"Can we, can we get along?" Rodney King's plaintive question during the L.A. riots seems painfully pertinent again, 28 years later.
That was in May 1992 when six days of rioting resulted in 63 deaths, over 2,000 injuries and more than 7,000 fires. May we not be there again! Yet I fear that we are.
What set off the L.A. riots? The acquittal of four police officers in King's beating during his arrest. It had been videotaped and then widely viewed — key ingredients for rage and the trigger for mob destruction.
In 2020, the painful sight of a police officer's knee upon the neck of a handcuffed, unarmed man, and the coldly casual indifference of the arresting officer (and the inaction of his fellow officers) to the fading life of George Floyd were the triggers, as well as delay in the arresting of the officers involved. "Can we get along?" Too often, the answer is "No." We cannot get along on our own.
It took a more personal and visible evil to push COVID-19 out of the daily headlines. There are bad things that happen in the world that don't involve personal sin: hurricanes, tornadoes, accidents and illnesses, even financial collapses. But all bad things that happen remind us that we live in a fallen world. It reminds me of the title of a book: "Not the Way It's Supposed to Be," subtitled "A Breviary of Sin."
This is not the world that God created, but the polluted, fallen ruination of sin. It's also a reminder that unrestrained evil does extraordinary harm. Sin is not fun. It is ruthless, cruel, painful and ugly. "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." That's the way it was stated in the old McGuffey's reader, something an elementary child would have learned in 19th century America. And if we're stuck in this fallen world with no out, with no hope beyond this life, "We are of all people most miserable." (Romans 15:19)
So when we see so dramatically demonstrated the power of sin, and sad to say, recognize in all honesty that we, too, are infected with sin, what are we to do? As a matter of perspective, we all ought to be much more concerned about our sin infection than we are about any virus, which can only attack the body. Yet we have an answer to this painful reality: the greater reality that while we were still sinners, God loved us and made a way out, a deliverance from sin and the misery that comes with it. ". . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23)
Part of the current manifestation of evil/sin is using the legitimate outrage about George Floyd's death as a pretext for burning, looting and general opposition to law enforcement. It is a pretense of righteous anger, but it is not righteous; it is just anger and a perceived opportunity to engage in lawless behavior. Protest happens when people feel powerless otherwise to impact their government. Violence happens when anger unrestrained by righteousness takes over.
We who believe and have thereby been redeemed by Christ have a special responsibility to be light and peace and the salt of the earth in the midst of such wildness. This begins with prayer, as the message from Franklin Graham so eloquently expressed. Further, we must respond in conversation gently and with both love and truth, not allowing ourselves to be drawn into fruitless argumentation. Perhaps we might leaven angry gatherings with prayer and even with our presence. Certainly we should let our local law enforcement know that we are supportive of the important work they do. We need as well to demonstrate care and understanding to black people with whom we interact.
There is no other answer than the love of Christ Jesus in the transforming impact of the Holy Spirit. There is no other deliverance from evil. Neither the politicians, nor the police, nor the social scientists has an answer to the brokeness of this world. We are utterly dependent on the hand of God to save us. We must pray that He will help us in our present circumstance in order to preserve the free country He has blessed us with.
Charles Gibson is a psychologist and counselor from Wooster.