“Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:8
My hometown of Baton Rouge last week joined a host of other cities torn by a raw combination of anger, fear, and lament over the latest shooting of a citizen. These are the emotions I have felt. Anger at the entire matrix of evil and danger so many people live in each day and into which we send our police. Fear that this evil will screech its way into our lives in ever-more vicious ways. Lament that a man is dead, a family is hurting, and that the life of the police officer who pulled the trigger has been altered forever.
Please understand that I do not know if the victim had a gun and tried to pull it in his scuffle with the officers. I do not know if the police officers responding to the original call of a man with a gun had a scintilla of racism. I’m not assessing blame, guilt, or motive of the individuals involved.
I’m simply stating the obvious, but usually forgotten fact, that what we see in these situations is the visible irruption of pervasive evil in a particular setting. And when a problem is spiritual in nature, then the solution is spiritual as well.
But of what practical use is this? What do we DO? What is a spiritual solution? Any thoughtful Christian, any thoughtful spiritual person of any persuasion, wants to be an instrument of peace. What does that look like?
In a word, the answer is love, but what a word that is! If we could recapture, if we ever really had it, a vision of what love is, what it can do, and how it can transform us from within then we will have discovered divine fire. Here’s what I think love looks like and how it conducts itself in these complex and intractable situations.
First, let’s admit our limits. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in this society. I don’t know what it’s like to live in an impoverished neighborhood (and I’ve worked to repair homes in these neighborhoods enough to say that there are likely people within a few miles of you living in conditions of stunning poverty, indifference, and violence). I don’t know what it’s like to be a man in those conditions who feels he needs a gun for protection. I don’t what it’s like to be a policeman charged with working in a dangerously hostile environment. I don’t know a lot about the conditions that much of anyone else lives in.
This frank agnosticism is important because of our tendency to focus on one sliver of an issue, prescribe what should be done (usually how another person should change), and then pronounce the matter settled. Love means admitting my limits to understanding another person and their situation. I have to put down my gavel. The moment I start judging is the moment I stop loving.
Second, love means inviting the Spirit to survey my mind. Dark thoughts and emotions well up in me with a frightening speed. I can sense in my spirit the shadows of racism, anger, violence, selfishness, fear, resentment, and hatred. I can’t possibly love if I grow comfortable with those corrosive contemplations.
Related to this is my words. The Hebrews had a great insight into the power of speech. They believed that a spoken word had a certain energy to it. The spoken word accomplished something in the real world. The genesis of this idea is most certainly Genesis itself where God spoke creation into existence. God said, and there was the universe and the earth with all of its wondrous variety. Interestingly, the only part of creation God did not speak into existence is man and woman. These He formed with His hands, a powerful and indelible illustration of God’s commitment to a personal relationship with us.
Our words also create. I believe that every spoken word mysteriously either contributes to God’s loving will in this world or detracts from it. No speech is void. So I must be constantly aware of how I speak about other people, and when my words, public or private, block the flow of grace in this world then I need to repent (literally change my mind) and speak in a different way about situations and especially people.
I’ve devoted quite a bit of space to the inner spiritual qualities of love because those are the most accessible to us. We can change the way we think and speak. Love begins with that.
Of course, love is ultimately an action that extends beyond our spirits and minds. We do need to DO something. A minister whose preaching has come to mean quite a bit to me lately urged us to get into the community, make friends with people of other races, find ways to be of service, and generally be less insular.
You may not know what to do or how to love in this setting. Try this: simply ask God to make you an instrument of His peace. Pray it daily. I assure you God meets our willingness with His purpose. Every time. Never, never underestimate the power that God releases through the prayers of His children. People are hurting deeply. Our prayers somehow enhance the work of the Spirit (most likely through making us more available to God).
I’ve focused solely on one particular incident here in Baton Rouge. It was repeated in Minnesota. And the horror of Dallas highlights how the grotesque tendrils of evil can spread. Sadly, we will have other incidents like these because the problem is evil.
I simply want to be more deeply on the side of good. I want to love better. I want to rededicate myself to the powerful and positive forces of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. These qualities endure. And I have hope. “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail. The right prevail. With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Dr. Terry Ellis
July 10, 2016