I could have called this article, Black Lives Matters and White Privilege from a White Guy. I was born white, and I can’t change that, just like my black brothers and sisters can’t change the color of their skin. None of us can change the circumstances we are born with, but we can take personal responsibility for the way we deal with our circumstances.
“Black lives matter” and “white privilege” are phrases that have exploded into our consciousness in the two weeks following the death of George Floyd, the latest in a long litany of examples of disparity in treatment between people of color and the rest of us. The resulting maelstrom is an indication (maybe) that we get it and have finally had enough of it.
But what do we do about it? What does a white guy like me do about it? What does a Christian, a Christ follower do about it?
I am not here to lecture or speak for people of color. I don’t know their pain. I don’t know what it’s like to live life in their skin. I can only imagine what it’s like, but I don’t know really what it’s like.
I can only speak for myself and speak to what I know about Jesus and how he informs us to live in a hostile world full of injustice. I can only speak to people like me. And so, I want to address these phrases and what I think Jesus says to people like me (white Christians) at this tipping point in our history in the United States.
I want to address the phrase, “black lives matter”, not the organization.
To acknowledge that black lives matter is like acknowledging that a house is on fire. When a house is on fire, we call the Fire Department, and no one says, “What about all the other houses?” They don’t need the our attention in that moment.
To acknowledge that black lives matter, we are saying that someone is sick and needs help. When a family member is sick and needs medication, we don’t say, “What about the other people in the family?” They don’t need our help at the moment.
To acknowledge that black lives matter isn’t to deny or ignore the fact that other lives matter. The problem being addressed is that black lives haven’t mattered enough. We need to give our attention to the issue of racial disparity because our history shows us that black lives haven’t mattered nearly enough!
When we talk about white privilege, I know many people who don’t feel very privileged. Many white people are born into poverty, with physical or mental disability, or into dysfunctional homes and other socio-economic, personal and other circumstances that are difficult. White privilege doesn’t discount those things.
White privilege simply means that white people don’t have the added disadvantage of being a person of color. White privilege means that our difficult circumstances have nothing to do with our skin color. We don’t suffer the added difficulty of racial disparity.
We can acknowledge and agree with our brothers and sisters of color that black lives do matter and that white privilege does exist. Simply acknowledging that (instead of responding that “all lives matter” or that white people suffer difficulties too) is a big step in the right direction. It means we are listening. It means that we care.
Now for the following Jesus part. How might a Christian find direction on these things in Scripture?
What does it mean to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Maybe it means being willing to be vulnerable and willing to be weak for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe it means putting the Gospel first and my desire to preserve myself last. Maybe it means being more concerned with the spread of the Gospel than my own reputation.
We hesitate to be outspoken about the Gospel because the Gospel means something different to the world that is perishing than it means to us. For those being saved, the Gospel (the message of the cross) is the power of God for salvation. But for the world, it is received much differently.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God is about the business of destroying “the wisdom of the wise” and “the discernment of the discerning”. If that is God’s business, and if we are following after God, this should be our business as well. How then is God destroying the wisdom and discernment of the world?
The Jews demanded a sign, but Jesus dying on the cross was not the sign sign they expected. They expected a savior that would overthrow the Roman government and set up a self-governing, Jewish state in the Promised Land. Jesus didn’t meet their expectations and became a stumbling block to them.
The Greeks wanted sophistication and clever philosophy. Their standard was Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics who developed systematic philosophies. The Gospel to them was foolishness, dull and lacking in the sharpness of thought that the Greeks expected of their thinkers. The Gospel seemed like foolishness to them.
The world today wants tolerance, acceptance, validation and normalization of every form of thinking, affection and lifestyle. Anything goes, and the world demands validation of any identify, affection or behavior that someone wants to embrace. The Gospel that embraces self-restraint over self-love and carries a message that following Jesus is the only way is contrary to the spirit of this modern age.
Wisdom and systematic philosophy is out. The world doesn’t believe in signs anymore. The standard today is tolerance, acceptance and pluralism, sacrificing the truth on the altar of individual rights, freedoms and the license to be or do whatever one wants with no moral constraints.
In this world today, people who hold stubbornly to the Gospel are considered Neanderthal, provincial and vulgar. Taking up our crosses today means being accused of intolerance and “bronze age” thinking. The Gospel is seen as moral depravity in this world that values the morality of man over the righteousness of God.
The Gospel is the word of an Infidel to the Muslims who bow only to Allah and are instructed to convert, subject or kill those who will not also bow. Yet our modern pluralistic society gives the Muslim world a pass while blaming the Christian church for intolerance.
In any age and in every age, the Gospel runs counter to the prevalent norms and worldviews of the times. The Gospel stands apart, and the followers of Christ stand with it.
