Three Pseudo-Sources of Wisdom on Race-Related Issues
As I read the commentary of Christian brothers near and far away, I cannot help but notice the striking absence of Scripture from so much of what is said. More specifically, what I’m observing is Christians speaking about police brutality, racism, and systemic injustice on the authority of their personal experiences, their upbringing, their education, their skin color, or the communal assessment of a minority people group. But God’s perspective on the aforementioned issues is not discerned by one’s personal experience, upbringing, education, skin color, or the collective opinion of any group of people.
White Christians and others who may not share the experiences of those claiming to be oppressed in some way are being told that they cannot understand current injustices because of their privilege and its accompanying benefits. Godly men and women are being told to sit at the feet of those who are devoid of Spirit-empowered, biblical wisdom because these would-be teachers are black or oppressed or have experienced police brutality or identify with those who fit this description. My desire is to help equip our church against this wrong thinking.
Where Wisdom Can’t Be Found
To possess a truly wise perspective on any issue requires that we think God’s thoughts regarding that particular issue. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9), therefore, we would do well to remember that God’s thoughts cannot be obtained on the basis of the following:
- Ethnicity. As a black man, I can assure you, there is nothing about being black that makes me more likely to know and embrace God’s wisdom. So, even on race-related issues, being black doesn’t help me gain God’s perspective on the matter. The same is true of every other ethnicity. What Jesus says about eternal life applies to this as well — “The flesh profits nothing” (Jn. 6:63). No degree of blackness or whiteness or brownness in our skin qualifies us to speak with authority on matters of race and injustice. God has not granted wisdom on the basis of ethnicity.
- Oppression. God sovereignly ordains our life experiences for our instruction and sanctification as well as the benefit of others (Ps. 119:67, 71; 2 Cor. 1:3-7). Those who submit to the wisdom of God’s word as they endure hardship may possess a perspective that is not easily gained by those who haven’t suffered in those same ways. For example, my wife and I know the pain of multiple miscarriages. Having endured these hardships, we know particular truths that will comfort other believers in similar situations. So, yes, experience can be extremely helpful. Our own leaders have demonstrated this (see Jacob Hantla and Matt Dodd’s teachings on suffering). But the experiences themselves cannot teach us God’s wisdom. They must be rightly interpreted by the truth of God’s word. Wisdom is not found in merely having a set of experiences. This includes experiencing oppression. Wisdom might still elude the oppressed. No biblical writer ever assumes that the oppressed possess right thinking about their plight because of their experience with injustice. In other words, merely being a victim does not help oppressed people see injustice from God’s perspective. When Pharaoh increased the oppression of God’s people in Egypt, rather than gaining clarity on what God was doing in the situation, the children of Israel accused their God-ordained rescuers (Moses and Aaron) of wrongdoing (Ex. 5:19-21). If experiencing oppression could secure God’s wisdom, Israel’s wisdom would have increased with their oppression. Sadly, it did not. Why? Because God has not granted wisdom on the basis of oppression.
- Activism. Some people go further than identifying injustices. They seek to ensure that injustices stop happening. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the oppressed. They seek to leverage their power and influence to balance the scales of justice. However, a desire to right perceived wrongs also does not make one wise. Simeon and Levi took the side of their victimized sister, Dinah (see Genesis 34). However, their ability to identify an injustice and their desire to defend the honor of the powerless was no protection from thinking and responding foolishly. In fact, their inability to discern during that critical moment in Israel’s history secured lasting shame for these two men (Gen. 34:30-31; 50:5-7). Their activism was not proof of wisdom. Their activism provided no protection from folly. Why? Because God has not granted wisdom on the basis of activism.
An Implication for GBC
I know that the compassionate, kind, and loving members of Grace Bible Church have been eager to listen, learn, and lament with those who are hurting in the wake of recent cultural upheaval. Conversations about racism are now ubiquitous. And often times, questioning or challenging the legitimacy of the current cultural narrative about racism in America is dismissed or even met with open hostility. As we seek to navigate these issues, we must keep our hearts tethered to God’s word, our highest authority and the only source of true wisdom.
Christians are being told that we must stand in solidarity with those who oppose racism (in the specific ways that they choose to oppose it, of course); that we cannot question the world’s assumptions about systemic injustices, the prevalence of racism in America, implicit bias, or white privilege. My prayer for you, Grace Bible Church, is that you would be bold and discerning as you seek to grieve appropriately; that you would wholeheartedly but humbly reject the conclusions of anyone speaking on the authority of their personal experience; and that we, as a church body, would believe the superiority and sufficiency of God’s wise words even if we must stand alone in doing so.