“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”
~ Jeremiah 1.5, NRSV
I had a rigorous and thought- provoking conversation with a friend and mentor in ministry yesterday. Over a couple of Peruvian dishes, we debated our positions on race. But, after awhile, I decided to just listen and when I did, I really heard him. He saw no real problem with race, loved being a member of one and thought that if I were successful at ridding the world of race, we, humans, would just find another way to categorize ourselves. Race was just a scapegoat that we were using to sin. It’s a good point, an interesting perspective and not one that I haven’t heard before.
But, he also said some other things that got me to thinking. He said that God saw me as a racial person, that God would use me based on my social position in a racial category, that God even asked persons of particular races to forgive, for example, more than others because of their social position. He, of course, equated race with gender, that God saw me as black like God saw me as a woman. I disagree with all of the above.
Why I disagree is as simple as the scripture mentioned above. God knew me before. That’s what the prophet Jeremiah says when sharing his call narrative.
Before my parents or their parents or their parents were born, God knew me. Before my parents met or their first date, before generational blessings and curses, before my time and their history, God knew me. God knew me before the positive pregnancy test and the sonogram, before I had a first or last name, before weight and measurements were taken, before I was placed in my mother’s arms or cuddled by my father. God knew me before I had my father’s strong work ethic or my mother’s eyes, before fingers or toes could be counted, before a gender could be determined or a racial category assigned. I am pre- racial.
And God did the forming. So, God was even before sperm met egg. My parents’ genetic codes did not even determine who I would become. This is how God can gift us in ways that do not fit our upbringing, that do not match our cultural exposure, that go against our experiences. Because there is an Image that is far greater, that must be impressed upon us before any other.
This is why God knows us so well. This is why God’s knowing of us surpasses our economic, physical, political and social conditions. It is because God knew us before and if God knew us before, then God is certainly more equipped to tell us what we will be once we are born.
I would never give the social construct of race and its stereotypes such credit. They don’t know me so well.