“I am so exhausted! I am tired. So tired. Lord, I am tired.” These were the words of a friend when we were talking about yet another black man who died at the hands of law enforcement: Collins Khosa. Only this was here, in South Africa. We came to know about it after the events on the 25th of May in America, when George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in public, despite the desperate pleadings of both George and numerous bystanders. Videos went viral on social media. The whole world saw George Floyd die under the knee of a law enforcement officer. Back here, the South African National Defence Force denied that Collins Khosa was bludgeoned to death. However, a coroner’s report ruled that his death was due to head injuries inflicted by force. Institutionalised injustice strikes again.
It was law enforcement who committed the crime
America and South Africa: Deaths in Parallel
Many articles have been written on the unjust deaths of Floyd and Khosa. I found two particularly interesting. Both noted the similarities between these two deaths, along with countless others who have died unjustly at the hands of law enforcement officers. In America, Floyd’s repeated cry “I can’t breathe” was the same as Eric Garner’s last words. In South Africa, Khosa’s suspicious death behind bars has been likened to Steve Biko’s. These are deaths of innocent people by the hands of those tasked to serve and protect. These people were murdered by those who swore to uphold the law. Even though Steve Biko died under very different circumstances, the reality is that it was law enforcement who committed the crime.
These murders indicate that black lives are held cheaply
“Nothing New Under the Sun”
The protests in America are calling out white law enforcement officers. People are understandably angry with a damaged and dangerous system. These murders indicate that black lives are held cheaply. This pattern of injustice must be addressed and corrected. For, without speaking for the rest of the world, in both America and South Africa it appears that law enforcement officers value black and white very lives differently.
As I reflected of these tragedies, Ecclesiastes 1:9 rang in my head. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” And I thought to myself, ‘how true these words are’. Indeed, Solomon was wise to pen these words.
The Cost of Rejecting God as King in 1050 BC
Another passage that came to mind was Judges 21:25, “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” This is the writer’s commentary on Israel. He is assessing their lives in light of the covenant stipulations set out in Deuteronomy. What I find curious about this verse is that Israel did in fact have a king. Yahweh was Israel’s king, they were his subjects. He called his people to loyalty after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. He gave them the promised land of Canaan.
At the time of the judges (“in those days” – around 1050 BC) they were enjoying the fruits of God’s wonderful promises. But, sadly, they did exactly what Moses predicted. They turned away from Yahweh and worshipped other gods. They adopted the idols of the land and rejected Yahweh as king. Thus they did as they pleased. They lived without regard for their king, his wisdom or law.
It is because people do not subscribe to God’s wisdom that our world is the way it is.
The Cost of Rejecting God’s Wisdom Today
This is also the reality of our world today. ‘In these days, the world has no God; everyone is doing as he sees fit.’ This is a biblical theology blunder, I know, but let’s just go with the line of thought
Just as in the days of the judges, “everyone” does not necessarily mean every single person. I am not denying the existence of devoted godly believers. It is a generalisation both in the days of the Judges and today. But it is still true to say that humans have rejected God, their Creator. We have rejected his wisdom for living in his world, over which he is Lord.
To love our neighbour as ourselves can only flow from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength
Why We Fail to Love, Serve and Protect
“Love your neighbour as yourself” is fundamental to this wisdom. It is because people do not subscribe to God’s wisdom that our world is the way it is. But to love our neighbour as ourselves can only flow from loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The source is complete devotion to God (1 John 3:10). The rejection of God and his rule is ultimately why we find ourselves in such a world – where law enforcement takes life instead of protecting it. It is a result of not loving God or those made in his image, those God calls their “neighbour” (Luke 10:25-37).
The rejection of God and his rule is why we find ourselves in a world – where law enforcement takes life instead of protecting it.
Nothing is new under the sun. What has happened will happen again. Jesus Christ died an unjust death as an innocent man at the hands of law enforcement officials. But in this, God acted, and used it to satisfy the ultimate demand for God’s justice. In Christ he forgives our rebellion and rejection.
Is There Any Hope?
There is a way to be reconciled with God. Through Christ’s sacrifice we can have peace with him. His Spirit transforms our hearts, enabling us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And because of our right relationship with God there comes a right relationship with each other. For we are now able to love our neighbour as ourselves. God’s love for us both enables and inspires our love for others.
Three Changes Christians Must Embrace…
A Change of Heart
What does this mean for us then? Well, firstly, racism and police brutality no longer has a place in the heart of someone who loves another as themselves. While we may not all be law enforcement officers committing these crimes, our transformation can be shown in our not being passive to the injustices around us. Desmond Tutu’s words are fitting here: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We must speak up and act out against injustice. However, we must start with ourselves.
Our world needs people who care about the wellbeing of the other and fight on their behalf
A Change in Position
Secondly, injustice will continue to be a reality in our world. We should not be surprised by this, nor by its recurrence. Instead, we must fight against it because God calls us to (Zechariah 7:9). As Christians living in these times, what will our heritage be in light of injustice? What example will we leave behind for those who come after us in responding to it? Knowing that we will always have the poor among us does not mean we should not care about them. Injustice is similar. Our world needs people who care about the wellbeing of the other and fight on their behalf. Is this not what loving our neighbour looks like?
A Change in Approach
Finally, we must learn to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19). So often our response to matters of injustice is to question the victim’s contribution or responsibility. Perhaps we need to take time to listen to those on the receiving end, before making our judgements and urging them to ‘move on’ past it.
Our Future Hope
This is our comfort: God sees and cares about the injustices suffered. In Christ he acted to disrupt the cycles of seemingly endless tragedy and injustice. This must start with those who believe that this disruption was the cross, and who then live it out. We can be sure that God’s righteous justice will triumph. And in the end this will be true: ‘In those days, the new Jerusalem had a king; everyone did what pleased him.’ Come, king Jesus, come.