Tag Archives: Ephesians 6.12

God is not Colorblind

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

~ First Samuel 16.7

God is not colorblind; to use the language is to put God on the level of race and under the lens of race.  Instead, we have lost sight of the argument of race.  It is not that God ignores what we see but that race asks us to see something that it not there and for a purpose that is of no interest to God, that is, power, seeing as though all power belongs to God (Psalm 62.11)).  Race is a magician, changing people into races and making their bodies the competition and the enemy.  But, we are not God’s enemy; Satan is: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6.12).

We know that there are no physically black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people.  These are social colors not skin colors.  These are societal designations, racial categories that go farther back than we care to consider.  The truth is that we are not interested in knowing or seeing who we really are.  We would much rather focus on the outward appearance than to look at the condition of our hearts.  It is not God who is blind but us and willfully so.  We are trying to see social colors and God is looking at our character, at our heart.

People do not come in colors or shades.  We do not come in boxes, prepackaged and labeled according to our external appearance.  We get into them.  We close ourselves up and off with them.

This is not how God created us and it is not how God sees us.  We are not all God’s colors but all God’s children.  Race is not the lens through which we are seen or understood by the Divine.  God’s purpose for creating us was not racial but relational.

Not only are God’s ways not our ways but God’s vision is not comparable to our sight.  His vision is eternal not temporal, spiritual not carnal, real not an illusion.  Also, God’s values are not our own.  God is not influenced by time, money, position, appearance, ambition or prejudice– racial or any other.  Because it is not the flesh that God is after.  God wants to save our souls– not our races.

It is race that is short-sighted.  God sees us as we truly are and the social coloring of skin has nothing to do with it.

Howard Thurman, Sentimental Christianity and Hatred

“Christianity has been almost sentimental in its effort to deal with hatred in human life. It has sought to get rid of hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous judgments. It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the lives of people possessed by it.” ~ Howard Thurman

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. ~ Leviticus 19.17

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” ~ Proverb 10.12, ESV

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” ~ Luke 14.26, ESV

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” ~ First John 3.15, ESV

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” ~ First John 4.20, ESV

Are these the verses that Rev. Thurman is referencing and describing?  What is it that Thurman was seeking exactly through a more in depth examination of hatred?  What question was he seeking to answer?  What judgment did he hope would be exacted?  Why have the biblical writers (and also God’s) responses to and treatment of hatred been described as a hesitation?

For me, the basis of hatred, the reason for its existence is simple, which might only add to Rev. Thurman’s criticism.  But, its simplicity does not detract from the fact that Christianity does have an answer no matter how inadequate it might appear and it points to a misplaced craving within us for more than what is necessary (e.g. anger, guilt, punishment).  Hatred is evidence of our death (i.e. separation from God), death not of body but of relationship to God and to all that God has created.  Persons possessed by death are dead women and men walking.

In our sinful state, we are separated from God whose name and nature are love.  We are able to hate because we do not “walk in love” (Ephesians 5.2).  Hatred determines if our witness is true.  It can make a liar out of us.  “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (First John 4.20).  It is also the basis by which we come to know who really loves God.  If you love Me, then you love your brother or sister.  If you do not, then your testimony is false.  You cannot love God and hate who He has created.  They are directly related, a packaged deal.  If you love Me, then you have to love them.

Our hatred is also evidence of the death of the one whom we have hated.  John tells us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”  These are very strong words.  We have moved from a liar to a murderer, both of which will not enter the kingdom of heaven (First Corinthians 6.9-11).  Our hatred now places blood on our hands and we are now held responsible for the taking of a human life.  This is what hatred does.

In a twist, the writer of Ecclesiastes does not think hatred more important than any of the other matters of human life.  Hatred is not given any special treatment or placed in a category all its own.  It is included with all of the other experiences of life: birth and death, planting and plucking up, weeping and laughing, silence and sound, love and hate; there is a time for it all (3.1-8).  It is to be expected like everything else under heaven.

But, perhaps, Rev. Thurman’s analysis of the effects of hatred could be posed in the question, “What happens when that hatred is harbored for a long time, season after season, for hundreds of years?  Where does it go?”  We know that God is love.  We agree that God is deserving of and desires our love.  But to whom do we give our hatred?

The obvious answer for most Christians is the Devil.  “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6.12).  But, we want to stick it to “The Man”?  We want to make “them” pay?  There’s not much satisfaction in waging war on an enemy that we can’t feel.  We want to see blood.  We want to watch them suffer.  We want them to hurt as we have hurt, right?

But, for how long?  The problem with human beings serving as judges is that we don’t know how much is enough or when the punishment should end.  We don’t know when to stop judging and start forgiving.  We don’t know how long to hold on to our anger and when to let it go.

How many times must I forgive asked the disciple of Jesus (Matthew 18.21).  The same can be said of hatred, “How long can I hate?”  Or, “How long will I be hated?”  I join with the preacher in Ecclesiastes, “For everything, there is a season.”  And the times and seasons are changing; it is we who must accept it and change with it.

