I posted this on Facebook after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, but sadly, it is fitting again this weekend.
Recently I’ve been reading Dane Ortlund’s wonderful book Gentle and Lowly. The book focuses not so much on the person and work of Jesus—like so many books do—but on helping us see Christ’s heart of compassion and love. Yesterday, I read chapter 11 on “The Emotional Life of Christ,” which focused on how Jesus felt a righteous anger toward death. Jesus felt and feels an indignant anger against anything that is “not the way it should be.”
We see this in his response of both weeping and anger when his friend Lazarus tastes death in John 11. Death should not be. In this scene, we also see his empathy as he weeps with those who weep.
When he sees the suffering of the lame and the afflicted (Matt. 20:30-31), or of a mother who loses her only son (Luke 7:11-17), he’s moved to pity and compassion. Such sickness and loss in this fallen, broken world is not the way it is supposed to be.
And when Jesus sees injustices and mistreatment of others as the poor are taken advantage of by the wealthy (Matt. 5:38-40), we see him rage with a righteous fury against such wrongs.
These are but a few examples showing us the heart of Christ and how he feels, including how he feels anger aimed at injustices, mistreatment, suffering, and death. (Tim Keller has a whole chapter on this in Generous Justice.) One goal of Ortlund’s book is that we would fall in love with the heart of Jesus, but another goal is that we would then reflect his heart. That would include his empathy to the suffering, compassion to the mistreated, and righteous anger to those wronged by injustices.
Do we reflect the heart of Jesus in how we feel angry, not so much because of our personal inconveniences but because of compassion and empathy toward others, especially when there’s mistreatment and injustice? Do we reflect his heart of concern and compassion for others, or are we mainly worried about how things affect us? Do we grumble over little annoyances in our world but feel apathy about the deep wounds of others? Does our heart go out in empathy toward others so we might weep with those who weep? As we see and experience the heart of Christ, the hope is that we might reflect his heart more.
After reading this, later yesterday evening I made my rounds on Twitter and the news. I came across the story of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American stopped, harassed, and murdered in mid-day on a street in Georgia by two white-men. Though it felt like a scene out of a movie or documentary of what “used to happen,” it was a reminder that these things continue today. Such blatant wrong in the killing of a young-man clearly out for a run, such suffering among his family and friends, and such injustice that it could happen and months later the two men would still be living their life in freedom, all of these things stirred in me a kind of righteous anger we see in Jesus, probably in part from having spent time earlier in the day reflecting on Christ’s heart.
There of course are and will be more details to learn, questions to ask, and the “but what about” responses some will put forward. But I think part of my greater concern is seeing and hearing so little about it on Facebook. Granted, the video release is still recent, so maybe more Jesus-like outrage against something that is “not the way it’s supposed” to be will come.
But what disheartens me, presses me personally, and concerns me as a pastor and fellow Christian, is how the silence rings even more deafening compared to the posts that have filled my feed for the last couple of weeks. Facebook has certainly been a place to see anger and outrage, but not toward injustice (for the most part).
For the past two to three weeks, my Facebook feed has largely been a steady stream of white, conservative, professing-Christians utterly outraged about the (perceived or real) threats upon some of their personal liberties. Though I’m not suggesting some of these concerns aren’t valid, at this point it’s largely been anger and vitriol because of inconveniences, such as having to wear a face-mask for a few minutes while we buy our over-priced mulch at Lowe’s to keep our lawn looking nice, or not being able to go to the store to make sure we have plenty of chips for when we need a snack.
Again, the point here isn’t whether some of the regulations are overly oppressive or not, but my concern is how I’ve seen a thousand posts of outrage when our personal liberties are threatened or when inconvenienced, compared to how quiet and un-outraged we feel when a human-being is killed for jogging while black. Why the silence for tragedy, pain, suffering, and injustices that continue to occur while at the same time we are ready to sound the alarm and post or repost every meme or news headline about my life being inconvenienced or me being asked to make short-term sacrifices?
If we claim to be a Christian, do we reflect the heart of Christ? Christ was filled with compassion when others were hurting and he felt anger over injustices, but he could endure personal inconveniences and sacrifices. Philippians 2 tells us he is the ultimate example of one who considered others needs and interests more than his own. He does take up the sword for himself but he does lay down his life for others. He is the one who weeps with those who weeps. He is the one full of compassion for others.
My hope is we can recognize how prone we are to be so passionate about what affects us (big or small) but so apathetic about the concerns and pains of others. My hope is a desire for compassion and love to others would move us as deeply as a concern for personal liberties and rights. My hope is we would confess how we fall short of Christ’s example and commands, and that we would then seek to reflect his loving heart by weeping with those who weep, putting the needs of others before our own, and even feeling outraged against injustices.