A knee on a neck for nine minutes. . .
Heavy, merciless, stubborn, unmoved . . .
. . . a recipe for death; a fuse that lit the fire of a national calamity.
The kindling? Ahmaud Arbery, a bright 25-year-old black man innocently jogging through an Atlanta neighborhood, chased down by three white men—one a retired policeman–in two pickups with a shotgun, hitting him once with a truck, cutting him off repeatedly and finally shooting him dead as he fought for his life. Then, as he lay bleeding to death on the ground, the shooter cursed him with a profanity, and a now unmentionable racial epithet. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman in Louisville, shot dead in her bed by police who, acting on a “no-knock warrant”, broke into her house suspecting there were drugs—only no drugs were found . . . and, lest we forget, Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old black boy who merely whistled at a white woman in Mississippi, and was so savagely beaten by two white men in 1955 that his mother left his coffin open so the world could see, and history would remember, a head swollen to the size of a watermelon, devoid of eyes and even sockets. And of course, the two murderers were acquitted—the typical pattern of Jim Crow southern “justice.”
Too ugly to think about? Maybe that’s precisely the problem. We don’t really want to think about just how ugly human nature is.
This . . . is us.
And, yes, we’re going to fix it this time! But every broken window, every shouted obscenity, every looted business, every lit fire and every pointed finger only proves the undeniable truth—something is wrong, terribly wrong, with you and me.
As a native Southern Californian, I’m old enough to remember the Watts Riots in 1965—there were fires, broken windows, looting, angry mobs and embattled police back then, and nearly 40 people died. As I questioned racism in the wake of that debacle, my dad warned me that if I ever married a “negro,” he would disown me. So much for that lesson. Racial prejudice persists despite horrific protests.
Then there were the riots following the acquittal of policemen caught on camera beating black man Rodney King, in L.A. again, then 27 years later—60 killed. And now 28 years later, there are not only riots in Southern California, but all over the nation.
The riots come as small, struggling businesses that are under attack in so many of these communities are attempting to recover from the COVID-19 shut down. The broken windows, looted inventories and burned out buildings will undoubtedly settle the fate of many innocent business owners who have made life possible in the communities that most need them. So much for the lesson that innocent people should not be made to pay for crimes they didn’t commit. Injustice irrationally persists because of previous injustices.
I listened this morning as television commentators grappled with how history is repeating itself. How is it that, in this country, the supposed epitome of civilized society—”with liberty and justice for all”—there is still no solution? When will we ever learn?
Maybe it will be when some of us go back to the beginning—to a much more innocent time when a woman took of forbidden fruit and gave to her husband, and he ate. And suddenly they became aware that they were naked and had reason to be ashamed. There was a cover-up, even back then, and they hid from God. Oh yes, there was finger pointing back then, too. No one accepted responsibility. For each, it was someone else’s fault. And there were lasting consequences—a pandemic of sin and death.
Just how corrupting that choice was didn’t become fully apparent until the next generation. Their older son murdered his younger brother. When the Lord confronted Cain, there was no acknowledgement the deed had even been committed, much less an acceptance of responsibility. There was only a callous and insolent denial, followed by a complaint about any consequence and the production of a whole line of descendants who were likeminded. The epitome of Cain’s hard-heartedness manifested itself in a fifth generation descendant named Lamech, who dominated his two wives by threatening them with the memory of his murders—of a man for simply wounding him, and a mere boy for striking him—proudly proclaiming that if Cain were avenged 7-fold, he had exceeded him in evil by being avenged 77-fold (see Genesis 4). Remember Emmitt Till and his awful crime?
Sounds way too familiar doesn’t it? After all, repaying evil for evil, even upon innocent victims, will fix everything!
We’re still repeating Adam and Cain and Lamech’s sinful choices and hardened hearts today.
And it all began when someone had a better idea than God.
It reminds me of a childhood limerick: “Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall. And all of the king’s horsemen, and all of the king’s men, could not put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.”
It’s a nursery rhyme for a time such as this. No matter how many vengeful acts we engage in, no matter how many riots we produce, no matter how well-educated people become, no matter how many laws are passed, no matter how many reforms are promised, we are still broken! We can’t put ourselves together again! Something is terribly wrong!
Perhaps there is some hope that a few are beginning to recognize this–that despite all our best efforts in the most civilized, free, educated, richest country in the world, we are the very epicenter of all the chaos, crime and violence of hatred-induced riots.
Maybe some will come to see that all our efforts at reform do not work. Maybe some will understand that the only solution to our corrupt nature is not merely an acknowledgement that it exists, but that we need . . . a miracle.
As we recoil from the horror of another great national tragedy, will we play our typical games again—denial of responsibility, blame-shifting, finger-pointing, taking revenge on the innocent, and taking pride in the very actions that should be our source of shame? Will we insolently deny there is any problem we can’t deal with on our own? Or will we recognize that our problems began with that estrangement from the Lord in the garden? Will we come to our senses and recognize that there is a God who, unlike us, is pure and holy, as well as incredibly merciful and gracious. Will we humbly seek the One who proved what He’s like when He sent His Son Jesus to love and heal us—a God who patiently waited while we crucified His ever-so-innocent Son, because by that very same act, He intended to save us from our sin?
His diagnosis is accurate: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV). His cure is sure: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17, KJV).
For those who come to recognize this, there is hope. Only then do we begin to realize that when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we really love ourselves.
And that when we put a knee on someone else’s neck, we’re really putting it on our own.
#jamesdanawallace.com or #biblediscern.com