3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
Being hated and hating. That’s how the apostle Paul describes the natural trajectory of a life untouched by the kindness, love, mercy and renewal of God.
How can a person walk into an Orlando nightclub and start murdering people one by one just because of their sexual orientation? How can a person walk into a Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murder nine innocent people simply because of their race? How can someone kill five Dallas policemen through sniper-fire who were protecting a peaceful protest –targeting them solely because of their race? How can someone walk into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and murder innocent children and teachers?
These are but a few of the high-profile expressions of hatred and darkness of heart. They make me sad and angry and long for all things to be set right in God’s new creation.
There are many other expressions of hatred that occur on various scales all around us everyday. Everything from slander, gossip, verbal abuse to violence. Let’s call it what it is: the natural pull of this fallen world is into the abyss of being hated and hating.
But the good news is that in the midst of the darkness of hate stands the bold and bright light of God’s love, kindness and mercy that is available to all. And right along with God’s love is the renewing and reshaping influence of the Holy Spirit who is pushing us into the character of Jesus.
Will you be the peculiar one who will embrace the love of God into your own life and then ask, “how should the outrageous love, kindness and mercy of God influence my words and actions today?”
Events of the past several months have reminded me that generalizations about other people and groups of people are so very dangerous. These generalizations can look like racism, bigotry, prejudice or classism.
God doesn’t generalize and neither should we. God doesn’t hold us accountable as a group, as a team, as a race or a nation. He doesn’t look at people from Texas and paint us with broad, generalized strokes. He looks at each of us individually and we will all stand as individuals before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:12) We will be accountable in the last day on an individual basis and we should be held accountable in this day on an individual basis. If I’m at fault, hold me accountable but don’t blame all preachers because of my missteps.
Labels are libels. Life is more nuanced than generalizations allow. Generalizations tend to target people negatively who have nothing to do with past issues and misdeeds. Here is the action point: do not project your generalized attitudes toward any race – and I mean any race – or group, including policeman and preachers. This is not easy to do without a major work of the Holy Spirit’s love and discernment in your heart because this world will pull you in the direction of generalized hatred.
Racism, bigotry, pride, condescension and classism are ugly and unchristian. There should never be a hint of these among the people of God. I’m not so naïve as to think it will never happen, but when it does, it should be specifically and appropriately addressed and corrected. It breaks my heart to think that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ will find themselves under negative assumptions simply because of their race, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
Even the apostle Peter had to learn the hard way some of these very important lessons about favoritism and generalizations as recorded in Acts 10: But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean… I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
The church can set the pace and show the way as a community of robust inclusion. It is the will of God that we love and respect all people in our communities. It is the will of God that we open our homes, tables and hearts to one another and that we intentionally and proactively embrace fellow believers and “potential believers” who are racially, ethnically, generationally and socio-economically different from us. This will not “just happen” – we must and we can make it happen.
If your friendship group looks just like you and you live in the most diverse city in America and in a very diverse church, it’s time that you take action to open your own tables to those who are dissimilar in terms of race, age or paycheck and yet so very similar because of our common bond in Jesus Christ. Stop thinking that this is a wonderful concept and start making this a wonderful reality one conversation, one meal, one opportunity at a time.
It’s important that we talk to one another from a viewpoint of mutual respect and love. Philippians 2 teaches us to consider the viewpoints of others before our own. And so, when we love people, we try to understand life from their perspective and as we dialogue we move closer to one another in understanding. Good listening helps us to recognize people in their specific pain and their specific perspective.
And so, how shall we respond to the hatred that may be directed towards us for whatever reason? Shall we personally escalate the situation? Shall we personally return evil for evil? Read the Romans 12:17-21 counterintuitive teaching from Scripture and then read the quote below from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in 1955 received his Ph.D. degree in Systematic Theology from Boston University: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ, teaching a message of grace, love and renewal, is our bold proclamation both within the church and from the church to the world at large. Love really can be greater than hate; prayer really can be stronger than evil; and hope really can be greater than despair.
Disclaimer: My views and opinions reflect my own personal stance and do not necessarily reflect the views of the First Colony Church of Christ.