I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks when I wake up in the morning and hear about violence in the streets. It seems to be all to common, especially with the 24/7 news cycle that pervades our society today. It is a tragedy of the brokenness that we find ourselves within. It is no different than what has happened in the past in the sense that what is going on has truly changed, the only real difference that can be seen is that it is being put in front of us and we are more aware of what is going on in our world.
I could only imagine what it would have looked like if we would have had the news cycle and the media in the centuries past when we have an oppressed people rise up. When we honestly look at this much of what we see is the direct result of oppression, whether perceived or real (that is not a debate I wish to enter into with this because I know that we have a variety of views prevalent in our society and I will say that there is merit on all the views, though, in my opinion, they are all flawed). The formula is odd when we think of things rationally, but an oppressed mind does not think rationally. This is seen within the destruction of property, looting, and the shuttering of businesses and services that are, in the eyes of the oppressed symbols of their oppressor, the means that may be used to help elevate the position of people.
Oppression occurs when one set of people put themselves above another. Historically, we see this happening cyclically and it is always a symbol of our fallen nature. It is also often the goal of the oppressor to destroy a group of people that they see as being less than them. In the Old Testament we see it with the Egyptians versus other cultures in Exodus through Deuteronomy, then in Joshua as they enter the Promised Land and the Canaanites, and other nations in Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, through to the New Testament. Of course, we see this seed placed at the Fall with Cain feeling anger and jealousy of his brother, Abel, and taking his life up through the flood. Even after the flood with the Tower of Babel. The center of sin arises when one finds themselves above another and begin to worship gods of their own creation. God desired to protect his chosen people, the Israel, from being influenced by these gods and desired to destroy those that were idol worshipers from the land that he desired to give to his people, but we see the failure there as these groups are spared yet put under the Israelite people – creating an oppressed group. The Bible is full of this sin of the people and we are created with a sense of value given to us by our creator and it drives us to find death a better alternative to being oppressed. That’s why there are those that will do extreme acts when they feel oppressed.
Jesus entered into this oppressed world with his birth. At his birth we find that he challenges the oppressor and his parents flee to avoid the persecution as the leader, Herod, has all male children two and under in Bethlehem killed. Herod felt his power challenged and did what he saw as right to keep it. Just as the oppressed are not rational, those who hunger for power are equally irrational when they feel their power threatened. We saw this with Pharoah when Moses called for the release of his people and Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who feels the need to appear more powerful than his father, and others throughout history. From the beginning Jesus came with a different message. Throughout the Gospels as he walks with his disciples he teaches a different message. His disciples and those who hear about him think he is going to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her glory they recall under King David. Yet, we know, that Jesus presented something greater, a promise of restoration to having things the way God intended for us from the beginning. The people of history that are arguably the most oppressed are the people of Israel. Prior to the coming of Jesus we can find that they had historically risen up against oppression only to fall back again. The historical books of 1 -4 Maccabees are an account of an uprising against Greek oppression, that is where Hannukah has its roots. Genocide has been attempted against the Jewish people throughout history with the creation of Ghettos, to pogroms throughout Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust (which all of us should be familiar) yet God’s promise has been maintained and their are more people of Jewish heritage today than in any other time in history. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations and the hope is that all of creation, including his chosen people Israel, would be restored. That is the difficulty of Jesus’ words in Luke 12, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51, ESV) These words as well as those that surround them are troubling, especially when put in context of what is said surrounding these words. Family divisions, we know, arise in our world today as well as struggles when we desire to share our faith. Sometimes a hard word is to be spoken, in order for the truth to break through.
The greatest truth is that we are sinners, all of us, in need of a savior. That savior is Jesus Christ who came not only to save, but to redeem, to make things right. In accepting this reality it does require a strong sense of humility and acceptance of the sinful self.
Sin is the ultimate oppressor. It causes division in relationships and within cultures. It causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we should and we forget the neighbor. During the Holocaust it was not a great secret that Jews were being gathered up and being taken to the concentration camps. Those cities in the shadow of these camps were confronted with the smell of bodies being burned which is a smell unlike any other. The reality of what was going on was undeniable, yet many ignored and denied any knowledge. Churches near the tracks where people were being transported in response to the sounds from the rail cars responded by playing the music louder and calling the people to sing louder. It is sometimes easier to feign ignorance than to face the issues that are before us. We can argue the same today. In Christ Jesus, we can find opportunities to speak. The deep question is how do we overcome the irrational violence and be voices of peace? It is hard, but necessary. Unfortunately, more than fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” our nation seems more divided in this racial divide and Sunday mornings are still very segregated. A general distrust continues to pervade those that are darker skinned and those that are lighter skinned, my wording is thoughtful of an excellent program of Ken Ham. As Christians, we can come along science that came out in the beginning of the 21st century which deconstructs this concept of race and shows the history of its creation as well as tying it to our biblical understanding which we find beginning with Babel.
As we begin to see one another as brothers and sisters wonderfully created by God and equal in honor given us as those created in the image of God we will see the spirit of oppression break down. As we trust and follow the words of Jesus Christ we will see a breakdown of these oppressive tendencies that continue to divide. Our faith is not naturally an oppressive faith, though there are those that would argue differently. Our faith has, historically, done more to fight oppression. Yes, we have examples in history where the Christian faith was misused and abused to oppress another culture. This, however, is more of an anomaly and not analogous of the faith as given us through Scripture. There are many, I know, that will take umbrage with this statement and will cite the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the forced conversion of indigenous peoples by the taking of children to private schools, and the oppression of women. Knowing these things, I will still say that they are not the norms. Our faith has a great heritage of giving oppressed people hope and releasing them from oppression as the culture around them became Christian. Women, in many cultures, found greater freedom and respect by their families and the cultures also. Hospitals and medical care were brought to areas that did not have it because of Christians. Christians have taken in those that were rejected by the people of an area and given them dignity and life. Jesus gave us that example in John 4 and John 8, just to name a couple though I can think of more I could write now. When Christianity is practiced as presented in Scripture we can find great opportunities for transformation of culture. Dignity is central to our faith.
In humility, we will find peace through faith in Jesus Christ. When fellow followers of Christ feel oppressed, we all are called to suffer with them and come together in prayer for them. Peace comes when we put ourselves in the life of the other and do not discredit their pain. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, blessed to be a blessing. Our skin color does not speak of our character in Christ, but it is the depth of where our Lord ranks in our living. If those who hate us come after us, we are called not to respond in hate, but in love. We are to pray for those that persecute us. Brothers and sisters in Christ united in prayer is powerful. Let our faith dictate how we look upon the other. For those of darker skin, it is undeniable that they are often viewed and treated differently in communities and for those of us that are lighter skinned should stand against that and speak out about it. They are our brothers and sisters and it is only right that we do so. When we truly center our lives and our faith in Christ Jesus our hearts are called to turn to caring for the other and setting aside our own suffering. We could learn something, too, from what he did as he was beaten and mocked and ultimately nailed to the cross. He did not curse the persecutors, but prayed for them. Sadly, we don’t do that enough either. I pray for those that feel that they are being oppressed and I pray for those that they believe are oppressing them. I pray for a stop of this violence and I pray that more hearts no the love that Jesus Christ has for them. Violence will only breed violence. Hatred only breeds more hatred. Peace comes not from our own will but looking to the Prince of Peace and praying that he first transform my heart and then praying for others to know that transformation too.
I pray for the day that the Breaking News be about a community coming together and how one person saved another from a natural disaster or some other danger. I pray for the Prince of Peace to reside in all hearts and that we, together, as brothers and sisters regardless of the tint of our skin, see each other as God sees us, his most beautiful creation.