Some time ago, I was talking with my wife and kids at the dinner table. I don’t recall what we were talking about, but I mentioned in passing how our Chinese American heritage shapes some of our perspectives. As I kept talking, one of my children interrupted, “I’m Chinese?” It hadn’t dawned on him that we had an ethnicity. It hadn’t dawned on us that we should inform him of this. What seemed so normal to us was a surprise to him. From his vantage point, people are just people.
For some of us, our ethnicity is a daily part of our lives. It’s something we encounter regularly and are reminded of by others. It’s the feeling of being perpetually different. For others, we hardly ever think of our ethnicity. Wherever you might be on that spectrum, few of us have spent much time pondering our ethnicity as a precious and integral part of God’s design and purpose. How should we think about this unique aspect of our humanity?
All from One Man
The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that God made all mankind in his image (Genesis 1:27). From the tribal peoples of Papua New Guinea, to the urbanites of London, to the nomads of Mongolia, all mankind shares the same image and the same human story. Despite differences in language, height, skin color, hair color, facial features, and culture, we all reflect and display God’s creative design.
When one looks at the painting Starry Night, discerning art lovers don’t critique Van Gogh’s apparently indiscriminate use of paint and his stylized moon in hues of yellows, whites, and blues. Instead, they allow this mix of colors and strokes to transport them to the calm and peace of that brilliant night sky. Similarly, our world’s diversity, and in particular mankind’s diversity, takes us into a world that reflects the brilliance, genius, and imagination of the Creator.
Imagine a world with only a dozen species of animals. No porcupines, peacocks, or pangolins. What a dull and lifeless land. It would be like living in a world painted in gray. With just a short drive to the local zoo, we can behold dozens of species of animals that display the multifaceted magnificence of the Great Designer. In the world God made, we get to enjoy a multiplicity of flora, fauna, and especially our fellow image-bearers across the globe.
Feature, Not Flaw
Our differences — both real and imagined — have been the subject of many wars, hostilities, animosities, and even genocides. The horror of ethnic cleansing is almost too much to imagine. Sin distorts differences to divide, so that we deal heartlessly with one another. Scan the pages of history and see war after war, conflict after conflict, built upon fear and hatred of the other.
But when the Bible speaks of the diversity of peoples, it describes our differences not as a curse, but as a blessing. Abraham is promised great blessing so that through him all the families of the earth would likewise experience blessing (Genesis 12:2–3). In Psalm 67, the author calls on God to be gracious to Israel, to shine his face upon them, and to bless them. For what reason? So that all the nations of the earth would know, fear, and praise God (Psalm 67:1–2).
“Jesus creates a blood-bought unity that is greater than any biological bloodline.”
The diversity of mankind is a feature of God’s creation, not a flaw. Though our differences have been and continue to be the occasion of division, discord, and the devaluing of life, God did not design the world this way. God created differences to reflect and highlight his brilliance and glory. Receiving global accolades beats out being a local celebrity. When all the nations of the world unite together in praise of God, it says something profound about his character, goodness, and love.
Multiethnic Heavenly People
The Bible teaches us to see ethnic diversity as a gift to enjoy — and not only now, but forever. The book of Revelation displays ethnic diversity as one primary feature of the flawless new heavens and earth. We read that on the final day, when God gathers people together, they will be from among “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). They will comprise a singular new kingdom, and serve as priests to God who will reign forever. Myriads and myriads and thousands of thousands will cry out together, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). The ethnic diversity of Christ’s bride will intensify our praise of Jesus and display God’s infinite wisdom and power.
I imagine that many of us know these truths, and even love these truths, but don’t yet embody these truths in our lives and congregations. It’s one thing to know that we can pray, and to love the truth that we can pray, but it’s entirely different when we actually commune with God in prayer. So too with ethnic diversity, believers get to celebrate this truth, love this truth, and increasingly embody this truth in our friendships and congregations as a foretaste of future glory.
Three Steps Toward Revelation
With our differences seeming more acute than ever, how do we navigate our multifaceted diversity? How do we live out this Revelation vision here and now? Here are three modest suggestions for growing in our appreciation of God’s infinite wisdom as Chief Designer of mankind.
1. Labor to enjoy our deep and profound unity.
Jesus creates a blood-bought unity by his death and resurrection that is greater than any biological bloodline. In John 17, Jesus prays “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Jesus is praying for an earthly unity — fused together by the Spirit — that resembles the unity and love shared between the Father and Son. This unlikely unity testifies to the unifying and saving power of Jesus Christ (see also John 13:35).
“We cannot allow our ethnicity to be a source of division. Christ’s blood is too precious and his work too great.”
Therefore, we can now labor to enjoy the deep and profound unity we have with fellow blood-bought believers. Learn from others. Hear others’ stories of faith. Enjoy others’ hospitality. Be curious about different backgrounds and experiences. Marvel at God’s glory in salvation. Appreciate the multifaceted kingdom Christ is building. The gospel of Jesus Christ is massively bigger than just you, your family, your church, or your ethnicity. It is a global movement bigger than anything the world has seen or will ever see. We get to be a part of God’s temple — built up together with believers across all times and places — to reflect his glory and honor for all eternity (Ephesians 2:19–22).
2. Celebrate the multitude of peoples who will praise the Lamb.
Christ rescues people out of animism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, atheism, Hinduism, and hopeless lives devoid of meaning and purpose. When I gather at church, I get to see young and old, various ethnicities, able-bodied and disabled, former drug addicts, former adulterers, former Pharisees, all worshiping together because Jesus is better. This diverse compilation of people who have been transformed by Christ intensifies my worship and magnifies Christ’s infinite worth.
Just as the best meals use various textures, ingredients, techniques, and flavors to create a single unified dish that is exponentially better than the individual parts, so it is with God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is a unified community comprised of different peoples, facing different obstacles, undergoing different sufferings, sharing different perspectives, possessing different experiences, and having different insights. Yet in all of these differences, we are gloriously united by one gospel, one God and Father, one Lord and Savior, one Spirit, one church, one kingdom, one people, and one faith (Ephesians 4:4–6). This unified people is exponentially more beautiful than the individual parts.
3. Make disciples of all nations, and dismantle dividing walls.
In light of the unity we have in diversity, God calls every Christian to work toward accomplishing the Great Commission. Jesus’s power and presence go before us to undertake this greatest of tasks. Souls hang in the balance, and believers have been equipped and called to advance Christ’s kingdom. So, we become goers or senders. We pray for open doors for the gospel, and walk through them with winsomeness and boldness. And we tear down dividing walls of hostility that lie about the worth of fellow image-bearers.
We cannot allow our ethnicity to be a source of division. Christ’s blood is too precious and his work too great. Our ethnicity is not a source of shame, scorn, or pride, but neither does it disappear into a nondescript sea of beige-gray when used by the Chief Artist. No, it stands out with all of its God-given distinctiveness and beauty. But this beauty testifies not to our greatness, our uniqueness, or our importance, but to the greatness, glory, and praise of the Lamb who was slain.