Once, in the small college town where I lived, police pulled my car over four times in one day. They all acted as if they were random stops, but of course, they weren’t.
Many other black men I know have stories like this — some type of unwarranted incident with law enforcement. I expect, eventually, that you will come across your own experience — either with police stereotypes or racism in general. You are too young to remember this right now, but much of the past year has seen these issues resurface with intensity.
On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. You may hear a lot about Ferguson, even years later. Whether racism motivated the killing, or legitimate self-defense, Brown’s death, and the decision not to indict the shooter, has ignited thousands to protest the police brutality against minorities over the course of several months. People of all ethnicities, and especially blacks, are tired of the disproportionate use of lethal force against blacks. Since Brown’s death in August, five other unarmed young black men have been reported shot dead.
On the day when we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I wonder if the violence will ever be different in your lifetime? Maybe, or maybe not, and either way, it doesn’t change the kind of man I want you to be. Whether things worsen or improve over the next eighteen years, there are four things I pray for you as a black man in America.
1. Repent or perish.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–3)
Notice how Jesus responds to the news of tragedy. Those who hear about the terrible deaths of others should be reminded that they also will die. The judgment that awaits those who reject Jesus is more severe than any tragedy we can fathom.
Racism and its violent consequences cries out “Stop, put your house in order.” When black people like us are murdered because of racism, it should humble us to examine ourselves, to remember that we deserve wrath at the hands of the thrice holy God. And then to remember that he gave his Son for us, that he became a refuge for us. Tragedy is an invitation for us to turn once again from our sin and find rest in God alone. Son, embrace Jesus. Trust in him.
2. Your identity is found in Christ.
For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
“Race” is a social construct of this fallen world. We all descend from Adam, and therefore there is only one race — human. Instead of glorifying God for the diversity we find in his creation, fallen man has used ethnic distinction as a reason to oppress those who are not “like” him.
The good news is this fallen world does not define ultimate reality, the word of God does. Know this: When God made man, he judged his creation as very good (Genesis 1:31). All men, regardless of their color, have inherent and eternal value because they were made in God’s image. And there is more. If you are a Christian by the time you read this, you are dead to this world and your life — your identity — is hidden with Christ in God.
The life of the Christian is with Christ. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” writes Paul (Philippians 3:20–21). See yourself the way God does: He has adopted you as his son (Ephesians 1:5). You are not mainly black or white, but Christian (Ephesians 2:14).
3. God is sovereign.
God, your father, is sovereign. The events that led to the deaths of the countless young unarmed black men did not surprise God. He knew. We don’t question God’s sovereign acts, we trust him and his promises. We know he is involved in the details for the good of his people.
Now, this does not mean that we should tolerate injustice. We work hard, very hard — “Let those who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10). But our work isn’t the work of worry, but of faith, trusting that God is in control, that he loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Psalm 45:7).
4. Believe and say, “Good is the hand of the Lord.”
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
So what do you do, son? The Puritans are so helpful here when it comes to practical application. In his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs writes,
To acknowledge that it is just that I am afflicted is possible in one who is truly contented. I may be convinced that God deals justly in this matter, He is righteous and just and it is right that I should submit to what He has done; O the Lord has done righteously in all ways! But that is not enough! You must say, “Good is the hand of the Lord.” It was the expression of old Eli, “Good is the word of the Lord,” when it was a sore and hard word. It was a word that threatened very grievous things to Eli and his house, and yet Eli says, “Good is the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:18).
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, which requires that we remember his goodness. No matter what circumstances come our way, God is good, and may we never forget it. May you believe that, my son, and say: “Good is the hand of the Lord.”