“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32).1
It’s been asked, even with hostility: “What’s the point in chanting that Black lives matter, when all lives matter?”
I answer that in spite of its disagreeable shock to the nation of America’s social conscience, “Black Lives Matter” is, in principle and fact, gospel truth, for at least three reasons.
It is gospel truth because it reminds us that while those alive today had no part in yesterday’s degraded trade in humans, in its 246 years of merciless servitude, in its 1787 decree that Negroes be counted as three fifths of a person, or in relegating them for more than half a century, via “separate but equal,” to life’s most dangerous and undesirable places (the back of the bus, the side of the restaurants, the front of the trains, the top of the theaters, the bottom of the boats)—while America’s majority population had nothing to do with all that, they are, nevertheless, greatly advantaged by the intellectual and material wealth passed down to them by those who did.
“Black Lives Matter” is still a needed proclamation because in spite of today’s welcome laws against injustice spawned by civil rights activities, there is much that speaks of a lesser regard for Black lives: the denial of updated textbooks in Black neighborhoods; the limits of option that make Black children drink and bathe in polluted water; the wrongful arrests, unjust sentences, and more frequent execution of Blacks. And more: the grocery stores in Black communities that sell inferior produce at higher prices; legislation to depress the Black vote; absurd district gerrymandering; the hostility against affirmative action; and the delegitimizing of the nation’s Black president by angry Whites who “want their country back.”
The “Black Lives Matter”motto is truth with the potential, at least, to shame heartless politicians who resist all efforts to provide the poor better health care and education, and generally remind America that after centuries of the degradation forced upon them people at least need straps, boots denied, in order to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. “Black Lives Matter” affirms that Black America’s attempt to “catch up” is too often frustrated by White America’s unwillingness to “give up.” Black youth may profit from investments that lift them toward respectability, or extract a toll of astronomical costs to combat their crime and finance the massive prisons that house their frustrated and disaffected ranks. Awkward truth is still truth.
“Black Lives Matter” is the gospel truth in that it speaks relevantly to Black Americans as well. It reminds them that change, like charity, begins at home, and that they themselves set the patterns their children will follow. Apart from religion, education holds their highest hope of progress; and Blacks don’t have to wait on the government to assist their youth in academic pursuits. It is hypocritical to decry police brutality but do little or nothing about the Black-on-Black violence that costs 8,000 to 9,000 lives each year.
And “Black Lives Matter” speaks to the sad tragedy of our failure to overcome self-hatred—the interethnic prejudice regarding so-called good hair and bad hair, light skin and dark skin, accent and no accent, all stigmas surviving from the racial rules of yesteryear. This, too, is gospel truth.
“Black Lives Matter”is a reminder to Black American youth that they destroy their individual and community’s good by bringing into the world children born out of wedlock. The 2012 report of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control records that 17 percent of Asian, 29 percent of White, 53 percent of Hispanic, and 73 percent of Black babies are born without stable homes. Neither that, nor the dietary intemperance, or lewd and violent mental entertainment established in so many Black communities, is the fault of White America. Neither is the national rate of Black high school dropouts: approximately 50 percent as compared to the general rate of 30 percent.
The “Black Lives Matter”motto is a scathing rebuke to professionally successful Blacks who function with an “I’ve got mine, now you get yours” attitude; who get lost amid the privileges their education, often aided by some set-aside, has brought them; who make no effort to reach back and help those climbing up; and who forget “the rock from which [they] were hewn, and . . . the hole of the pit from which [they] were dug” (Isa. 51:1).
“Black Lives Matter”reminds Black America that “sin is a reproach” (Prov. 14:34), and “a curse without cause shall not alight” (Prov. 26:2, NASB):2 it was divine justice upon the idolatry, the worship of beasts and stones by Ham’s gifted, prosperous, and sophisticated sons—Canaanites, Phoenicians, etc.—that dimmed their cultures and rendered them subservient to Noah’s other descendants. Sad truth, but gospel truth.
These words of truth must ever be tempered with a corollary one, one that is, in fact, the first truth of all: that our God of justice and our God of mercy are one. The God who commanded Egypt’s pharaoh to “let my Hebrew people go!” is the same God who in 1863 told America’s slaveholders, “Let my Colored people go!”
“God spoke concerning the captivity of the colored people as verily as He did the Hebrew captives,” says Ellen White, quoting Exodus 3:7-9 as God’s words in 1863. “The Lord wrought in freeing the Southern slaves . . .”3 His interposition in American slavery demonstrates that disadvantaged Blacks crying “Black lives matter!” utter no egotistic ethnocentricity. Their cry is grounded in God’s own commitment to justice.
God notes with special pity the cries of the stepped upon and beaten down, the overlooked and underserved, the misunderstood and mistreated, the helpless and hopeless, no matter their color, language, accent, or race. We learn this in all of Scripture, from Old through New Testament.
Hear Jesus in Matthew 23 roundly condemning Jewish officials for thriving at others’ expense, and functioning with laws so oppressive that there was no middle class in their society: only satiated rich and suffering poor. Hear Him further in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10) condemning those who, while not robbing or wounding others, refuse to assist in relieving their pain.