Paul preached only Christ and him crucified to the Greeks who thought it was foolishness and to the Jews to whom it was a stumbling block. So we preach Christ who is the way, the truth and the life to those who think we are intolerant, to the Muslims who think we are infidels, to the scientists who think we are ignorant and to the modern moralist who thinks their own morality surpasses the righteousness of God.
Significantly Paul, who’s ministry was to the Greeks and the Romans, did not eschew knowledge or philosophy or the signs the Jewish world was looking for. It wasn’t as if Paul was not a learned man, full of knowledge of Jewish history and scripture. He was trained up in the finest school of the Pharisees run by Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the time.
It was not as if Paul was an ignorant or unlearned man in Greek philosophy. When he addressed the crowd at in Athens, he cited by memory Greek poets and philosophers.
It’s just that Paul did not buy into the Jewish interpretation of scripture that missed the very Son of God among its pages. Paul did not buy into the knowledge and philosophy of the Greeks because knowledge and philosophy cannot save a man from his sin.
So today, it’s not as if Christians are intolerant. The message of Jesus is universal, but it is always, in every age, counter-cultural. Jesus has instructed us to welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, love those who are unlovely and even to love our enemies. Still, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and there is no other way to the Father but through Jesus.
It’s not as if Christians are not intelligent in the ways of science. Until very modern times, Christians led the world in science. In the last couple hundred years, Christians have abdicated the realm of science to the atheists and agnostics. The atheists and agnostics, in turn, have shut the Christians out by defining science narrowly, excluding any thought of god from it. Yet, people of faith are still involved in the sciences. We may even be going through a Renaissance of faith-based science today.
It’s not as if Christians are immoral. Far from it, Jesus called his followers to a higher morality even than the Jewish Pharisees, rooting out thoughts that are sinful and serving others to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus exemplified that morality because Jesus, the exact representation of God on earth, is the standard. .
It’s not as if there is any other way to salvation. Muhammad lived and died and remains buried. There is no one in the history of religion of whom we cannot say the same, except for Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead. There is no other Messiah.
There is no other person in whose name is the power of life and salvation. Jesus is our bread. He is our water living water. Everything boils down to Jesus. As it was in Paul’s day so it is now in our day.
Taking up the cross and following Jesus, holding out the Gospel, will be met in much the same way as it was meet in Jesus’ day. The world that is perishing will not receive it, but it is salvation and life to those who will receive it. Even if no one receives it, still we carry the cross because there is no other Messiah and are no other words that give life.
Sophia means “wisdom” and supplies the root of the English terms “sophistication” and “philosophy”. In this sense, the Gospel is contrasted to the sophistication and philosophy of the world.
Sýnesis is translated discernment or cleverness. Literally, it means holistic understanding by joining facts together; synthesized reasoning by bringing implicit (indirect) truths together. In short, it means a worldview. Thus, the Gospel is contrasted to the prevailing worldviews.
Mōría means folly; literally, dull (lacking sharpness).
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”[i]
What does it mean to take up our crosses and follow Jesus? What does it mean to lose our lives for Christ’s sake?
In the context of this passage, it means that we should embrace Jesus and His words, and not be ashamed of them. If we read the first two verses in the context of the third verse, taking up our crosses daily means daily embracing Jesus and His words and not being ashamed of doing that.
Wide is the road that leads away from Jesus. Narrow is the gate through which we must go to be saved. Following Jesus has never been the popular way. It costs, above all things, the thing that we seek most. It costs our pride, our reputation in the world. It costs our ability to fit in with the world. It costs our self-esteem and self-promotion.
Am I really following Jesus? If my reputation is good, if I fit in with people wherever I go, am I really following Jesus?
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny[i] himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
There is no statement anywhere in the whole of the Bible any more fundamental or important than these words Jesus spoke immediately after He spoke of His own future suffering. All of the Law and Prophets speak of Jesus. (John 5:31) Jesus was approaching the nadir of the purpose for which He, God stripped of His glory, became man. As the disciples rebuked Jesus about talking about future suffering, Jesus spoke these words.
As Jesus looked forward to His own suffering, He looked back to His disciples and said, “If you would follow Me, you must be all in.” Jesus was ready to set the example, and he pointedly instructed His disciples what it would mean to follow Him. They must have taken His words figuratively, as they had no idea Jesus would hang in a literal cross not long thereafter. Continue reading “The Profit of a Man”→
“Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
Let’s be honest. People are self-centered. It starts from the moment we leave the womb. Babies cry when they are tired, cry for food, cry when they want something: their world is focused on their own needs. As we grow and mature, we (hopefully) become more attuned to others and begin thinking about meeting their needs, at least when they do not conflict with our own needs; but we are still primarily self-centered. Continue reading “Lose Your Life for God”→
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