Let all the peoples praise you, oh Lord
Reflections on racism and the heart of God
This past Sunday at church two things happened that got me thinking a lot about the heart of God and heart of mankind. First, our pastor took a moment near the beginning of the service to address the recent events in Charlottesville. He was refreshingly blunt about it. Racism is evil. The ideology of any supreme race is evil. He looked out at his congregation of mostly young white middle class faces and effectively said though you may not have been there in person, some of you may have wished you were or sympathized with this group and you must repent and turn. He continued to lament how many of the men and women present at the Charlottesville rally on Saturday would walk into a church somewhere Sunday morning pretending that everything is right in the world. He was clear: This is an offense to God and immensely dishonoring to His name and His reputation among the peoples of the world. Pastors and true Christians everywhere must be willing to call evil what is evil and not stand by letting those who carry the label of Christian continue dishonoring His name.
Secondly, we had a guest speaker this past Sunday who delivered a sermon over John 4 in which Jesus speaks with the woman at the well. To boil this passage down to only be about race would be a disservice to scripture, however, there is much to be learned on the topic. Having grown up in the church I’ve heard many a sermon taught on this passage; the story is not new to me. But the thing that struck me was that the preacher emphasized verse 4:
“Now he had to go through Samaria.”
Jesus had to. Despite the fact that Jewish cultural law required that he go around Samaria in order to avoid the people believed unclean and less than, He had to. Racism was the norm between Jews and Samaritans, but Jesus had to. To be clear, this was not a begrudging kind of had to. It was the kind of had to that exposes what your heart desires.
Jesus reflects the heart of God in all that He does and says. Cultural norms reflect the heart of mankind. Jesus is counter-cultural.
Sunday’s guest preacher was a black man from Kenya. A local pastor there passionate about training other local pastors in solid biblical theology and planting churches throughout Kenya rooted in the true gospel. He shared about one of the many struggles they fight against as they seek to build up churches: Racism. He said you look around and everybody’s black, but hatred between the 45 major tribes keeps them divided as ever.
This was not shocking information to hear, but it moved me to spend the day thinking about how people value each other, and how God values people. And let me be clear: God values all people.
Let’s take a brief look at the end goal and set our sights on Heaven. Below is a small excerpt from an otherwise far more comprehensive article by John Piper on Unreached Peoples as the Unique and Primary Goal of Missions
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Unless you restrict this multitude to the converts of the great tribulation and say that God’s missionary purpose then is different than it is now, the implication of God’s worldwide purpose is clear: He aims to be worshiped by converts from all the nations, tribes, peoples and tongues.
Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water.”
Again the intention is that the gospel be proclaimed not just to more and more individuals, but to “every nation, tribe, tongue and people.”
Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations (panta ta ethne) shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed.
In the context of Revelation with its repeated use of ethnos in reference to “nations” (at least 10 times) and not persons, panta ta ethne here in 15:4 no doubt refers to people groups and not to a mass of non-Jewish individuals. Therefore, what John foresees as the goal of redemption is a worshiping multitude of saints from all the peoples of the world.
In her article Is God Colorblind or Colorful, Miriam Adeney states, “God created us in his image, endowed us with creativity, and set us in a world of possibilities and challenges. Applying our God-given creativity, we have developed the cultures of the world.”
Racism and fear of others are tools of the enemy to build walls between different peoples and barriers of entry for the gospel from one people to another. Whether it presents itself as tensions between black and white in America, or long standing hatred between tribes in Kenya the heart of man is wicked and stands in rebellion to God’s great purpose and the desires of His heart. God loves all peoples, and made all peoples in his image. Our differences reflect His glorious creativity as displayed in supreme beauty throughout the vast cultures in the world.
Miriam concludes, “When ethnicity is treasured as a gift but not worshiped as an idol, God’s world is blessed, and we enjoy a foretaste of heaven. Let us keep that vision before us.”