The furore about race that has taken the world by storm may have started in a despicable way, but it has opened up conversations that really needed to happen. People are hurting. Injustice has gone on unchecked for too long. Angry responses are devastating lives and businesses. We have to talk about race.
God is not colorblind
God created each one of us uniquely, intentionally, with a specific destiny in mind. He made us in the skin we’re in – on purpose. Moreover, He sees nations, tribes and ethnicities with unique callings, characteristics and contributions to His greater purposes.
Different cultures together create a beautiful mosaic, with each reflecting aspects of God’s glorious nature in different ways, yet each flawed in at the same time. Each people group has its own character, history and journey.
When you observe closely how God talks about people groups, He is more than happy to “lump them together” as a singular unit, even though we know very well that He also knows each one of us intimately, as individuals. But God also relates to us in our communities, addresses congregations as one unit (see the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3), and speaks to entire nations as singular entities. You have to be pretty determined to read the Bible through and conclude that He does not see races, people groups and nations. Indeed, we see the glorious climax and evidence of this in Revelation 7:9-12:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Each people group has its own unique place before the throne of God. All are invited, people will be there from every nation, and all are equal before Him. Our race does indeed matter to God, and is significant to His wider story. He deals with nations as a whole, and our racial heritage and culture will ultimately stand to give glory to the God who created us all. We not only see God dealing with nations in the Scriptures, but even today, we can observe how He seems to pour out His revelation on people groups in remarkable ways. I heard a Cru staff member saying how it seemed wherever they were in the world, Chinese people were coming to faith at that time. Now we see God at work in Iran, which is the fastest growing church in the world (with Afghanistan in second place). The curious thing is that Iranians are coming to faith in great numbers even though they are scattered throughout the nations (something that God spoke about regarding Iran in Jeremiah 49:36 along with several other interesting prophecies1). Yes, God sees our ethnicity, wherever we are in the world.
God is not racist
When Moses’ sister, Miriam, criticised Moses for his African wife, God punished her with a temporary but terrifying bout of leprosy. Leprosy is a symbol of sin. Not OK, Miriam! When Jonah was reluctant to share the good God of Israel abroad, God insisted that he should go to Nineveh so they could know him too. The first missionary team in Acts was multi-ethnic, and Peter’s ethnocentrism was rebuked.
“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “I now truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”” (Acts 10:34-35)
However, the sin of racism is most definitely alive and kicking all over the globe. Grievously, people reject and abuse one another on the basis of ethnicity all the time. Injustice, hate and division are rampant, as our hearts so often incline to evil. The ironic thing is that countries most often and most loudly accused of racism – including the US and Israel – don’t even make an appearance on the list in research seeking to determine the most racist countries in the world. According to the findings of a research-based inquiry from 2016, the most racist country on Earth is India, followed by Lebanon, Bahrain, Libya, and Egypt. (World Population Review).
It’s not just the skin, it’s the story
There are reasons why the situation is so explosive in the US. George Floyd’s appalling murder has a wider context. There is such a thing as national trauma, as the people of Israel know all too well. Moreover, that trauma can be literally passed on through the genes, as a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda discovered:
Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations. The conclusion stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war. They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.2
Similar results appear to occur among descendants of those who went through the horrors of slavery.3 In a phenomenon known as Epigenetic Transmission, signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have even been found in the third generation, and have been detected in the grandchildren of trauma survivors.
The science of epigenetics, literally “above the gene,” proposes that we pass along more than DNA in our genes; it suggests that our genes can carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and can influence how we react to trauma and stress… Trauma experienced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.4
When looking at people groups, God sees everything they have gone through, and everything they are still going through till this day. And when it comes to the traumas of both the Holocaust and slavery in the US, they are more recent than many seem to think. The pain is still very fresh. We need to look through this lens of history and appreciate the depth of trauma and pain that is continuously and deeply felt, always there, just below the surface. Especially in these tense times of global upheaval, George Floyd’s murder was a match thrown on a petroleum-soaked situation. It’s not the only incident of racial injustice happening today and African slavery isn’t the only incidence of collective trauma, but these are horrors demanding our attention right now. The balm that needs to be applied here needs to be applied to every injustice and racial rift around the globe.
