to be ours, Scripture calls us to follow the example of Jesus and lay down our rights for the good of others. If we call ourselves Christians, this is not a request, but a command.
I don’t know all of the answers, but as we work through all of our conflict and unrest, the solution starts at the feet of Jesus. Let us “live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” Even as we endure physical separation from one another at this time, “with one voice [let us] glorify the God and Father.” May we be a church that welcomes all of our neighbors as Christ welcomed us, laying aside our comfort, our privilege, and our rights, all for the glory of God.