Just a few quick thoughts on Ferguson for tonight. Maybe more later.
First, how should Christian’s respond to this decision and the various responses? We should respond the way Christians always respond in the face of confusion and hurt and anger: We preach Jesus. We preach the cross. We preach the gospel. But get this: this gospel is the good news of an innocent man lynched for the sins of the world. This gospel is the good news of a sinless man betrayed by a friend and hauled before a grand jury that miscarried justice as plain as day. That Man was the God who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all it contains, and He was mocked and jeered and strung up naked on a gibbet for the sins of the world, for the sins of America. Never forget that the Christian gospel is about the wickedness and bloodlust of the religious establishment and the cowardice and immorality of the political establishment.
Many people are already saying that this situation reveals the brokenness of the American judicial system, but as Christians, we have a story at the center of our faith that is all about a broken judicial system. We know what judicial systems are capable of. On the one hand, I actually happen to think that on most days of the week, in most cities in this nation, you’ve got pretty good odds of receiving a fair hearing. I’d rather be taken to court in this country than any other country in the world. Maybe that’s pride and ignorance talking, but in the few instances I’ve been in courthouses in this land, I’ve been impressed by the care, judiciousness, and kindness of the judges, even to undeserving criminals. But on the other hand, Christians should be at the forefront of proclaiming the brokenness of our judicial system in so far as there is growing distance between justice as administered and the standards of justice found in Scripture. While there is still a good deal of overlap between the two, the fact of the matter is that there is a growing fissure: abortion, homosexual marriage, no-fault divorce, and add to the list war crimes, police brutality, and various forms of unprosecuted economic injustice, and the chasm yawns. You can get life in prison for buying marijuana, but a grand jury doesn’t think there’s anything to look at when it comes to an unarmed man getting shot twelve times in broad daylight. Now at least one of those is a gross miscarriage of justice, and this is precisely the kind of thing that creates the mistrust and distorted optics.
Let me try to explain. My good friend and fellow elder, Chris Schlect, recently pointed out to me (speaking of another situation) that part of the measure of justice is found in a certain measure of satisfaction on the part of the community in the verdict. The Bible points to this when it refers to the avenger of blood in the Old Testament. In other words, part of the way you know justice has been done is by the effect it has on a community, on a society: it calms our fears, it placates indignation. This is not the entirety of justice. But when God’s law is followed, it tends to bring peace. But when a judicial system veers from God’s law it is inviting frustration because now there is no fixed standard. A parent who spanks randomly may occasionally spank for the right reasons, but he can’t be surprised or upset if it still makes his kid mad and rebellious. Arbitrary justice is the mother of frustration and the grandmother of vigilante justice. Frequently mobs march as testimonies to reality. The reason we have mobs in Ferguson (and other cities) is because we have an organized mob in suits in Washington. If there is growing distress about the ability of our judicial system to process claims judiciously, this should hardly be surprising since at the moment we have over three thousand innocent lives gunned down every day and it’s all legal by order of the courts in our land. And a disproportionate number of those are black babies whose blood cries out for justice. Recently, many of the same courts have been laboring diligently to establish and mandate contradictions in our land like boys can be girls and boys at the same time, depending on how you feel about it. When courts make these kinds of insane rulings, you cannot be surprised when people take to the streets, doubtful and furious. Maybe they’re only seeing red, maybe they’ve got this situation with Michael Brown all wrong. Maybe. But they aren’t crazy. They know something’s wrong. Something’s twisted. They can feel it. I can feel it.
And this brings me full circle. Here we are in an impossible place. Video cameras on cops is not going to fix this. Dialoguing about race relations is not going to fix this. Racial profiling cops to certain neighborhoods cannot fix this. Of course some people have to get up tomorrow and do their jobs. And some people have to get up tomorrow in Ferguson and suggest solutions. I pray for them to have creativity and wisdom. I’m not judging them. Some folks have to be policemen tomorrow. Some folks have to be fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers tomorrow. Some folks have to be school teachers and bus drivers. And some folks have to talk to their kids tomorrow about what happened down the street, outside their apartment. I get that, and God bless them as they try to tell the truth as best as they can. But I have to get up tomorrow and be a pastor. So hear me out.
I don’t mean this as a Christian juke. I’m not dodging the issue. There are racial issues, but that’s because there are sin issues. And sin is at its core rebellion against God. It’s a thick pride that goes all the way down to the core of every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. But the gospel confronts us in the form of a Man who says, ‘Your sin is like this’ — and He gets condemned as a rebel, as a blasphemer, as a liar, as a thug. And He says, ‘Your sin deserves this’ — and He gets spat on, and mocked, and whipped, and beaten, and finally nailed to a cross of wood to slowly suffocate in horrific pain and agony. And there, crying, screaming, gasping, heaving, He bears the sentence of justice due to the pride of every man, every woman. He was crushed for our iniquities. And upon Him was laid the chastisement that brought our peace (Is. 53:5). He who knew no sin became sin for us. He stood in our place. And He announces that it is finished. The injustice is finished, the shame is finished, the guilt is finished, the animosity is finished, the tensions are finished, the divisions are broken down, the walls are broken down, all the fears are driven away. Behold, John said at the Jordan, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the sin of Ferguson, the sin of America.
And this is why we preach Jesus the Lamb of God: in order that we would not give up hope.
Chris Schlect says
Well said, Toby. Mobs are not mindless; their outrage has a logic to it. At the same time, mobs always communicate their outrage badly. Both these qualities are what makes mobs mobs. That’s what we learn from the OT laws relating to the avenger of blood and cities of refuge.
Chris Schlect says
And I am honored to be named in your blog!