By Brice Karickhoff, a senior from the University of Georgia studying global health and economics.
What I Learned from Watching an Old Man Cry
A college kid like myself can learn a lot from the things that make an old man cry. It’s easy for some of us as twenty-somethings to think we have it all figured out, but when you watch someone who has lived four times longer than you weep, you will stop to listen. In my case, this happened three times in just two months, so I stopped and listened. This post is about what I learned.
Sixty years ago, our country looked very different. Racism was shamelessly and openly the norm. Five thousand people had been hanged because of the color of their skin. Segregation was widely accepted as right and good. Police violence, systematic oppression, and outright abuse all openly occurred on many of the same streets we walk today. (None of this is to say that these issues are now completely resolved or that our country has entirely healed).
We learned these stories in middle school history class; this isn’t what I learned from my tearful friends. My friends weren’t merely sorrowful because of these injustices. They were broken by the realization of their posture towards the injustice. This is what they taught me:
It is all too easy to be indifferent towards the suffering of others when the world around you turns the other way. Krishna Murti, an Indian philosopher, once said “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society”. When you look back and see how sick things were, it can wreck you that you were so unconcerned. A woman from my church spoke through tears of how it never occurred to her just how strong Satan’s stronghold was in the town she grew up in, and the tragedy was that neither she, nor her church, was swayed to action.
The Church and Injustice
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of the church’s attitude toward massive social injustice in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But they went on with the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven’ and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.”
“Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.”
He was right. Dr. King’s warning challenges me, and terrifies me. I look back and think, “How could you not notice?” When I reflect on just how widespread, systematic and shameless racism was, I want to believe that I would have said something. The bible so clearly condemns racism (Gen. 1, 1 Sam. 16, John 7, Acts 10, 1 John 2), yet the church as a whole was conforming their minds to the world, rather than to God. This makes elderly men and women who fear God cry.
Such a tragedy is not isolated to the church in the American South during the 1950s. Throughout the bloody Crusades, destructive colonialism, slave trade, Native American removal, and the atrocities of both World Wars (including the Holocaust), many Christians were at best indifferent, but often instigators of these acts against God’s image bearers.
This is not to say that the church hasn’t been a catalyst for love at times. She is still Christ’s bride and I don’t want to slander her, but a close look at her history reveals that at times, concern for the oppressed has been the exception, not the rule. Generation after generation of believers has been blissfully unaware or unconcerned by problems that break the heart of God. And that leaves me to ask myself a daunting question:
Today, in a society that is as sick as ever, what might we Christians be too naïve or too afraid to address?
Our World and Our Wealth
I believe one answer is very clear. Poverty, hunger, thirst and disease are claiming lives as you read these words. In a world of more abundance and connectedness than ever before, we are seeing suffering on a scale like never before.
God’s message for Christians living in abundance who are connected to those who are suffering is very clear. And we are those Christians. If He is truly our God, we must set our minds on His Word.
He warns of us our heart’s attachment to our wealth:
“If riches increase, set not your heart on them.” Psalm 62:10
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’… God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” Luke 12:15-20
And, because He is enough for us and we are to be a light in the world, He calls us to care for the poor through financial sacrifice.
“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10
“They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” 1 Timothy 6:18
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17
This is far from a complete unpacking of what the Bible has to say about Christian giving. What percent are we to give? Is it “bad” to accumulate wealth? Do we give directly to the poor or do we go through our church? These are all valid questions, but we must not overcomplicate a simple truth: God is clear about economic issues.
We Christians are His plan A for bringing healing to the world, and there is no plan B. This means that we will be a giving people as a community and as individuals. No serious reading of Scriptures can substantiate any other view.
Time to Act
I do not mean to say that racism was the problem of yesterday, and poverty is the problem of today. Both existed yesterday and still exist today. I simply mean to comment on the church’s attitude toward the two.
I really believe in the church today. I think God is doing a mighty work. I see it everyday here at the University of Georgia and I hear about it happening elsewhere. I pray that our response to the verses I mentioned earlier would attest to our surrender and love for God. I pray that we would be a testament to the joy that comes from knowing God. I pray that we would be generous because God has been generous to us.
I pray that we would not have to answer through tears to a younger generation one day, “How did you let those people starve and die when the Bible is so clear on the matter?” I never want to be accused by that question. And history tells us that if we don’t act, it will be asked of us (both on earth and in heaven).
A brief disclaimer is necessary. We do need to remain mindful of 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Love is central to our action, but action is also central to our love. 1 John 3:18 reads, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
I will finish with this verse from Romans:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Brothers and Sisters, we need renewed minds. Our generation is not immune to complacency. The world is sick and its ways are evil. God’s ways are pure and good, and He is very clear about how we ought to respond to His love for us. There has never been such a time that the action and love of the church is so desperately needed by the world. Now, for the joy that is set before us, let’s act. Click here for what to do now.