In Genesis 9 we read God’s covenant with Noah after the flood. Verses 4 and 5 say:
But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.
Before the flood, the world was violent and corrupt. The new world isn’t any different. God acknowledges that the threat of violence still exists. What’s different now is God’s response. He’ll demand an accounting for each person (and animal too, it seems) but no matter what, he won’t destroy the earth. God and Noah and all creation are now in a covenant to find a better way forward, to make the world a place of peace and generosity.
God continues in verse 6:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.
At the heart of God’s covenant with Noah is the fact that we are all made in his image. Everyone deserves justice, everyone deserves peace, everyone deserves mercy, because everyone – everyone – is a reflection of the Creator.
The question is, do we believe this?
An artist named Jim LePage created this picture shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS. It was hard for many people to see, especially given the emotionally-, politically-, and religiously-charged circumstances surrounding bin Laden’s acts of terrorism.
Do we believe Osama bin Laden bore the image of God? Do we believe, as the picture states, that he is loved with an everlasting love? Because that’s a pretty dangerous sort of love. That sort of love is a threat to those of us who grew up in the Church hearing stories about how God loves the righteous and hates the unrighteous. That sort of love threatens our established boundaries that keep the Saved safely removed from the Damned. Because if God loves everybody, shouldn’t we? If God sent Jesus for the sake of the entire world, shouldn’t we love the entire world like that? If God loves all people, don’t we have an obligation to go to Them and share that love? It’s far easier to collect ourselves in church buildings on Sundays, listen to podcasts about the evil ways of the world, and sleep comfortably every night knowing God loves Us and hates Them.
But that’s not how the story goes.
When God made his covenant with Noah, there were no set religious boundary lines. There was no Law, no Ten Commandments, no Thou-Shalt-Not’s, no church buildings, no Bible, no dogma, no interpretation, no traditions, no denominations, no Sunday School. There was a covenant. And that covenant had one command:
When you see the image of God, honor it.
Jesus took it to another level. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell.
So when we who follow Jesus say things like, “I hope Osama bin Laden burns in hell,” that’s a sin. We might not have murdered bin Laden, but in our hearts we feel hate, and hate toward any person diminishes the image of God within them. When our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, we respond to violence the same way God did in Genesis 6 before the flood – with grief. With pain. We don’t celebrate the death of any human being no matter how heinous their crimes because violence is counter to God’s covenant with Noah.
RACE AND FERGUSON, MO
I’ve been consumed by the story in Ferguson, MO. The shooting of Michael Brown was tragic, regardless of the circumstances, because an 18-year-old image-of-God-bearer was shot and killed. All sides need to be honest about the case and let Officer Wilson have a fair chance at explaining his side of the story. Eventually he’ll have his day in court, and the case will be closed.
But Ferguson isn’t about the Michael Brown shooting. Ferguson is about a community of people who have felt the sting of violence and the weight of police brutality – real or perceived – for far too long. Ferguson is about the reality that we still live in a nation that hasn’t solved the race problem. And racial tension is a failure on our part to uphold our end of the covenant God made with Noah. The image of God lives in every human person, everyone with “lifeblood.” So making decisions about a person because of the color of their skin is a sin – it cheapens the image of God that lives within them.
To be honest, the Church isn’t helping. One of my former professors has said that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in our country. Our churches have mostly failed to embrace diversity, to break down barriers, to be united by the image of God in every one of us. The fact that we have “black churches” and “white churches,” “urban churches” and “suburban churches” indicates we’ve grown comfortable among people who look like Us and uncomfortable around Them. And if the Church can’t get past race, why should we expect the rest of the world to?
IS GOD’S LOVE CHANGING THE WORLD?
The situation in Ferguson is personal for me. Many of you know that Christina and I have six sons – 3 white, 3 biracial. After the Travyvon Martin shooting, I wrote about my fears of raising three boys who look black. Those fears haven’t gone away. Do I have the ability to effectively teach my three youngest sons how to live as black men once they leave home? Do I need to teach my sons to be afraid in certain situations? Will I have to teach my biracial sons lessons I’ll never teach my white sons?
I need God’s love to matter for more than sermon fodder and feel-good moments on Sundays. I need to believe that the love of God, manifest in Jesus, is as powerful today as it was the second Jesus stepped out of the tomb. I need to be part of a movement of people who believe so much in his love that, like Jesus, we’re willing to give it all if it means the world will be closer to reflecting God’s heart. I need to be part of a people who are no longer satisfied remaining safely on their side of the line, holding God’s love for themselves as some kind of security blanket. I need to be part of something that’s actually changing our world, because in 12 years my 6-year-old black son will leave home. I need to know that he’s going into a world where people see the image of God inside him before they see the color of his skin. I need to know that the Church has loved the world into peace, that we have decided to follow Jesus into the racial tension rather than pretend it isn’t there. I need to know that the Church has set the bar for how high love can reach, and how deep love can heal. I need to know we – the Church – believe the Kingdom of God can actually exist on earth as it is in heaven.
I need to know Ferguson is over, for good.
May our world see the Church as the living incarnation of the love of Jesus, a love that Isaiah said would change everything:
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore
Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.