When it hit, it really, really hurt. America was already exhausted by not just thousands of deaths from Covid-19, but record unemployment and economic catastrophe in reaction to it. Then came the horrible, high-profile killing of an African-American man by a police officer in Minneapolis, fixing the mid-year capstone of a year gone terribly bad. In the days and weeks following, multiple thousands took to the streets in protest of the death of George Floyd, who quickly became an icon of terrible injustice. Rage and riots engulfed many U.S. cities.
As time passed, three questions dominated: Why did this happen? What can be done? How can we achieve peace and heal the land?
Upfront and personal
For me, the news felt personal. Like many others, I have experienced my own personal share of injustice and oppression. I had come to the United States in 1949 with my Ukrainian parents as an immigrant from war-torn Europe. I was born in a refugee camp in Germany. My extended family knows well oppression, strife and politically driven upheaval of the first order.
Ironically, it was in Minneapolis—the site of the awful death of George Floyd—that a selfless sponsor graciously stepped forward to bring my family from the twisted rubble of World War II to a new future of promise in America.
What seems further ironic to me is the fact that Minneapolis and the Twin Cities area hold a well-deserved positive reputation for accepting, supporting and including refugees from all over the world! So when I learned of this tragic news in my adopted American home, I was cut to the heart.
My background helped fuel a lifetime passion for helping people who are oppressed and disadvantaged. In tandem with my lifelong service as a pastor, my wife Bev and I have lived and worked all over the world, providing extensive humanitarian work for the children of Chernobyl in Ukraine (my ancestral homeland) and many relief projects in South America, Asia and Africa—including Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other predominantly black African nations, some of the poorest in the world.
Through all this Bev and I have had the privilege of working alongside people of different colors, nationalities and cultures. We have come to know and love people everywhere, regardless of their stature, economic achievement or place in life. We know firsthand what Paul meant when he stated in the first century: “It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile [non-Israelite], circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
(Ironically, in ancient times the term “barbarian” or “barbaric” was initially used by Greeks of “babbling” by anyone who didn’t speak Greek—amounting to a cultural slur against anyone outside the Mediterranean area, the rest of the world. Together with anti-Semitism, it represented an early form of racism.)
To God—who doesn’t show favoritism (Romans 2:11)—skin color and ethnic background are not what people are measured by. All have full access to Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And as the current president of the organization that publishes this magazine, I can declare with authority that we at Beyond Today condemn racism. We condemn so-called “white superiority.” Neither has anything to do with God!
Referring to the current age, the Bible speaks of the injustice of people and human governments. It reminds one of what the prophet Amos declared: “You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed” (Amos 5:7, NLT).
While injustice is rampant in this world, it is also evident that violence usually achieves nothing in terms of solutions for society and most often makes things worse. Many countries struggle today with finding solutions for economic and societal equality.
Consider this fact: America itself, long a beacon of political freedom to much of the world, allowed almost a full century to lapse from the time the 13th, 14th and 15th U.S. Constitutional amendments were passed—guaranteeing what the Constitution calls “the blessings of liberty”—to the later time when President John Kennedy called for strong laws guaranteeing equal treatment of every American, regardless of race (finally passed into law the summer after Kennedy’s assassination and known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Despite the good intentions of many, human governments fall short.
There is a better way.
“Darkness cannot put out darkness”
Going forward, let us consider the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, Dr. King remarked: “I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice . . . and when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder . . . Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.”
The answer, according to Dr. King? “Love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems . . . I have seen too much hate . . . If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”
Speaking of the words of the apostle John in 1 John 4:7-8, Dr. King noted, “John was right: God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”
From a biblical perspective, that “meaning of ultimate reality” represents a better way.
Again, we know and teach from the Bible that God Himself is love (1 John 4:8). God defines and manifests this incomparable quality, and Paul urges us to “be imitators of God and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1-2, New International Version). There is no room for racism here.
God created the incredible human potential of life eternal, of becoming God’s very children (1 John 3:1). His great purpose marvelously focuses on “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). This includes men and women of all walks of life, being brought together now as well as in the coming future Kingdom of God.
In a time when the global economy has been savaged and many people are divided in the face of violence, how do we learn to love? How can we find “the meaning of ultimate reality”?
Thankfully, we have a solid pathway that can lead us to the answers to these critical questions. A remarkable Teacher, sent from God Himself, laid out the way.
Speaking before thousands of people, Jesus Christ made an important distinction for those who would desire peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, King James Version). Note that Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the peace-lovers,” or those who simply wish for peace. Jesus said that blessings will come to those who pursue peace and live peace!
For this we need a standard. We need a clear benchmark to help us determine and measure whether we’re on the path of pursuing peace. This standard must be written on our hearts, driving our thoughts and actions (see Jeremiah 31:33).
And indeed we have such a standard!
British statesman Sir Winston Churchill wrote this a full century ago, referring to the Bible and its teachings: “We owe to the Jews a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together.”
Here are two critical directives from that “system of ethics”:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
After teaching that peacemakers are the ones who are favored by God, Jesus Christ later declared that these two ancient statements were the core teachings of the Bible, the two great commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). How important are these? As Jesus emphasized, “All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (verse 40, NLT). They apply equally to all cultures and groups!
Finding and securing peace
Accordingly, if we want to be peacemakers, we must understand that peace begins by having peace with God. When we have peace with God, we can have peace with others.
Note this marvelous statement from Paul: “Christ himself has brought peace to us . . . our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14, 16, NLT).
To be a peacemaker, we have to embrace a standard of performance—we have to love both God and our neighbor. But first we must recognize that we all fall short of that standard and need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. We recognize that we have rejected God and His Word, living cut off from Him, and we need to turn and surrender our lives to Him. When we do that, we come under grace. We receive a new heart that’s oriented toward God. We begin to build, reflect and “experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippines 4:7, NLT).
This world desperately needs God’s truth. Tragically, for many, “the way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths” (Isaiah 59:8, English Standard Version).
At first, you may not see a way. It might seem futile to you. Can one person choose a path of peace and really make a difference? The answer is yes. One person can be an example to many. Each of us needs to reorder our lives. Put the right things first. Make right decisions. And then trust God to deliver.
What are these right things? “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
What’s your choice? There is a better way! Reject the injustices and violence of this world. Make peace with God through Jesus Christ, and live a life of love for all people!