An Inconvenient Grace (or How a Black Girl Wrestled with God in a Parking Lot)
I have an amazingly quick witted family. In a recent Facebook thread my nephew initiated a conversation in which someone posted a snarky comment. I cracked up at his response, “And yet, Jesus still loves you!” I told him I had to use that one. I didn’t expect it to be used on me first.
One Thursday, after a summer long news-cycle of young African-American men being killed by police officers, I sat in a parking lot, waiting for our son to get off work in our predominantly white community. With growing agitation I silently asked each passerby, “Are you the racist at his job? Are you the one who’s going to approach me with your vitriol?” My fist tightened, I pursed my lips and prepared to fight. Who? It didn’t matter. Nobody was going to hurt me or my son that day. At some point truth pierced through my erratic thoughts. I was becoming tainted with hatred for what hated me. “What about justice, God? What about what’s right?” As I fumed in that parking lot, eye twitching, emotions on high-alert, and ready to react, I heard the Lord say, “And yet, I still love them.”
Racism isn’t new. Racism doesn’t threaten God’s sovereignty. Racism doesn’t stop me from being who God created me to be. Racism isn’t even an ideology held by most white Americans. None of my friends have expressed racist views. Conservative, yes. Racist, no. What was new for me this time was my visceral response. My heart broke with the realization I was no longer seeing people as souls to be reached for Christ but potential threats to be armed against.
I’ve asked Jesus to help me love as He loves, see as He sees. I’ve prayed that several times and gone throughout my day smiling at strangers, handing out packages to homeless people. But that’s easy love. This is how Christ loves: Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8) While we were rejecting, hating, blaspheming, ignoring and demeaning Christ, He was giving His life so we could have a clear path to a God the vast majority of us would continue rejecting, hating, and blaspheming.
I’m not naively advocating for a passive response to racism. And neither, I might add, does the Word of God. Pray against evil. March against evil. Vote against evil. Speak against evil. Paul instructs us to take sin very seriously, even separate from professing Christians who continue in unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Don’t judge those who don’t know Christ but get rid of the ones who arrogantly continue in sin yet claim Christ as Lord and Savior as many white supremacists do (What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” v. 12-13). However, even this response to sinful living has an end game and that end game is salvation (v 5). There is a loved person on the other side of heinous acts.
I was reminded of something as I wrestled with God in that parking lot. Grace is not neat. It is not pretty. It is not wrapped up in a beautiful package I get to open at my leisure and give only to those I like or who come around to my way of thinking. Grace is inconvenient. Grace is messy. Grace is difficult and disturbing. It heals and hurts. Grace is a bloody Savior hanging on a cross: beautiful and ugly, tender and brutal, generous and demanding.
It’s not enough to read about the work of grace or even personally experience it. God wants us to hear and do His word. We are called to extend grace. To EVERYONE. Especially those most undeserving of it; people yelling vile, hateful things in the street, side-eyeing me in the store, mowing down innocent women in crowds. In my mind, no one who hates my husband because of the color of his skin or denies our children the opportunity to make a life for themselves, deserves grace. Then again, neither do I. In a recent interview, a young mother holding a baby, with another young child sitting behind her, asserted the asinine opinion that in order for their children to “have a chance” Jews need to be annihilated. I don’t like her and don’t want her to receive grace. Yet, she is the woman Jesus came to rescue.
I struggle with loving others through the filter of their unprovoked hatred of me. I have no idea what that is supposed to look like. I ask Christ to make me more like Him and every day He gives me the opportunity to do just that. I often don’t understand it. But, at the end of the day it’s not about me. It’s about the Lord I serve. And, Jesus loves them too!
God help us all!!!