Mourn sin and Identify sin. Two reflections on George Floyd’s death

In the second half of our church’s “family conversation” mentioned in the last post, I talked about the killing of George Floyd and the events that surround that event. I certainly can’t speak authoritatively or exhaustively on the topic, but I wanted to share two passages that have helped me process and come up with a response. Again, here is a portion of the discussion, which is applicable to a broader audience:

The first one I think of is Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I have been reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sermons on the Sermon on the Mount and I love what he says about this verse. To paraphrase, he says that this is a mourning over sin. First, we mourn over our sinful and hopeless condition. Second, we mourn over what that sinful condition leads to, our sinful and rebellious actions. Third, we mourn over the sin in the world and the effects of that sin in the world. Mourning and lamenting are a good first step for us.

A member of our church shared a video of her son-in-law and he modeled this so well. We need to allow ourselves to see and feel the brokenness and injustice in the world and then mourn over it. His heart is so evident in that video. It was very moving. It was moving because it was personal, because he entered into the heart of his brothers and sisters. I was convicted by that video.

Let me talk to you white people – and that’s the majority of our church – you and I have a privilege, a luxury that many African Americans do not have. We can ignore this issue if we want to. We can check out whenever we want. I just want to invite you to do something different, to mourn. Even if you don’t know exactly what you are mourning, enter into the mourning of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The second passage I think of is the entire book of Jeremiah.

I was preaching through the book recently and I made the observation that Jeremiah both points out the universality of our sinful condition and calls out the sin of specific individuals – the powerful civil and religious leaders. We need to go beyond saying “All have sinned”, which is true, and be willing to deal with sin, not just in the abstract, but in the concrete.

I have to do that in my own personal life. When I confess my sin I should not just say “Lord, I sinned, please forgive me.” I need to say “Lord, I feared man instead of fearing you” and “Lord, I was impatient with my children” and “Lord, I was callous toward my brother.” Naming our sin is an important part of confession.

The same principle applies to these events. It is good to say “All have sinned” but it is better to say “Here is a specific sin. Here is a specific rebellion. Here is the way in which specific people are being unjustly treated by other people. Here is my part in that whole mess.”

That means we can and should use words like “systemic racism.” It means acknowledging the historical reality and present experience of our African American brothers and sisters. We can say “racial hatred and violence work in more than one direction” and that would be true, but we should not fail to acknowledge that in our setting and in our nation and communities these exist in asymmetric and unequal ways.

If we fail to do that, we will also fail to adequately deal with the specific injustice. It is true that we will never defeat racism this side of heaven. But we can work towards its end. We can and should work towards a more just future in the hope that Jesus will make all things right, and in the power that he gives us.

Where do we go from here? I don’t really know. The problems seem so large, so much bigger than us, and they are. So for now mourn the fallenness and injustice of our world. Name and confront the sin, and be specific. Then go to God in prayer. Ask him to guide our steps. Trust in the gospel to do its slow and reconciling work in you, and in our world.