How long, O LORD, must we see videos like the one of your image bearer, Ahmaud Arbery? O, LORD, comfort his family. Bring Justice. We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve heard of (or even seen) the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man slain by two white men in Glynn County, GA on Feb. 23, 2020 shortly after 1 p.m.
At the beginning of this week, I wasn’t planning on writing this post. Yet COVID-19 has reminded me how my plans are all in pencil; only God writes the future with ink. I had already planned to record for the UWP podcast, and so my co-host, Austin, and I stuck to schedule. But we recorded an episode about Ahmaud that we released this morning. We pray it helps you. Of course, since then, facts continue to be released, as the two men involved in the shooting have now been arrested and face charges of aggravated assault and murder.
The questions and reactions that arise around this tragedy are as endless as people are diverse. And yet, no doubt, common threads run through no small part of them: Grief. Horror. Disbelief. Fatigue. Fear. Anger. Skepticism. Resentment. What are we to do?
I have hardly the energy, much less the wisdom, to answer. When I thought of what to say, I scratched my head wondering, “Haven’t I spoken to this before?” I have, and that’s because the video of Ahmaud is far from the first of its kind, and sadly, until the Lord returns, I fear it won’t be the last.
I hope I’m wrong about that.
But in case I’m not, I wanted to provide some resources to help process tragedies such as the fatal shooting of Ahmaud so that we might rely on the Lord, and heal, and help one another heal, and learn, and listen, and work for the good of our neighbors and communities. Put differently, I wanted to provide these resources so that folks might love one another and be loved and look to the only one who is love.
For a host of reasons that we regularly address in articles and episodes, we evangelicals are prone to action and reaction. So, something happens, and many of us knee-jerk, with the best of intentions, asking, “What should we do?” But let’s start with a different question, lest we make this about us. Let’s start with a different question, lest we think we can heal wounds that only the resurrection can heal. At funerals, we don’t primarily attend in hopes of acting. When their brother, Lazarus, died, Mary and Martha didn’t do anything, except lament; they turned to someone.
So, where can we turn?
To the Throne of Grace
The reason United? We Pray exists it to help people rely on God in times like this. So often, our instinct is to look inward, online, but not upward. Yet if we listen to saints of old; if we open our Bibles, we’ll see that Christians in times of trouble often did something—they prayed. True, we must do more than pray if we’re to live lives of justice and mercy, but we cannot do less.
So, pray for Ahmaud’s family. Pray for the McMichael men, as we are to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Pray for your brothers and sisters in your churches and communities, particularly African-Americans. Pray, pray, pray. You don’t have to run to Twitter before you run to Jesus. He welcomes our fears. So, sit at his feet first. With Mary and Martha, lament.
To Your Pastors & Counselors
A warning is often posted with videos like that of Ahmaud: GRAPHIC CONTENT. We advise viewer discretion because these videos are traumatic. In the episode I mentioned above, Austin mentioned why he couldn’t watch videos like these; another pastor I love and trust said much of the same. All this to say, don’t suffer these things alone. Guard your heart above all (Proverbs 4:23). Get the help you need. Draw upon spiritual resources, and I hope your pastor is one of them.
To Your Networks
There’s no one faithful response to tragedies such as Ahmaud’s. Some of us will have to step up, others should step back. There’s a time to speak, and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7; Proverbs 26:4-5; 31:8-9). You have to have the wisdom to know when which response is best. But maybe turning to places 1 (Jesus) and 2 (pastors and counselors) will help you consider the wisdom of turning to place 3. After all, if we don’t have wisdom, God bids us to ask him for it (James 1:5). After all, there’s victory with counsel (Proverbs 15:22). Should you say something about this publicly? Why wouldn’t you? Why Would you? These are good questions to pray and seek counsel about.
To Your Brothers & Sisters
A black pastor checked in with me to see how I was doing after this shooting was exposed. He said he was fatigued, if not numb. I know many white brothers and sisters are wondering how they should reach out, if at all. To the latter group my bottom line counsel is controlled by the golden rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
This rule compels you to ask: What would I want done unto me if I were in this situation? In humility, many folks often react saying and assuming, “I can’t imagine what this is like.” But I think you can, and it’s worth trying.
If we don’t try, we’ll do damage. Just this morning I tweeted a simple question (because I think people can often learn and reveal more by articulating their own answers than listening to mine): “What if there had been no video [of Ahmaud]?”
Someone responded basically suggesting that God’s justice will still come and it’s better than ours anyway. Of course, I agree with that, and of course God’s justice is a comfort to rest in, and perhaps the brother was saying only this much. But God’s justice then isn’t mutually exclusive from how he works now. Just because we have the guarantee of perfect justice doesn’t mean we don’t imperfectly pursue temporal justice. What’s more, if Ahmaud were your child, I simply don’t believe you’d fold your hands and wait until the end. If Uriah’s dad knew what David did with him, would he not pursue justice even in this life?
And so, we must put in the work of love. Love requires work. That’s why I gently encourage my white brothers and sisters to do some more of it before they ask their minority friends about race (and it’s why I encourage them to make their minority friends their last, not first, resort). So, read laments about these shootings; read about why white churches are hard for black people. Read about how idolizing white identity can lead to death. Your reading will help everyone, as you watch your tone and posture in this conversation.
Earlier I talked about plans of mine. While I fear this post may be necessary in the future, I have no plans of writing another like it, in which I gather a number of other different resources. To be clear, I’m not saying I’m done writing; I’m simply saying we have the resources to process. Now ours is the hard work of processing, of resolving to live differently, and of doing this by relying on God’s grace. Put differently, I think these resources will be applicable in many instances as the world keeps going round.
That’s one hard part about grief. The world keeps spinning, people keep living their lives, when you might just want everything to stop. I think of Ahmaud’s mother, and how much she may just want things to stop. So, I’ll stop here, and lament with Mary and Martha—thankful I know how the story ends.
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