Hell and Racial Injustice: A Pastoral Letter
City Church Family:
The sermon for this Sunday's online worship service is from Mark 9:42-50, and therefore deals with matters of sin and hell. There's never an easy time to consider these words from Jesus, but I've been particularly restless the past 72 hours as we've all seen the news about the killing of George Floyd. Lord, why this passage? And why this week? Here at City Church we plan our passages far in advance, and in fact I had written most of the sermon before we knew anything about George Floyd.
As the details of George Floyd's death unfolded and protests intensified, I strongly considered scrapping this sermon entirely (at least for this Sunday) and preaching on something else. However, this would have meant re-recording most (if not all) of the service on Saturday, which I thought would have been an unfair imposition on Jay and his family as well as my family. More importantly, I actually sensed a prompting from the Holy Spirit to "keep going" and trust the Lord's providence in putting this passage before us this weekend. I believe there are at least three reasons for this, and I want to mention them here since I can't mention them to you in person today as we worship in your homes.
1. I believe the Lord wants to remind all of us that injustice without repentance leads to hell.
Injustice of any kind, especially killing one of God's image bearers, is a prelude to an eternity in hell in which we are forever kept from enjoying the blessings of God. To call racial injustice spiritually dangerous is a vast understatement. Unless there is miraculous repentance on the part of the one committing the injustice, Scripture is crystal clear about the consequences.
2. I believe the Lord wants to assure us that he is a God of perfect justice.
In the aftermath of George Floyd's death there have been national cries for swift justice and change. At the same time, many are painfully skeptical about the chances that Derek Chauvin (and those with him) will ever face the kind of justice they sense is right and fair. Much of this skepticism is fueled by America's sordid history with racial injustice, such as the information we recently learned about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The doctrine of hell reminds us that God is a perfect judge who will judge everything perfectly in its time. Even if earthly justice is fleeting, God will not ultimately allow injustice to go unpunished. Pol Pot, the dictator who notoriously tortured and killed countless Cambodians, died peacefully in his sleep and expressed zero remorse about his crimes. There was no earthly justice for Pol Pot, but God will still ensure that perfect justice is done. In one sense this is "comforting," but at this point we must be very cautious - and that leads me to the third reflection.
3. I believe the Lord is calling all of us to examine our own hearts.
When we're justifiably angry about an injustice someone else has committed (particularly injustices committed on a grand scale), it is tempting to ignore or be dismissive about our own sin. But that's spiritually dangerous in its own right! Once again, an unrepentant posture toward sin leads to hell, and the "size" of the sin and injustice is irrelevant. Racial injustice "in the news" should therefore cause us to examine our own hearts and plead with the Lord to expose our own complicity and other sins. May the injustices committed by others lead to our own repentance rather than a sanctimonious spirit. Fighting for justice and humble self-reflection can always co-exist. "God be merciful to us, for we are sinners!" (see Luke 18:13).
City Church family - please keep these comments in mind as you engage in today's online service. I love you, and I'm grateful to God to be one of your pastors. I look forward to many more years of coming alongside all of you to fight for justice and pursue humble self-reflection.
One final comment: the doctrine of hell can be particularly painful for those who have lost loved ones who did not profess to be followers of Jesus. Please know that I am hurting with you, and I am very willing to talk more about this with you (theologically, philosophically, etc.). Reach out to me anytime.
By the way - I really appreciated this prayer from John Piper, who is a Minneapolis resident and served as a pastor there for decades.
- "God's Very Good Idea" (Trillia Newbell). This is a great resource for those looking to talk about George Floyd with their kids. Quite frankly - adults will benefit as well.
- "Just Mercy" - Bryan Stevenson
- "The Warmth of Other Suns" - Isabel Wilkerson
- "How Could A Loving God Send Anyone to Hell?" (Benjamin Skaug). In my opinion, this probably the best (and most accessible) book about the doctrine of hell. The answers to common objections about hell are particularly enlightening.