God of Justice
El Roi, the God who sees, has seen it all. He has seen the collective suffering and also each individual travesty of justice, whether it was recognized or not. Just as God said that He had been paying close attention to what had been done to the people of Israel during their own 400 years of slavery in Egypt, He hears the cry of all the oppressed:
“I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their slave masters, for I know their pains.” (Exodus 3:7)
The first thing that God’s law addresses after the Ten Commandments is that slaves should go free. God is a God of freedom and slavery goes against all that He is. God rescued Israel out of Egypt, but it took a long time to shake off the shackles even as they journeyed with Him to the Promised Land. Liberation is often a painful process rather than a one off event.
God understands and He cares. He is a God of justice and compassion for the oppressed. All who love God and are seeking to be conformed to His image need to fit into this mould too – there is no room for complacency or disinterest when the oppressed cry out.
As God’s children, His ambassadors in this world, it is up to up to seek peace and pursue it. We can be vehicles to bring God’s justice and healing, and indeed, that is what we are called to be. Isaiah 58 spells it out very clearly – our religious fasting is no good if we are not prepared to take an active part in loosing the chains of injustice. But what does that look like?
Healing racial rifts
Closing our ears to the cries of the downtrodden is an offense to God. He is the God who hears our cry and sees our pain, and we need to be willing to be intentional about listening, learning, and deliberately opening our ears to others. We need to get in the habit of getting into another’s shoes and walking around in them for a while, trying to see what they see and feel what they feel. This in itself is an important step in helping to bring comfort and finding the way forward. Being seen and heard really helps. But can deeply entrenched trans-generational trauma ever be healed? Going back to epigenetics, it has also been found that since genetic codes can be changed by trauma, they can also be changed back, breaking the cycle:
“There’s a malleability to the system… The die is not cast. For the most part, we are not messed up as a human race, even though trauma abounds in our environment.” At least in some cases, Dias says, healing the effects of trauma in our lifetimes can put a stop to it echoing further down the generations. 5
Healing ultimately comes through repentance and forgiveness. This is the main reason why – even though black lives absolutely do matter – we cannot fully align with the BLM movement. Apart from their pro-choice, anti-Israel / BDS and anti-heteronormative family stance6, there is no goal of forgiveness or reconciliation in the BLM agenda. These things are prerequisites for resolution and healing, and are not optional according to God. Unforgiveness and bitterness will eat us alive and make us pawns in the enemy’s games. Peace, life, and blessing come through repentance and forgiveness. We must make sure we are giving no room whatsoever to the enemy in our hearts, and to give God first place. It’s up to each one of us to examine our lives and make these choices. As God said to His people in Deuteronomy 30, it’s up to us to choose what we want for our own lives and the generations to follow. It’s up to us to choose blessings or curses, God’s way or the way to destruction.
The Jewish / Arab conflict as the “top button”
Dr. Raleigh B. Washington of Promise Keepers once said that the Jewish / Arab conflict was like the top button of a shirt – if you get that one wrong, then all the others will be out of line. As a key advocate for racial reconciliation in America, he could see the spiritual significance of getting things right in the spiritual epicentre of the world. There has been so much tragedy and pain, so much horror and injustice along the paths of Israel and the Palestinian people, but we are seeing the great power of the gospel to change hearts. We have our hope in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and His ability to heal broken hearts. We are not blind to the trauma of the peoples around us, both in the Middle East and in the nations, but we are witnessing first hand the power of God to restore long-broken relationships. Here at ONE FOR ISRAEL, we can testify to the fact that God can transform, heal, and bring life where there once was death and destruction. We have seen the great blessing that happens when we dwell in unity together. We declare to America and the world that there is hope.
- Elam: Iran’s Forgotten Prophecy
- The Intergenerational Trauma of Slavery and its Aftermath Graff, Gilda.The Journal of Psychohistory; New York Vol. 41, Iss. 3, (Winter 2014): 181-197.
- Veteransresiliency.com Trauma May Be Woven Into DNA of NativeAmericans Mary Annette Pember
- https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190326-what-is-epigenetics Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the generations?