This Thanksgiving is going to be bittersweet for many. Many will enjoy the festivities, parades, playing flag or touch football in the yard with family and friends and then watch their favorite teams battle it out on TV. This was a big tradition in my family.
But during this Thanksgiving, many of us might have hearts of despair and bitterness. The announcement last night by the grand jury in Ferguson only further cemented perhaps decades or even generations of inequality and injustice in your life. You might wonder what there is to be thankful for. Why did God ignore my pain once again? Whose side is God on anyway?
I ask the question, which side is God on? because if God has a side, I ultimately want to be on His side. And I suspect that everyone else who loves Him desires to be on His side too. That’s a good question, but as stupid as this might sound, asking that question is a lot like asking the same question when your favorite sport team is playing their arch rival. It’s crazy because half of the debate about Ferguson thinks their side lost and half thinks their side won. Neither side won. It wasn’t even a draw. The truth is that the game is still being played and from where I’m sitting, it appears that both sides are losing.
Last night, I was disappointed at the reaction from certain leaders within the church and community- some of whom are friends of mine- as they expressed their support or grievance in the decision that the grand jury reached. There is something disturbing in the reaction that goes beyond the verdict of the jury. It is sickening to think that the decision to not indict this officer means that the case is closed and we can parade and move on. It is equally sickening in the presumption of the officer’s guilt to bring evil upon innocent by burning their belongings, destroying their businesses, and inciting retaliation birthed in hate.
We need to be clear about one thing: The fight for freedom and justice is not over. I cannot even say it has truly begun. Many churches and faithful saints were calling on God last night, pleading with Him before the verdict was announced. But if our prayers were cheering on an internal seed that was rooting for an announcement of “innocent” or “guilty” more than a cry for justice and truth to prevail, then we have prayed for this situation in the same manner that we pray for our football or basketball team to win on game night. And you are going to be disillusioned in your interpretation of last night’s verdict. You will not see clearly.
When I have prayed for my teams in the past, of course I have asked God to find favor on them and to allow them to win. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost. But really, that is not a good prayer. Here’s why. First, assuming that God favors one side over another is also assuming that God does not love the opponent. And that is not true.
Even in God’s election and sovereign decisions, God loves everyone. His desire is for the peace and salvation and blessing of every person. He died for everyone. That is clear in Scripture, but my point is not about the theology of salvation. No matter whether your skin is black or white or red or yellow, God is for you. He is on your side. He is also on the side of that person who is different than you, whether it is because of skin color, affluence, sexual orientation or other sociological distinctions. No matter what you go through and no matter what the outcomes are when it comes to justice, God is for you. He died for you. This is the side He is on. Are you on His side?
If you are on God’s side, your feelings and emotions won’t be shaken in any court verdict. Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. It means that He knows better than you. It means that you will seek what He seeks. God’s side in not the side that is rooted in pride, but in humbly pursuing Gods pursuits, even when they do not agree with your thoughts.
For many Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was extreme fury and rage toward the conclusion of the Ferguson grand jury. If this is you, then you likely wonder how so many people in the jury got it so wrong. You might wonder, where is God in all of this? Does He not care about justice and equality? Does he hate me or my children? Some of you might have taken matters into your own hands – maybe you have rioted and looted in your own heart. Some of you might begin to doubt God’s goodness and love.
For many other Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was great elation and sense of justice and peace in your household because you believe that the system got it right. If this is you, then you probably have publicly affirmed the jury’s decision. You are also more affirmed in the sense of God’s justice and love for you. You might think God is for you and let this season pass without giving thought about anything else. Your position won. You won. You feel justified by what you believe to be true.
But the question remains, which side is God on? I sincerely believe that God did not side with the blacks or whites last night. He was not with the majority or minority. He just wasn’t. He was at a different game, at a different stadium, cheering on a different team. God’s team was you. God was with you. He was on your side. He was fighting for you.
God was on your side because:
- He sent Jesus to die for your sins and all the injustice you have committed against Him and against others.
- Jesus’ blood also covered the sins and injustice committed against you and your family and loved ones.
- Satan the creator and propagator of injustice and inequality has been defeated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and will one day be completely consumed in hell by the final judgment of God.
- There will be a day in court when the record will be exposed before the eyes of witnesses. Justice will be served forever.
