What Does the Lord Require?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Several years ago, I visited a church built in early 1900’s (or earlier) in Reading, Pennsylvania. As I admired the patterned tilework of the floors, original to the structure, I was surprised to see tiny little swastikas among the decorations in the tiles. The members of the church were well-used to explaining that the symbol of the swastika pre-dates the Third Reich by many thousands of years, and the builders of their church did not, in fact, have even the remotest connection to Nazism. Evidently the swastika held significance for Hindus and Buddhists in ancient India and Asia for thousands of years, was used in ancient Greece and can be found among the ruins of Troy. It also held significance for ancient Druids and Celts, Nordic tribes, and even ancient Christians.

However, I am willing to bet—no, I am 100% certain—that when the members of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia looked out during their Sabbath worship and saw the red flags of the Third Reich bearing the black scrawl of the swastika marching past their synagogue, they didn’t pause to wonder if the marchers were honoring the ancient Buddhist intent behind the symbol. They saw Nazis marching in their streets—Nazis. In Virginia, ya’ll! —and they knew what that meant.

And those Nazis (neo? really?), proudly waving their banners of evil, hatred, and death, were accompanied by others who bore aloft the Confederate flag. Side-by-side, with a shared purpose, they took to the streets to stand together in protest.

I’ve seen a few posts informing the uninformed that the original meaning of the Confederate flag had everything to do with Christian love and brotherhood, and that may well be true. But I’m certain that for the folks in Charlottesville who watched that red, white, and blue Dixie banner march by in company with the red, white, and black banner of genocidal National Socialism, images of Christian love and brotherhood were not what came to mind.

The synagogue wasn’t even the focus of the protest. The focus of the outrage was a statue. “The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, is located in a park that was used by whites only in that city’s segregated past. It is a memorial to the 1920s, a period of Jim Crow laws and “separate but equal” rules in Virginia.”[1] The time of racial strife during which the statue was placed in the park indicates its symbolic meaning—not the man represented in bronze atop his horse. The white supremacists were there to support the carriers of the Confederate flags as they protested the plan to remove the statue—and almost every African-American watching the spectacle knew exactly what that meant.

I’ve taken a slow week to think through my response to the news from Charlottesville; a week to sift through the clamor and the noise. See, I don’t initially agree with tearing down statues. I am a student of History, and I am intrigued by the people who shaped and were shaped by our nation. I admire both Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee as men—flawed as all men are—who, even still, exemplified courage and conviction in the most difficult of circumstances; both men acted out of deep-seated patriotism, both men personally opposed slavery, and both relied on the Lord for strength and guidance.

My purpose here is not to discuss historical facts or any deficit of understanding. That has been done rather more thoroughly and knowledgably by others more capable than I. My purpose is to explore how I, as a Christian woman—a white, Christian woman—ought to respond to the events of last week. See, I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but all in him are one in unity before God the Father: redeemed, cleansed, adopted, and freed from the guilt and power of sin—regardless of skin color.

There is another symbol, another edifice, before which I take my stand and to which I owe my identity. In ancient Rome the cross was a symbol of guilt and shame, of horror, defeat, and of death. Centuries before the rise of the Roman empire, the people of Israel had it written into their Law that anyone hung on a tree was cursed. But one day a little over two thousand years ago, on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, that symbol of death became the instrument through which God, by grace, would grant life to the dying, freedom to the slaves, and victory to the defeated.

The transformation was accomplished not mainly by protestors flooding the streets, although they were there and played a role, and not mainly by military might, also there playing its part, but rather, by the eternal decree of God. The transformation was accomplished by the greatest act of love, in the shape of the greatest act of injustice, ever to be seen in the history of the universe.

For, as the crowds of Jerusalem were shouting for the blood of an innocent man and the ruling government was acquiescing to their demands, the sinless Son of God was led through the streets, having been beaten and humiliated. Led to his execution by sinful men, the Lord of glory, like a lamb led to slaughter, went without resistance. Jesus Christ “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. . . he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7,8).

Why did he go so willingly? Because of love. We were enslaved to sin and death, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive in Christ!” (Ephesians 2:4, 5) Because he died, all who through faith believe on him are forgiven of all our bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice. We are therefore to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:31, 32) And because he forgave us, we are told to, “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” (Eph. 5:1, 2)

How did Christ love us? Sacrificially. How are we therefore to walk? In sacrificial love. We are not to use our freedom as an opportunity to selfishly serve ourselves, “but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”” (Gal 5:13, 14).

And how do we love our neighbors?

Love is patient and kind;

(When my neighbor is hurting or afraid, love patiently listens with kindness)

love does not envy or boast;

(When my neighbor objects to a hurtful symbol, love does not patronize with historical facts)

it is not arrogant or rude.

(Love doesn’t march the streets with banners of hate)

It does not insist on its own way;

(Love does not place importance of statues over people)

it is not irritable or resentful;

(Love does not ‘come angry’ and chant slogans)

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing,

(Love weeps with those who suffer)

but rejoices with the truth.

(Love celebrates true understanding with our neighbors)

Love bears all things,

(Love lets the statues go and embraces the neighbor)

believes all things,

(Love trusts that differences between neighbors are reconcilable through the blood of Christ)

hopes all things,

(Love seeks true fellowship with our neighbors)

endures all things.

(Even when misunderstandings persist, love prays for grace)

Love never ends. . . .

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)

Death did not have the final word, that day outside of Jerusalem. The cross is no longer a symbol of death because three days after Christ humbled himself and submitted to the torture and death of the cross, he was gloriously resurrected, and his Father “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

This, my friend, is where the justice comes in. We needn’t look far to realize that there is no perfect justice here while we live. But there is coming a day when “we all must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) While we do strive to love our neighbors by seeking justice, we will fall short. So we place our hope for perfect justice in the hands of our perfect judge, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the meantime, let’s still do what we are able to accomplish justice, express our love through mercy, and walk humbly—laying down our banners and taking the hands of our neighbors—with our God.

*For more context on the role of statues in public places, I commend to you the article referenced below in the footnote.


[1] Jessica Sponsler, Monuments in public spaces convey our values, August 18,2017 http://lancasteronline.com/opinion/columnists/monuments-in-public-spaces-convey-our-values/article_5acb330a-838f-11e7-96cd-2f4c8f5b2334.html

 

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