A Biblical Take on Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter
The Book of Jonah
After all that has happened in our world the past two weeks – everything that has been exposed and the visceral effect it has had on our communities, notably the Black community, and all the closeted emotions and reactions that our other communities have let out – I started reading and understanding a key message from chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah in new light. Jason and I had been studying the Book of Jonah for the past seven weeks with our Sunday School kids. We’ve been using rightnowmedia.org as our main resource and followed the Bible study created by pastor and author Dr. Eric Mason, engaging very raw and insightful lessons from each passage every week as we progressed through Jonah’s story. Every chapter and every verse got us to take a deeper look into our own hearts, to see how we might be perceiving things in our own lives with a selfish disposition, and how we can ask God to work in us to break the selfish walls that cover our hearts. Now if you haven’t read the Book of Jonah, be sure you do when you get the chance! God will speak to you in thousands of more powerful ways than I could ever in this post. But in an effort to discuss what the Book of Jonah means to us in our world today, let’s summarize what happens.
(Chapter 1) A Hebrew prophet named Jonah receives the word of God to “go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before [God].” (Jonah 1:1) But Jonah decides to run away from God and flees to another city called Tarshish. He boards a ship and God sends a great storm violent enough to shake up all the sailors and people on the ship who have yet to know God. Amidst the storm, the sailors come to repentance and know God as their true god, but Jonah tells them that the only way to calm the sea is to throw him overboard. It’s his way of committing suicide by the hands of others to defer blame and not be held accountable for his own death, yet “the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17) (Chapter 2) In the fish, Jonah prays to the Lord but he prays a prayer of self-centredness. He claims to have prayed to God earlier on and admits that God has saved him from his circumstances, but he doesn’t understand that his own selfish nature in running away from the Lord had caused God to hurl a storm at him, telling him to WAKE UP. Yet God remains patient and compassionate towards Jonah through this and saves him once again by commanding the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. (Chapter 3) And so Jonah gets word from God a second time to go to Nineveh and he obeys. He proclaims to the city what God instructed him to say: “forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”. (Jonah 3:4) The Ninevites believe God and repent. Even the king sends out a decree to his people to fast and “give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:8-9) And so the Ninevites are not destroyed as Jonah proclaimed, thanks to his efforts in bringing the people to God. (Chapter 4) But Jonah’s anger burns deep towards God and towards the people of Nineveh. He claims here that he knew God is gracious and compassionate, “slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2) At this point, Jonah prefers to die than to live because of his anger, but God asks him, is he right to be angry? (Jonah 4:3-4)
And this is where we must ask ourselves: is it right for us to be angry when we see others receive grace? Should we not look in ourselves and see the boundless grace God has provided us time and time again despite our own sinful ways? We tend to belittle or justify our own disobedience, and take for granted the countless times God has sent a big fish to save us from our own self-destruction. In his video along with our study, pastor Eric says, “you know you’re in a bad place when you want God to destroy people.”
Yes, so we better get used to it now! We all have bitterness and selfishness in ourselves and we need to look into hearts and understand that amidst that bitterness, anger, jealousy is God working His ways to uproot the cause of that bitterness, anger, jealousy. When I looked at the idea of Black Lives Matter in the past, I felt a bit of that bitterness. How come only Black Lives Matter? Why is there so much attention and empowerment towards Black lives only? What about our other communities? I have to say, these thoughts have crossed my mind in past years. But I came to the realization that it isn’t Black lives only. Just like when we wear the pink ribbon to stand in solidarity with those who’ve had breast cancer, it doesn’t mean that only breast cancer matters! Jonah’s case is one extreme where we often times care more about our own needs and diminish the needs of others and prefer to let them fend for themselves.
And just like Jonah, we forget about the many times we were privileged and blessed, or we don’t even come to realize that we were. And this is the problem that we see today. Most of us don’t understand the privilege we have today that people from the Black community don’t have, such as being able to have police encounters and not fear for your own life! Or be diminished to something less than human by strangers you courteously greeted moments before. I think it’s easy to forget the times that God has been there for us despite our tendencies to reject Him, and then be quick to judge others and their right to be blessed or receive attention. Let’s dismantle our self-righteousness and uplift our kindness and compassion. Let’s be better.
Dr. Eric Mason
Pastor Eric is the founder and pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. He lives there with his wife Yvette and their four children. He is also the author of Woke Church: An Urgent Call to Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice. Click here to buy his book!
Picture from All American Speakers.