Seeking the Peace of a New and Eternal City

It will happen -- but it might look different

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV)

Like many of you, I watched the protests and riots that affected Charlotte, NC, following an officer-involved shooting of an African-American civilian. The local paper has published thousands of words; the local television and radio stations have devoted hours to every aspect of the story, so I don’t need to recount the events here.

I do want to offer some thoughts on the local reaction to the death of Keith Lamont Scott, and where I hope the lessons will lead us. If your only exposure to the story was to angry people blocking interstate highways, looting trucks, and setting fires, that’s an incomplete story. The news media can’t help it: their motto is, If it bleeds, it leads. And one can always count on jaded people to slow down for a glimpse of someone else’s blood. Not our finest moment.

The most disheartening aspect of the event and its after-effects is the atmosphere of mistrust that has clouded the Charlotte metro area. Black and white people are wary and guarded — even friends and colleagues are feeling the strain. Civilians and law enforcement officers are regarding each other with doubt and suspicion.

The QC; Queen City, Charlotte NC, North Carolina, race relations, race, brotherhood, peace

The Queen City stands! photo by Brandon Butler

Even in the midst of this discontent, however, I have seen some hopeful signs. I’ve seen people — friends and strangers alike — going out of their way to show kindness and to express appreciation and empathy toward the various populations of hurting people. Even in the midst of the worst nights of demonstrations turned violent, groups and individuals have made a point to thank police officers and National Guardsmen for their work. Churches in the area have hosted round table discussions to bring people of different races and ethnicities together to listen and gain perspective. As good as these latter activities are, I think there may be something missing.

The NEW city!

A few days after the death of Keith Scott, I was reading in the book of Revelation, In chapter 21, the apostle John tells of his vision of the Heavenly City:

[1] Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. [2] I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. [4] ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [5] He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:1 – 5 (NIV)

The relevance of Revelation

The passage hit home with me, as the contrast between Charlotte and the new Jerusalem was almost unbearable. Look, I’ve lived in or near Charlotte for most of the past 36 years, and I love it. I’ve seen it at its best and worst — so far. Even at its best, Charlotte is not the Heavenly city of God. The recent events and all the reactions remind me: We are not home yet.  

The call to racial reconciliation

I take seriously the teachings of scripture that say that through Christ Jesus, God has made one blood of all humanity. We can’t help but notice our varied appearance, but the significance of these differences should not be a preoccupation. We cannot help but notice differences in speech, manner of dress, or what we find funny, versus what we don’t, but we should not weight these things more heavily than what the Bible refers to as the Ministry of Reconciliation. If God has reconciled us to Himself through the merits and death of Jesus — covering and pardoning our rebellion against Him — we do not dare withhold it from others.

Reconciliation is expensive

Yes it is. Look at what it cost God. And what separated us from God is the same me-first attitude. Insisting on justice (for others) and on mercy (for me), makes one a hypocrite. I think the answer ultimately is to be able to view ourselves as God does, using his perfection as a reference point. When we stand alongside the perfection and holy otherness of God, we understand our complete unworthiness, and we can then appreciate how much God has forgiven us. From there, He can rightly demand that we forgive others.

The true remedy to what troubles all of us.

Look again at the passage from Revelation, and see the description John gives of the new Jerusalem. It is perfect. It is the dwelling place of God, but it is also home for all those who put their trust in Jesus.

God will comfort the broken and the bruised. He will make right all the wrongs we suffered. And he will wipe away every tear. And God promises to make all things new (not, as the commentator pointed out, “making all new things.”) Hope is coming, renewal is coming, and justice is coming  — all in perfect love. But what else can we conclude about this eternal city and how we get there?

Grace is preeminent. We cannot begin with good works and then find righteousness, rather we must begin with grace and then act righteously in response to the great gift of God. We are made new to enable us to do fit work for God’s Kingdom.

It seems to me that in the arena of race relations, we are falling into a similar error. We demand acts (or pass laws) that they might compel love. We would be far better first to love our neighbor and then act. To love is to decide to love – to choose to seek the well-being of the beloved. It is asking a lot of wounded people, but we are all wounded.

A year ago, I wrote about the horrific shooting at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, and the remarkable response by the family of God. The godly members of Emanuel AME church spoke words of forgiveness to Dylann Roof – in their pain and loss, they chose to follow Jesus in loving their enemy. Here, in the face of a crime motivated by racism, divine grace motivated an extravagant (read: expensive) act of forgiveness.

My prayer is that more of us will actively choose to love our neighbor, and that we will not define the word neighbor more narrowly than our Lord did. Let us be ministers of reconciliation — not demanding absolution, but loving and serving our neighbors so that they will see that our citizenship is in the new Jerusalem and want to join us there.

So how about you? How are you choosing to show love to your neighbor? Add your comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Bring your best manners, please.

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