What Does the Bible Say about Racism (Part Two)
“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.… But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing.” (Bryan Stevenson; Just Mercy, pg. 289)
In part one, I showed how the scriptures clearly teach that there is one human race, not several. This undermines the very notion of races and therefore the scale of superiority/inferiority altogether. So if there are not different races, where does racism come from? In this post, we will explore “racism” as a product of the Fall.
What does the Fall teach us about racism?
When I speak of “the Fall,” I am speaking of the event described in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve rejected God’s law and ate from the tree and, more to the point, the subsequent effect on all people, often referred to as our fallenness – or our fallen state. We see it in Genesis 6:5: “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” The effect of the fall led to this state in which humanity had become vile. Why? Because we were all “infected with a virus” called sin.
Racism grows out of that “virus.” It is an invention of evil from the fallen heart perpetrated against other people. It grieves God. It is a hatred which motivates oppressive injustice, and God hates injustice.
According to the church father Athanasius, human beings east of Eden (outside the Garden) corrupt everything they touch, competing with each other in lawlessness and in “devising all manner of new evils.” We get a good idea of how corruption effects people from two major judgments of God which we read about in the Old Testament. The first was with the flood in Noah’s time.
What moved God to judge the earth with the “flood”?
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. (Genesis 6:11-12)
Violence was a manifestation of the corruption. The Hebrew word is “Hamas” or “Chamas”. It means violence, oppression, cruelty, and bloodshed. It is consistently associated with injustice. In one place the NIV translates it as “a reign of terror.” Slavery in America and subsequent oppression of black Americans has been a three century “reign of terror.” One to which most of us are blind—to no fault of our own. But ignorance doesn’t excuse responsibility. Throughout scripture, this violence and its accompanying sins bring judgment.
God was moved by violence, oppression, cruelty, and bloodshed that human beings perpetrated against one another and brought the judgment of the flood. This leads us to a second time God judged the world in a major way – Sodom and Gomorrah.
What moved God to judge Sodom and Gomorrah?
Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18:20-21)
The word for outcry is a technical word for the cry of pain or the cry for help from those who are being oppressed or violated. Wright points out that both here and in Exodus 2, God hears the cries of people who are being sinned against. Christopher J. Wright concludes, “In this case, God’s intervention to destroy the cities would be seen as breaking their power over the poor and oppressed in the surrounding area–an act of biblical justice.” (The Mission of God, pg 359, ft nt 1) Ezekiel confirms this perspective:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)
We are not told that they were crying out to God, simply that they were crying out in their grief. God was moved to judge Sodom and Gomorrah by the suffering of the people who cried out in their oppression. God hears the cries of suffering people regardless of whether they are talking to Him or not! God’s people are called to lament, to bring these sorrows to Him—and sometimes the sorrows are the sorrows of others that we are called to bring before the Lord.
“The American church avoids lament. The power of lament is minimized and the underlying narrative of suffering that requires lament is lost. But absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Absence makes the heart forget….We forget the reality of suffering and pain.” (Rah, Soong-Chan. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times)
Racism grows out of that “virus” called sin which entered the human race at the fall. It grieves God. It is a hatred which motivates oppressive injustice, and God hates injustice.
In part 3 of this series we will begin to explore what the Scriptures call us to do in response to racism. I will answer the questions, “What does the story of Cain and Abel teach us about racism?” and, “What does redemption do about racism?”
For more on what the Bible says about racism and our responsibility, click here for a sermon I did on this very topic from the book of Genesis.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,