I have often wondered why the thieves in the parable go free, and always wished that the perpetrators had been caught and punished. That is, until I realized that, in this instance, Jesus is stressing the sin of withholding mercy as equal to or greater than that of inflicting harm. Those who pass by on the other side eating their meals in conspicuous consumption, marrying their children in conspicuous display, adorning their persons and possessions in conspicuous attraction, and funeralizing themselves in conspicuous waste are as guilty as the thieves themselves.
The wounding of others, the refusal of assistance upon which God passes judgment, and the failure to help those who would obstruct or overthrow oppressive systems, all receive Scripture’s reproof: “Open your mouth for the speechless. . . . Open your mouth . . . and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8, 9). “Rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:17). “Break every yoke” (Isa. 58:6).
Jim Wallis is right to state in his book America’s Original Sin that “[to] benefit from oppression . . . [is to be] responsible for changing it.” This includes Americans who now live better because of the sacrifices and martyrdoms of their maligned predecessors, as well as Americans whose privileges accrue simply from being White. By the witness of the prophets and the example of our Lord, Christians Black and White are obligated to actively strive against oppression by voice and vote and other principled Christian conduct; obligated too to personal efforts to assist the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, beginning with those closest to us: “Unless there is practical self-sacrifice for the good of others, in the family circle, in the neighborhood, in the church, and wherever we may be, then whatever our profession, we are not Christians.”4
Long ago I heard the angels: Why, Master? Why leave the comforts of glory—99 sheep safe and snug—to place Yourself in jeopardy; to try to rescue one lost? If someone must go, let one of us go: we will take Your place!
And I heard His answer: You, my servants, are all creatures. Only the Creator can fix this. I must redeem them Myself. Earth lives matter!
I see Him descending here to the lowest of social circumstances: a manger birth, a single-parent mother. Serving as an itinerant preacher, He has nowhere to lay His head while birds and foxes have nests and holes. He borrows a coin for teaching, a boat for preaching, fishes and loaves for feeding thousands. He borrows a donkey for riding, but not a cross for dying: His cross was His own—because of you and me!
Because He willingly dragged our ugly sins on to His sinless self and suffered the Father’s wrath in our behalf. The plan defied all angelic imagination: but it is gospel truth!
After 4,000 years of Satan’s reign, humans “reflected the expression of the legions of evil with which they were possessed.”5 They lived without Tylenol or penicillin and died in their 30s. Physical deformity and insanity were unstoppable. Until He came.
His service platform was bringing deliverance to captives, sight to the blind, and liberty to those battered and bruised (see Isa. 61; Luke 4). He stocked His cabinet with common fishermen and campaigned among those who were poor and needy. He slept in their houses, filled their bellies, healed their diseases, and raised their dead. Having preached to them the gospel, He offered them an open invitation: “Whosoever wills, let them come!” (see Rev. 22:17).
They accepted His health-care provisions, but rejected His salvation stipulations. They grasped His groceries, but rejected His grace. They crucified Him. But He rose as He said He would. He came here all God, wrapped up in humanity, and returned to glory all humanity, wrapped up in divinity.
Now He functions as our sympathetic Savior. And because He went through hell down here, He also functions as our empathetic advocate, our Brother telling our Father what it is like to live and die down here, reminding the Father that His blood is payment for our sins, and extending to us His righteousness as our qualification for life eternal.
The mystery of His incarnation, the depths of His compassion, the horror of His suffering, we shall never fully grasp. But He did come, and bleed, and die for us doomed, diseased residents on Planet Earth. And that is glorious, marvelous, wondrous gospel truth!
It is truth—drawn upon every day in our study of His Word—that sets us free: free from the evil impulses of our nature; from the life-sapping addictions of our practice; from the weights of perversity that are our burdens; from the conceits of superiority that are our medals; from the anxieties of inferiority that we barely conceal; from the rages of violence, born of hatred, that we cannot ourselves control; from long-past-yet-still-held shaming; from destructive criticism and death-dealing slander; from fear of sharing our freedom story; and from fickle secular entanglements that stymie our devotion, skew our reasoning, and sap our spiritual energies.
It is not only from yesterday’s searing memories and today’s bewildering cacophonies that His truth liberates. Gospel truth has freed us for tomorrow. Christ’s coming some soon tomorrow will bring us unimaginable physical freedom as well when we are “caught up,” magnetized into the presence of our Lord (see 1 Thess. 4:16, 17). He comes to extricate us, unshackle us from the iron chains that have bound us to Planet Earth.
Sin will have lost its appeal; the world will have lost its charms; death will have lost its grip; the grave will have lost its grasp; gravity will have lost its hold; and we shall be “caught up”: “caught up,” not beaten up, blown up, knotted up and hung up; but freed up, dressed up, and fixed up into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we shall sing, as upward we wing, we shall declare as we cleave the air, and shout, in the words of a lesser but truly anointed instrument of liberation, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Calvin B. Rock, former vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, lives in retirement in Las Vegas, Nevada.