One night, around 1 am, my doorbell rang. Even in the Alaskan summer, when it is still light at that time, and people tend to stay up late hours, that was unusual. I opened the door and found my son standing there with a police officer. He had been spending the night with a friend. Steven looked very afraid, and said, “I didn’t do anything,” and rushed past me into the house.
The police officer smiled, and said, “I saw your son with a couple of other boys out past curfew. I wouldn’t have done anything, but when they saw me, they ran, so I had to see if they were up to anything. They weren’t, but I thought I should bring your boy home.”
For me that night, it was a minor inconvenience, and for Steven, a life lesson. But many parents are not that fortunate. It is with great sadness that I write these words. If my son had been black, and met the wrong cop, he would have been shot.
For those of you who know Steven, imagine what life would be like without him. Imagine what I would be like, if that night, instead of receiving a friendly life lesson, my son was killed.
I don’t know about you, but I watched with horror the incident between George Floyd and the police. I watched as he was laying on the ground, a police officer’s knee on this neck, moaning and saying that he could not breathe. I watched as bystanders, one of them an EMT, tried to tell the police they were killing Forbes. And I watched as they dragged his lifeless body to the ambulance, after eight minutes of having officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressing on his carotid artery.
The names of unarmed black man and women who have died at the hands of law enforcement officers is long, and depressing to see. I know that law enforcement can be dangerous. I know the police have a tough job. But why is it that we rarely if ever see cased of officers shooting unarmed white men.
And then last night, I watched as an angry mob burned down station house #3 in Minneapolis. I cannot imagine their anger, because when my son ran from a police officer, he was just kindly escorted home, not shot and killed.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
I want to put this in biblical perspective. It would be too easy to condemn the protesters. Very few of us really understand their rage. Few of us have endured the injustices they endured. We can all look at these events and know that the world is pretty messed up. Justice, a very biblical virtue, is so often perverted, or ignored. What does it mean for the family of George Forbes to receive justice? What does it mean for a black father to have “the talk” with his kids, where he tells them the way the world is. “If you get stopped by a policemen, you could get killed.”
Paul tells us that all creation is groaning. It groans with injustice. It groans with hatred, with prejudice, and with violence. It groans with grinding poverty that dehumanizes people, and, in the eyes of Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino, is in fact an act of violence against the poor. It groans with the divisions between people.
If you watched the news last night, you saw creation groaning. Groaning is rarely pretty or easy to watch. The anger of a community who knows the system is stacked against them has exploded with groaning. In the midst of all this we have learned that Blacks are more prone to die of COVID-19 than other groups, because of limited access to health care. And the sad truth is, we know that George Forbes will not be the last unarmed black man to die at the hands of law enforcement.
It would be easy to rush in with judgments right now. But first must come a time of prayer. But how do we pray? What is our prayer in the face of the injustices we are witnessing?
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The spirit groans with creation, and with our inability to even form the right prayers for the situation. This is the kind of prayer where we look up to heaven and ask, “Why?” Where we groan, “How long?” This is the kind of prayer that cannot be expressed in words. The is the prayer that arises from a deep place inside of us, the kind of prayer that emerges from our gut as we stand beside the hospital bed of someone we love, as we wrestle with our own inner demons, as we watch the world burn. This is the prayer of someone who has been struck down by injustice, and who can only groan with agony.
That is the kind of prayer we need to engage in before we make any judgments about the right or wrongs of actions and reactions.
We might ask “Where was God during all this?” God was laying on the ground, with a knee on his neck. God was standing in the midst of the inferno of station house #3. God is in the tears of family members and friends who mourn. That may sound strange, but God cannot redeem creation from a distance. God must be in the middle of the mess, and only then can we really see the redemptive power of the almighty.
Kind of like Jesus on the cross.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture, but also one of the most misquoted. Too often when people quote it, what the mean is, “Nothing bad can really happen to you.” That is far from the truth.
When Paul says, “All things work together for good,” he did not mean, “all good things.” He meant all things. He meant that the justice will meet injustice, and the injustices will be real, but God’s justice is stronger. He meant that love will encounter hate, but hate will not win. He meant that our unity in Christ will encounter divisions, but in the end, unity will win. He meant that Truth will encounter lies, but it is the Truth that will set us free.
We may not see the culmination in our lifetime. We may possibly view it from the other side of eternity. We may encounter injustices in our lives, we may encounter hate, we may encounter divisions, but those are, in the grand scheme of God, only momentary diversions.
In the meantime we do what we can to fight injustice. My wife just opened up a bank account with a Black bank, to help transfer money into Black communities where it is badly needed. I am learning Spanish, so we can do something to overcome the barriers between the Anglo and Hispanic communities in Medford. These are small acts, but we give them to God, who then takes and magnifies what we do.
What can you do?