There is a time for hatred to be born and for it to die.  There is time for it to be planted and there is a time for it to be plucked up not in our neighbor but in us.  It must be uprooted in us.  It is time to heal, to build up, to laugh, to dance.  “Hate can not drive out hate; only love can do that,” Dr. King wisely told us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer teaches us, “God’s truth judges created things out of love.  Satan’s truth judges things out of envy and hatred.”  Our love may be sentimental but God’s love is salvific; we must look to save our relationships with one another not destroy them.  We must be possessed by this love or be lead by the laws of Satan, condemned as we are condemning, dying as we murder.

I pray the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”  It’s time.  Amen.

“Christ Recrucified”: Examining Our Christs and Our Crosses

“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.”

~Hebrews 6.4-6, New Revised Standard Version

Though Countee Cullen considered poetry “raceless,” his early writings are reflective of a colored in experience.  By colored in, I mean that he is simply commenting on the already created “Negro” or “black” life as opposed to living without its designations and the historical/ social/ cultural/ familial conclusions.  He is not responding to life as he now sees it, without the lens of race and before he is told that he is negro or colored or black.  His writings and even often their titles are reflective of a racialized view of American life: The Ballad of a Brown Girl, Near White, To a Brown Boy, For a Lady I  Know and his first volume of poetry, Color.  Consequently, though I appreciate the use of the term and his striving toward such, it appears that Cullen was not able to create a space for himself outside of the context of race.

Still, Cullen did seem to express hesitation at making Christ “black” in his poem “Heritage.” He writes,

Lord, I fashion dark gods, too, 
Daring even to give You
Dark despairing features where, 
Crowned with dark rebellious hair, 
Patience wavers just so much as 
Mortal grief compels, while touches
Quick and hot, of anger, rise
To smitten cheek and weary eyes.
Lord forgive me if my need
Sometimes shapes a human creed.

 

He nevertheless went on to write about Jesus Christ as “black” and as a member of the “black” experience.  Though not the first to connect the African American experience with that of biblical figures or lynching with the cross of Christ (The Negro spirituals often drew upon the stories of the Bible.) and certainly not the last (See James Cones’ The Cross and the Lynching Tree), “The Black Christ”, written in 1929, is written from the experience of lynching.

But, perhaps more trying for me is Cullen’s poem written in 1922 of Christ embodied in the lynched bodies of African Americans titled “Christ Recrucified.” In it, he charges the South with “crucifying Christ again.”  Consequently, these crucifixions are unlike the first as recorded in the New Testament Gospels wherein Christ died for the sins of the world “once and for all” or that Christ is crucified again and again because of believers who have fallen away from the faith as indicated in Hebrews 6.4-6 (I Peter 3.18).  No, the crime of crucifixion is only charged to one group: those socially colored white.  This is an example of the racialization of Christ’s gospel.

To further my point, in Cullen’s retelling, Christ is wrong: “Christ’s awful wrong is that he’s dark of hue.”  Christ, the Son of God and the second Person of the Trinity whom the prophets declared was without sin and thereby the perfect sacrifice for ours, for the sake of race, becomes guilty.  The identity, character, witness and purpose of Christ all sacrificed to further the goal of race, to drive home its point, to make its statements clear. Sadly, we will use anything and anyone to prove its truths.

For Cullen and many others, “black” skin is sinful. In the racialized gospel of Jesus Christ, it is the physical or external representation and symbol of evil. Despite the biblical accounts of Satan as the adversary and the believer’s accuser, American Christianity has historically associated evil not with a spirit or demonic force but with a cultural group (cf. Ephesians 6.12).  In the racialized gospel, we do wrestle against flesh and blood.  And this label of evil is also associated with that of socially colored white people as persons like Malcolm X will later give voice to the long held view that they are “white devils.”

Still, it troubles me even now the ease with which Christ is given sin and it is a sin, according to Cullen, “for which no blamelessness atones.”  Christ has no way of escape and is no longer a savior but trapped within the same socially constructed body.  There is no resurrection, no ascension into heaven.  There is nothing that God can do about this social construct.  It is outside of and should not be included as a part of our salvation, of Christ’s salvific work. God forbid.

In Cullen’s effort and that of many others to identify Christ with one’s humanity, Christ’s divinity and in this case, his sinless nature is tossed aside so that he might support the plight of socially colored black people. It is so necessary that all of Christ be identified with this socially constructed group that Cullen even adds to the narrative of Christ.  He is also burned and persons “battl(e) for his black and brittle bones.”  Christ’s gospel is made part of the narrative of African Americans and Christ’s story becomes a part their story, now belonging to them.  Christ has now been made a part of the tug of war of race and this is how the very Body of Christ is pulled a part.

Lord, help us to know when we are creating our own Christs, crosses and human creeds.  Amen.

Additional Readings & Resources

The Boy Who Painted Christ Black by John Henrik Clarke

Black Theology by James H. Cone & Gayraud Wilmore

The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

James H. Smylie,”Countee Cullen’s The Black Christ”, Theology Today 1981 38:160.