By Andy Bramsen
Your love must be sincere. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good… Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Have the same attitude toward all… If possible, live peaceably with everyone. (Romans 12:9, 15-16a, 18)
These past few days have been heart-wrenching. Two young African-American men killed by police for no apparent reason, one in Louisiana and one just a few miles from where our church meets to worship each Sunday. Five police killed and others wounded in Texas by someone who was apparently angry about those two shootings. These people seem to have been killed not because of what they did, but because they were members of the wrong group at the wrong time and place. Based on all the evidence available to us, these deaths seem senseless. So how should we as followers of Christ respond?
Perhaps it is most helpful to begin with how we should not respond. We should not justify the unjustifiable. Even if—hypothetically—one of the men who was killed by police did something unwise in the encounter with law enforcement or if police acted in a racist way, this is not a justification for shooting any of these people. We should likewise avoid easy answers, e.g. more laws, more sensitivity training, more cameras, more whatever else. I am not precluding the utility of some of these tools. But I am also not convinced any of this would have solved a problem that goes to the depths of the human heart.
St. Augustine wrestled with why at the very beginning people who were created good by God used their free will to turn to evil and argued that at some level this question is unanswerable.
The truth is that one should not try to find an efficient cause for a wrong choice… To try to discover the causes of such defection – deficient, not having efficient causes – is like trying to see darkness or to hear silence. Yet we are familiar with darkness and silence, and we can only be aware of them by means of eyes and ears, but this is not by perception but by absence of perception. (City of God, Book XII, chapter 7)
In short, he reminds us there are things for which we as humans cannot offer accurate explanations; in such instances, it is wiser to remain silent about what we cannot explain than to pretend to know what we do not know.
So what can we do? In the words of St. Paul to the Roman church quoted above, we should sincerely love those who suffer and mourn with them, joining them in opposing evil and clinging to the good. We should walk with those who are hurting, offering a listening ear, standing with them whether literally or figuratively, not attempting to explain the unexplainable or justify the unjustifiable, and most of all by praying faithfully for them and for ourselves as we seek to follow the Lord in the midst of a fallen world. The Collect for the Sunday before these tragic events offers an excellent start to that prayer and a fitting conclusion for this reflection.
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Proper 9)
Andy Bramsen is an assistant professor in political science at Bethel University. He serves on the vestry at Church of the Redeemer.