The past months have brought a great disturbance to our “normal.” Beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic, the way life, especially church, has been done regularly was halted. And then came the resurfacing of racial tensions in America.
In a place where the modern American church has often been silent, many are seeking to know what it looks like to live out justice and be the hands and feet of Christ. To do this, we as the American church must ask ourselves difficult questions; allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal to us where our hearts truly are. Here, as in all things, we look to the Word of God for direction, conviction, and application.
Are we like the rich young ruler?
I am first brought to the account of the rich young ruler. In this story, Jesus is met by a man of wealth and status, devoted to God. When the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, you can almost see the man’s relief as he realizes he has done all that Jesus says. Yet when he answers that he has done these things, Jesus told him that he lacked one thing. “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 10:21). After this, the man’s relief turns into dismay and grief, because he had great wealth and possessions.
Many of us in the American church live like the rich young ruler. When it comes to giving money or going on mission trips, we find ourselves willing to sacrifice. But when it comes to giving up real comfort and time, our true hearts are revealed, and we hold back.
The church stepping into the tension of racism requires relationships. It calls us to walk not only with those who don’t look like us, but also with those whose culture and experiences differ from ours.
This may entail a great sacrifice—it may mean moving to a place where diverse relationships can be made naturally. An area that is not as “safe” or familiar. It may require us to sacrifice “normal” to sit in the tension. And in the tension, allow our comfort to be disrupted. And in the disruption, find where we have equated our culture to what’s godly. So, we must ask, are we like the rich young ruler? Are we willing to give up the comfort of our earthly situations to sow into the kingdom of God?
The Tension of Empathy
The second account I’m brought to is of Job’s friends. In the Book of Job, we see that Job suffered greatly, and his friends came to his side. They tore their robes, wept, and sat with him in his pain. Soon they grew tired of his mourning. They decided to create their own solutions for Job’s pain, even telling him to curse God.
I find many of us in the American church are like Job’s friends. Seeing the injustice and pain, willing to weep alongside our hurting brother, but growing tired when the mourning continues—desiring things to return to “normal” and wanting to move into finding solutions. Choosing to step away from the pain that does not directly affect us, so as to no longer sit in the tension. So we must ask, are we willing to sit in the tension of empathy? Or do we grow impatient with others’ pain?
Living as Christ Did
The final account that comes to mind is that of Christ. Jesus, who caused tension with the religious leaders of the day because of those who surrounded His table and because of the way He lived.
I hope the last few months have reminded us that the church does not consist of the four walls we meet in once a week. We are to be the church, living out the gospel daily. In the face of racial tension, we as the church have the answer in Christ. Yet we are often caught arguing with our brothers and sisters, leaving the world to take the lead. We must ask ourselves the most important questions: Do we live as Christ did—as Christ has called us to?
The issue of racism in America is multifaceted. It is complex and deep. There is much more to be said and learned, but these questions are a place to start. May we learn from the rich young ruler and from Job’s friends—knowing there is no sacrifice too great, no tension too long to sit in that can compare with the beauty of kingdom-living.
Church, it is time that we no longer sit complicit in areas of tension. It is time that we no longer get our cues from politics, being led by the world. It is time to enter intimate relationships that breed empathy and kingdom-mindedness. May we not fear living as Christ did—sharing our lives with those who differ from us. And may we find ourselves standing firm in areas of tension toward greater unity and freedom.