This morning before the sun was up I was lying sleepless, browsing Facebook to pass the time. One friend expressed horror and anger and a call that we should all wake up. Racism, she believes, is alive and well and infuriating. Another friend expressed relief that it could all be over now. The story, he said, should never have made national news anyway. Today another person I know went to church in a black hoodie to honor the memory of that 17 year old victim of a tragedy of circumstance, another piece of the groaning creation.
I may as well be transparent and admit that to the best of my small knowledge I agree with the jury’s verdict that the man who shot that boy should go free, a citizen defending himself. I read that the evidence had him on the wrong side of a ground-and-pound fight, that this was the angle of the gunshot wound. I read that he’d been advised by police not to get out of his car. In my mind that is where the whole thing went wrong. He chose to walk into danger, foolish. What transpired was true tragedy, but I’m with the jury: I can’t call it murder.
Still, I find it hard not to believe the boy’s race aggravated the situation. Stereotypes exist and we all live by them, whether we should or not. (And that in itself is worth questioning.) I’ve been reading an eye-opening novel this summer, Kathryn Stockett’s powerful book, The Help. We have come a long way as a society from 1850’s slavery and 1950’s grotesque segregation. But peoples will be warring each other till the end of time. Here and in Palestine and in Uganda and in Korea. I believe that. I believe we cannot fix it. The whole creation groans. It groans.
I find myself groaning, too. Groaning as I read The Help. Groaning as I think of the killer’s family and groaning as I think of the slain’s family. Groaning as I think of my 8yo neighbor, recovering from a gruesome run-in with a speeding car; his mother and sister so traumatized; the woman who was driving. I can’t imagine being in her shoes. Tragedy leaves everyone scarred, and no present attempt at justice will balance the ledger on all sides.
Five years ago, as a self-consciously conservative college student at one of the most liberal Christian schools in our country I was perpetually irritated with the “ideals of their action,” ideals a few friends and I came to speak of as “saving the world, one plastic bag at a time.” As if it would ever work. Ironically, as I’ve embarked on my adult life I find my own ideals aligning more with theirs than I thought they ever would, and this is an understatement.
But my understanding of the world remains so different. I believe we won’t succeed, but we’ll only live with integrity and spread the flavor of the gospel: good news, healing, hope, reconciliation, restoration, Christ making all things new, justice. But it will never be more than a flavor and a shadow until Christ actually does make all things new, and when he does he will do it without our help and beyond our imagining. It will be instantaneous and complete, no trace of injustice or tragedy left to be found anywhere, not even in the dark recesses of someone’s prejudiced heart.
For now, we ought to seek justice, especially in our private corners of the world, and especially when it comes to doing justice, rather than seeking it for ourselves, or even for our own. But we must put our ideals to action realistically; we must wait humbly and patiently and take to heart 1 Peter’s call to suffering. For now, this is the world’s condition: fallen, groaning, waiting for Christ’s return. We can’t change that.