- Through Jesus Christ your eternity can be full of life and infinite joy and peace.
- You are created with significance and have been granted the authority by God to be an agent for His love and justice in our world right now.
Yes, God is on your side. He is cheering for team You. In Christ, you are his chosen ambassador to carry the torch of love, mercy, justice and truth (Micah 6:8; 2 Cor 5:17-21). You are the one who is also called to walk in the ease of his yolk (Matt. 11:30) by submitting your cares and concerns and injustices to Him (1 Pet 5:7; Psa. 55:22). Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. So what does this mean for you?
First, if your side won last night, you are called to do more than the customary pat on the butt and shaking of hands with the losing team that happens at the end of each game. It might be that justice prevailed last night in Ferguson. It might be that it was grossly denied in a way that makes the angels of heaven ready to storm the gates of hell.
There is no denying the injustice that happens on a daily basis to the African American community. My friend Marcus who is a respected physician grew up in a godly Christian home. His father is a pastor and his family loves Jesus. He is not a trouble maker. Yet, despite all his faithfulness and the faithfulness of his parents to raise a good home, he still faced terrible injustice and inequality in his life because of the color of his skin. He shared with me how he has been pulled over by police simply because he is black. He has been followed and harassed in ways that I will never know because my olive skin is considered to be an “acceptable” tone for society.
I’m a white man. But, I’m sure his story is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the torments of the minority. And if any person just shakes their hands and walks away from last night’s announcement and thinks everything is well, that person is severely misinformed or extremely naive.
Conversely, if your team “lost” last night I am begging and pleading with you to do more than utter an insincere “good game” that happens at the end of each game. Our country and culture needs for you to rise up and be the stronger team, the better team. We sincerely need it.
The team that God is on is rooted in humility and love, even in its pursuits of justice. Jesus was faithful to you and me even until the end of his ministry on earth. When Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, Jesus rebuked him and healed his “enemy.” Resolving to violence and anger against the innocent only affirms and solidifies the wrong and evil beliefs of racism that still permeate the fabrics of our nation.
If you were one who was calling on God last night, and if you have experienced His love for you, and if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, then you absolutely have the responsibility to love your enemy and to pray for those who mistreated you. When you follow Christ, when you claim his name, you lose the rights to yourself. This is the hardest lesson to learn, the most difficult path to follow. Last’s nights issue is not a racial issue as much as it is a spiritual issue. Are we brave enough to sign up to be on God’s team? Are we willing to join his roster?
If you want God to be on your side, then you need to be on his side. I will know, the world will know, you will know God is on your side when you love like he loves. It is up to you and me. There has to come a point where you reach out to your enemy and love them like Christ loved you.
In our community, this means that community servants like police officers and leaders of justice passionately uphold the law and compassionately represent the afflicted- no matter the color of skin. It means that education and resources continue to be freely administered to free those who are seeking relief from their injustice. I have no problem with social services when they are administered with love and responsibility.
In our community it also means that the afflicted free themselves by forgiving those who mistreat them. The greatest way to win a man is by loving him. This might sound ridiculous but if the African American community lovingly reached out to the white man with love, it would go a long way in dissolving negative feelings and racism that pervade parts of this community. White communities should reject the temptation to simply move on and instead intentionally reach out to minorities. We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jo 4:19; Rom 5:6, 8). Enemies are crushed by love.
Racism will only be defeated by love- not retaliation. Not public policy. Not the outcome of court cases. Not by increasing entitlements. Only by love. So, as a white person, who has really done the black community no harm, but as one who has even served the black community in some of the most underserved and unloved areas in our country, I am asking you to forgive my whiteness. Forgive me. I am on your team. I am on your side. You are my brother and sister in Christ.
I need you to reach out to me and to not retaliate. Be the greater person. Speak out against the violence and retaliation we are witnessing. You will change this world. You will conquer the lie of racism. Reach out to me.
Even so, I will reach out to you. I will receive you. I will care for you. I will love you. I will fight with you and for you for truth and love in our society. I need this from you. The game clock is ticking. We are both losing when we are against each other. It is Thanksgiving and I want our team to win. We are on the same team. Can we fight for love and freedom together? Don’t come to “my side.” Let us go together to His side during this Thanksgiving. And know that I am praying for you and walking with you through this season as best as I know how. May our team win!