Lamenting an Unjust Death

Lamenting an Unjust Death

For the past week, our nation has been reeling and has been rocked by the footage of the senseless death of George Floyd. Thousands have rightly responded with outrage and calls for justice, while others have capitalized upon this terrible situation to perpetrate other, equally heinous crimes. I have struggled with how to communicate the thoughts and emotions in my own heart. To be honest, I even delayed several days watching the video of the incident, knowing that I needed to watch it, but at the same time being inwardly repulsed at the thought that I would be watching a man murdered. This is no Hollywood film with special effects; this is real life…and death.

Having watched the video, I found myself in tears, and my soul crying out with the Psalmist:

How long, O Lord, will you look on?
     Rescue me from their destruction,
     my precious life from the lions!
(Psalm 35:17)

How can we watch without being moved deeply? A grown man, cuffed and face-down on the pavement. A knee on the neck and other men apply pressure elsewhere. The man begs for relief: “I can’t breathe!” After minutes of suffering, he begins to cry out, “Mama!” What causes a grown man to say that, other than fear and the reality that his life was being drained, poured out. I don’t begin to understand or know all that led up to those moments, but once again, the words of the Psalmist give voice to the cries of George Floyd:

For without cause they hid their net for me;
     without cause they dug a pit for my life.
(Psalm 35:7)

The Language of Lament

The Psalmist doesn’t just give words to wrap our minds around the atrocities that our eyes have witnessed, but also instruction on how our hearts should process the things we have seen and heard. That there has been – and continues to be – injustice in our world, and especially in our nation, is undeniable. How do we approach such injustice?

First, the Psalmist doesn’t ignore, deny, or explain away the situation. He brings it into the light. We do no one, including our own soul, any favors if we simply try to ignore or cover up injustice. God’s word speaks very clearly on the need to not only walk in righteousness, but to defend the cause of the poor, needy, widow, and orphan – those who cannot defend themselves (Lev 19:15-16). God also has strong things to say about those who show partiality and perpetrate injustice (Ezek 18:24; James 2:1-13).

But second, the Psalmist (who himself was being wrongfully oppressed and attacked) takes his complaints straight to God, calling upon the LORD to fight for him. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t voice our disdain for the senseless taking of life, or the disparity between how whites and people of color are treated in our culture. But ultimately, if there is ever to be long-term change, it will happen when God stands from His throne, takes hold of the shield and buckler, and rises to the help of the oppressed (Ps 35:1-3). To turn a blind eye to injustice is a sin, but equally sinful is to attempt to avenge ourselves and not leave such final judgment to the Lord (Rom 12:19).

Third, what the Psalmist teaches through the language of lament is that anger, hatred, sorrow, and hurt can be turned to rejoicing and gospel proclamation when we look to God to be our Deliverer (v 9-10, 18, 27-28). Lament gives our souls a chance to grieve over injustice, but not get stuck in injustice. Lament lifts our eyes from the chaos and turmoil of our circumstances to the glories of a God who is not threatened by the violence and rioting of the world. Lament lifts our eyes to the eternal horizon, where we see how God can turn a suffering, innocent death to be the means of salvation for all who would believe.

Steps Forward

Over the past week, I have asked several times, “How do we move forward from here?” and “What is my role in bringing healing and peace?” While sharing tweets and posting clever sayings on social media might feel like we are doing something, in reality, there is no lasting change brought about by hashtags and memes. Underneath all of the hatred, violence, and discrimination is a deeper problem – sin – a problem that effects all people. So how do we respond in a biblical way? Here are a few humble suggestions:

  • Sincerely grieve with our brothers and sisters of color
  • Fervently pray for peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the abolishing of prejudice within our hearts and culture
  • Carefully listen to our brothers and sisters of color
  • Intentionally develop deep relationships with people not like us
  • Prayerfully consider adopting or fostering children of another background
  • Partner with churches already among the African American population

Ultimately, our hope for lasting change only comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This good news is the story of a brown man who was unjustly mocked, tortured, and ultimately killed. His gruesome death was intentionally public, as he hung naked and bloodied on the cross. His death was brought about by ethnic, religious, and political animosity. But the reason we are still talking about Jesus in 2020 is because the grave could not hold Him. Jesus is not just a suffering man, but God in the flesh who took our sins (and shame, guilt, and suffering) upon Himself as He died on the cross. He bore the punishment that we could not bear – death. But He rose victoriously and offers full forgiveness to all who will trust in Him. It is only this overflow of forgiveness that will overcome the wickedness of this world.

May we tremble at His Word!