Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4]
There are days here on earth that make the thought of heaven much sweeter—even seasons of time that seem so dark and twisted and muddled that only the promised future holds hope. Come, Lord Jesus!
But here we are, in the interim, wading through the worst the world has to offer and only the shortsightedness of our humanity to leap quickly to form a defense. We will think our way through. We will rationalize, explain, and call to mind the politics involved. Let tragedy be the means to showcase the stance we have taken. Let our collective horror at what has unfolded be weaponized against the perceived offenders. And the offenders accused stand in a circle of pointed fingers, always another party who deserves the bulk of the criticism. Be careful what you speak; your words will undoubtedly give not enough blame here, not enough love there, too much stepping on toes over here. The scene is heartbreaking and messy, and fueled more often by anger and offense than love and mercy.
In these times especially, my heart aches to feel more fully the things that are dear to the heart of God. There is a rich narrative in the Old Testament prophets—the Old Testament, where we are first introduced to Yahweh, the Creator, the Father. And Yahweh makes Himself clear: He is a God who rises up to defend the oppressed, who desires justice and pours out mercy. Over and over He calls for His people to carry out this mission of mercy toward the downtrodden. This matters:
“‘Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.'” [Isaiah 1:16-17]
“‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke; to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?‘” [Isaiah 58:6]
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. … This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.” [Zechariah 7:9-11, 14]
There is much, much more. It’s impossible to read the words of God spoken through the prophets without seeing this piece of His heart revealed: God is the defender of those who have no defense, and calls to account the ones who fail to show compassion.
When we observe an event that highlights the unjust killing of a person or group of people, the appropriate response is always compassion.
That’s true of the black lives lost in recent events, and the police deaths following. It’s also true of the refugees flooding Europe, and true of the 49 people killed in Orlando. It’s true of the Christians ISIS slaughters in Syria. True of every casualty in Paris, San Bernardino, Istanbul, Bangladesh. True of the persecuted Muslims in Myanmar. True of the lives lost as collateral damage in the Middle East. It’s heartbreaking how long the list could run.
This ministry of mercy in response to violence is a vulnerable one. In the New Testament, it is summed up in Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Even then, as now, people of good intention will seek to clarify: whom should we love? When, exactly, is this sort of compassion merited? Is there room to exclude from our compassion those with whom we disagree, or perhaps those individuals who have some sin in their lives? Who is our neighbor?
‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ [Luke 10:30-37]
Now go, and do likewise.
Father God, give us the grace to fixate upon Your character, not our myopic crusades or political filters. Show us what it means to live in love, for “whoever lives in love lives in God.” [1 John 4:16]
Today, our brothers and sisters of color are mourning. Our brothers and sisters of the police force are mourning. It is appropriate to mourn with them. There is no option to pick one, to pick sides. We are called into exactly this place of vulnerable grief—to seek justice from a heart of deep compassion, to speak words of life and not death, to point always to the gracious mercy of our God, who does not feed hatred, but binds up the brokenhearted and blesses those who mourn.
Today, and every day, may we be people of mercy.