Race, Unrest and the Gospel
By Stephen Davey
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place (Acts 17:26).
Anthropology is the study of the physical, social, material, and cultural development of mankind. But long before universities created departments of anthropology, the God of anthropology was busy creating – and we’re told here that God made from one man – Adam – every nation.
According to Genesis 11, as groups of people congregated, following the Tower of Babel and the miraculous diversification of languages (Genesis 11), physical varieties within the gene pool began to reveal unique characteristics. These unique characteristics, clustered around language groups, eventually became typical of different people-groups, or ethnicities, that God sovereignly orchestrated.
For instance, the amount of melanin in the skin began to develop within people-groups, so that today we see variations of rather pink people and dark people; brown tinted people and yellow or red tinted; some ethnicities have round eyelids and others are slanted. Some ethnic groups are typically shorter than others. Some people-groups are known for dark hair where other people have lighter hair. Some people are simply praying for hair.
Who created the genetic potential for physical distinctions among the many nations on earth? God did. But keep in mind that since all mankind came from an original couple, there is only one race. There are different nationalities and different ethnic groups, but it is incorrect to refer to different races. God, in His amazing design for the human race, created within us the genetic potential for a myriad of physical distinctions that are now reflected among the nations.
Consider the additional fact that even with national and ethnic distinctions, no two people on earth are exactly alike. Each person has his own fingerprint and unique features. Bank and security systems can now determine individual identities simply using fingerprints, retinal scans and voice prints. They can tell if it’s really you maxing out your credit card at Pizza Hut.
The magnificent truth is that there isn’t anyone else on planet earth who looks exactly like you. Was it an accident? Was it the result of evolution? Who created all the billions of original, uniquely designed humans? Paul delivered the answer to first century Athenians – it was Creator God!
In this text, as Paul preached that God created every nation of mankind, he also confronted the Athenian’s belief that they were a special race. During Paul’s day, the Greeks believed they were uniquely created by the gods from the dust of Greek soil – a superior, master race. Paul destroys the root of their pride by introducing them to God’s creative plan – a plan where every nation descended from one original man – Adam (Genesis 1).
That means Germans aren’t better than Jews. Japanese are not superior to Chinese. Europeans are not more advanced than Africans. In fact, if you have trouble with this truth and believe that you’re superior to someone else because of your nationality or skin color, it isn’t so much that you don’t understand anthropology . . . you don’t understand God! You’d make a nice Athenian.
According to God’s word, every human being is actually related, having come from our first parents – Adam and Eve.
As I write this, our nation is experiencing tremendous unrest and anger. To the church today, Paul’s message reminds us not to lose our focus in these days of turbulence. Let’s remember that ridding culture of sinful actions, hatred and prejudice is not, and never has been, our mission. The apostle Paul was grieved by wicked idolatry that filled the culture of Athens. Historians tell us there were more idols and statues to the gods of Athens than actual Athenian citizens.
With a culture saturated with idolatry and national Greek prejudice, it’s instructive to observe how Paul responded. Had the problem merely been idolatry, Paul could’ve slipped out one night with a sledge hammer, destroyed all the idols in Athens and then complimented himself on his victory against idolatry.
Paul didn’t merely identify idolatry or Greek prejudice – he didn’t preach sermons on how Athenians needed to love Persians and tell everybody to just get along. Instead, he remained focused on introducing that culture to the gospel. Apart from the gospel, they would have swept up the broken idols and simply created more. And after the sermon, they still would’ve hated the Persians.
Similarly, for the church to try and solve the issues of prejudice and hatred, without dealing with sinful hearts, is merely a temporary band aide. Our mandate from Christ is not cultural reform, even though the gospel reforms culture. Our mission as a church is not to eradicate evil from society, even though righteous living is the fruit of the gospel. The mission of the church is to reflect Jesus Christ to our culture and proclaim the gospel to a confused and angry world. Only through repentance and faith in Christ will anyone ever discover – and demonstrate – love for others.
Prejudice and bigotry disappear at the foot of the cross. The ground at the foot of the cross is level!
The gospel takes care of ethnic pride, bigotry, murder and looting too, by redeeming sinful people and conforming them into the image of Christ. In other words, to attempt to make people love each other, without Christ, is a short-term and unrealized solution. They’re still under the judgment sentence of God and besides, love happens to be a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
I’m not suggesting it is wrong for a Christian to be prayerfully concerned about their culture, speak the truth in love about prejudice to coworkers and neighbors, serve in the political arena or on the school board, and work tirelessly for the benefit of others. As Christians we can bring shalom (blessing) to our communities as we interact, teach, serve and provide and model care and concern for others.
Picketing, boycotting, blustering in editorials, or jamming the White House phone lines to demand action are efforts directed at symptoms (evil behavior) without addressing the solution (salvation).
You might not be comfortable with the implications of these questions, but consider them for a moment; why are we surprised when people without the love of Christ act hatefully? Why wouldn’t they? Why do we expect people who deny the Creator to love one another? Why should they? Why are we shocked when unredeemed sinners sin whenever they get the chance? Why wouldn’t they?
But what about the way the world treats the church? Shouldn’t we expect better? Frankly, you won’t find one passage in the Bible giving the Christian the right to be free from exposure to evil. You won’t find one verse that assures us the world will appreciate the church. In fact, God’s plan has been for the church to suffer as a result of mounting evil. One day, when the Lord raptures the church away, evil will run throughout the earth without restraint, under the leadership of the antichrist. This world hasn’t seen anything as evil and brutal and wicked as they will one day when the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is removed and the Tribulation period begins (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
What we do find in scripture is our responsibility, as Christians and as a church, to shine the light of love and redeeming grace into a world of darkness – begging them to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Christ alone can cause racism to recede. The church has the power to demonstrate the equality of people from every ethnicity. A redeemed heart can begin to love someone darker, lighter, or just different. Love like this can’t be produced by the human heart or forced upon the human race. Like the Greeks of centuries past, we are inclined to love ourselves more than others. But as Christians, we can love each other and our world around us.
Just remember, a lighthouse doesn’t eliminate a storm. Never once has a lighthouse rid the seas of raging wind and water. Lighthouses are designed to shine the light for those lost at sea. More than ever, our world is in desperate need of the truth of Christ.
In the meantime we can trust God’s purposes to be unfolding. Even in the chaos, He is in control. Let’s continue praying that God will use these troubling times to bring shipwrecked lives into the safe harbor of Christ. They’re looking for answers . . . let’s show them the way.