On Racism, Forgiveness and Jesus.
The events of this past week have been weighing heavy on me. I'm torn between wanting to stay informed and wanting to stay sane. But I also think it's true that avoiding the realities of this country's situation is no way to live. Being stuck in a bubble doesn't do any good for anybody. It just makes you self-absorbed and ignorant.
I've been feeling a lot of different things – as I'm sure everyone has. I feel angry because there are people who truly believe that their race is superior to all others. I feel sad because oppression and racism still exist. I feel helpless because there are so many issues in this country and in this world that I can't single-handedly solve. I feel heartbroken and frustrated. I feel like God probably is, too.
The difficult thing for me to grasp is the fact that, as followers of Christ, Christians are called to love all people. But how can we extend the same love to people who have hurt – even killed – others in the name of racial or cultural superiority? People who are intolerant of anyone who looks, speaks or thinks differently than they do? It feels impossible to love someone who's capable of treating others with so much disrespect and hatred.
As a minority, I've experienced it. Here's a little story for you. During my sophomore year of college, I was walking across campus one night, and this guy was walking toward me on the sidewalk. He was white. We were about to pass each other when he slowed down, looked at me, shouted "Ni Hao," and started laughing hysterically. First of all, I'm South Korean, so his outright ignorance regarding the language he was shouting at me was just annoying. And I was so caught off guard by the fact that this person – a soon-to-be college educated man – thought it was okay to do something like that, I didn't have time to react. So I just kept walking. I didn't even turn around to yell anything back at him. What I really wanted to do was punch him in the face, but I don't think that would have ended well for me. So I did nothing, stayed silent and carried around that moment with me from then on. I'll never forget that burning feeling I had in my chest.
It was a small moment – an interaction that lasted maybe three seconds at most. But it was racism. No, I wasn't being racially profiled by a police officer or sold into slavery. In the grand scheme of things, it was a pretty minuscule issue. But it was still racism. Every stereotypical Asian joke that's been made about me being a bad driver or being good at math or eating dogs – was racism. And those jokes always came from people I considered friends or, at the very least, acquaintances. I always excused them as ignorance.
But ignorance isn't an excuse. If people were as passionate about embracing and immersing themselves in different cultures as they are about telling people from those cultures to "go back to where they came from," I think things would look a little bit different. And if people who are passionate about fighting against racism and oppression were as passionate about seeking reconciliation and forgiveness, I also think things would look a little bit different. You can't fight fire with fire. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Hate cannot drive out hate.
I got out a journal I'd filled up this past year to revisit my thoughts. Back in January, I was reading "The Reason for God" by Tim Keller. One of the chapters is titled "The True Story of the Cross." He talks a lot about forgiveness.
Jesus' death on the cross represents human forgiveness on an infinitely larger scale. He absorbed the cost of our sin so that we wouldn't have to. When we forgive someone who has wronged us, we absorb the hurt that they caused and let go of the resentment and bitterness. Forgiveness requires us to swallow our pride. And when we choose to forgive someone instead of taking revenge or holding a grudge, it will open their eyes. Just like when we realize what Jesus did for us on the cross, it opens our eyes. We humans are so, so, so broken. If that's not the biggest truth in this current day and age, I don't know what is.
The fact that Jesus chose to die and sacrifice himself for people who are as broken as we are, who have wronged him as much as we have, who deliberately choose everything else in this world above him – should TRANSFORM us from the inside out. But even though we can logically comprehend this idea, that change doesn't always manifest itself. I know it doesn't for me. But that's why today, in the midst of the hate and the hurt that's going on in our country, I'm stopping and reflecting on this truth. That there is a God who loves – a God who IS love – and proved it to us through that cross.
And because of the cross, we can forgive. Even when it seems impossible, when we don't feel like it's deserved and when it's the absolute last thing we would ever want to do. Much like love, forgiveness is a choice – not a feeling. And as painstaking as it can be, forgiveness is what sparks a change of heart – no matter how long the process may take.
"Forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy's renewal and change."
There will be times, though, when forgiving someone in your heart won't really do anything to change that person. Like that guy who yelled at me on campus that one night. I can forgive his ignorance, but I won't excuse it. He'll never know that I've forgiven him, but forgiveness is also for us. Tim Keller also writes:
"We know that we will only be free from the chains of bitterness and resentment if we choose to forgive."
Holding a grudge does nothing to the other person. Getting even with them might hurt them right back, but in either case, we're still the one being controlled and tormented by that bitterness and resentment. And the only way for us to truly be free of it is to let it go. To forgive – whether the wrongdoer knows it or not.
This whole thing reminds me of Michelle Obama's awesome quote: "When they go low, we go high." That rhetoric of taking the high road and being the bigger person – to me, that's all kind of rooted in the story of the cross. It's a mindset and an action that is so hard for us to live out consistently, especially in the midst of tension and divisiveness.
I'm in no way, shape or form defending white supremacists/the KKK/etc. What they represent (hate) is not what God represents (love). But what I'm saying is that it's important for us to remember that in times like this – when it seems unfathomable to extend love to those whose viewpoints are drastically different from ours – we have the ability to forgive and to reconcile, because Jesus did it for all of us. It's a lesson that I'm just now learning and trying to absorb as I write this.
Even if you don't know where you stand with your belief in the God and Jesus thing – or even if you don't believe in them at all – forgiveness is still a thing. We all know what it means to "be the bigger person." These ideas are universal concepts that we all can strive toward.
As I've gotten caught up in reading about the mess that our world is in right now, I'm counting it as a blessing that I decided to sift through the pages of my last journal and stumbled upon "The True Story of the Cross" again.