Arguably the most striking image from last week’s national championship football game came from the post-game celebration, when Alabama running back Derrick Henry and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson bear-hugged in the middle of the field. These guys are the fiercest of competitors, the best players on their respective teams, and yet the moment the game was over these two celebrated something far more important than a football game: their friendship. On one site alone, a video of Henry and Watson hugging has been looped nearly half a million times. Clearly, the images fascinate, in part because it is unusual to see rivals, momentary “enemies,” set aside their differences so quickly and so completely. In our increasingly polarized society, such displays of solidarity and friendship are powerful because they are rare.
America has become the land of “us” and “them,” and there are as many ways to define who “us” and “them” are as there are citizens of this country. We label others according to their politics, gender, race, religion, region, education, economic status, sports teams, whatever, yet we also take refuge behind our own affiliations, surrounding ourselves with those we half-jokingly call “PLUs:” People Like Us. Our mobile society and internet culture make it possible to insulate ourselves from relationships with other people who think or look different from ourselves, and those people somehow become the enemy. Fear and ignorance magnify differences, and we find ourselves justifying exclusion, isolation, and inflammatory rhetoric. In the most extreme cases, hate speech and violence erupt.
We -by which I mean the human race- fight a common enemy, but it’s not other people. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age…” (Ephesians 6:12). It’s the oldest trick in the satanic playbook: get us to turn on each other, and we’re done for. Adam blames Eve, Cain kills Abel, and so it begins, the long human history of broken families, warring nations, prejudices, injustices and hatred. Through God’s Word we return to what is true of all of us, rediscover what we have in common, and learn why we need each other.
“ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It’s not “us” against “them,” it’s us against Him. Thanks be to God, He does not want it to stay that way. Jesus came to reconcile us to Himself, and to pass along to us His ministry. We start by seeing each other differently, in light of what God through Jesus has graciously done for us: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh… this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself… and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:16, 18-19 ESV)
This ministry of reconciliation requires us to look at what we share with other people rather than focusing on what makes us different. We share a common problem- sin- and a common need- Jesus- and no issue of race, politics, gender or religion is greater than this common ground. “Regard no one according to the flesh” means that we do not look at others according to the “facts” about their lives (think: the bumper stickers on their cars), nor do we judge them through the lens of our own particular “facts.” Instead, we endeavor to see each individual person through the eyes of the Spirit, who will guide us to see as He sees, so that we may love as He loves.
I leave you with the words of NFL player Benjamin Watson. A tight end for the New Orleans Saints, Watson responded to violence unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri by sharing his conflicting emotions on his Facebook page. His words are a remarkable example of how filtering our thoughts and feelings through the truth of God’s Word can bring SUCH HOPE. What follows is the end of his post:
I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced, and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot, and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his Son, Jesus, and, with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the gospel gives mankind hope.
Here is the link to Watson’s post. I encourage you to read it:
This week we pray for guidance fulfilling our ministry of reconciliation, full of gratitude that God has entrusted us with such a task:
Father, help me to see Your image in every person I meet, for each one of us was made according to your likeness. Genesis 2:26
Father, I see that Your hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, nor is Your ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But ______’s iniquities have separated him from You, and his sins have hidden Your face from him. I do not know how to speak with him, so I pray that my speech will always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that I know how I ought to answer him. Isaiah 59:1-2, Colossians 4:6
Lord, remind me to be completely humble and gentle, bearing with others in love. Let me pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which I may edify others. Ephesians 4:2, Romans 14:19
Father, it is difficult for me to obey Your command to love my enemies, bless those who curse me, do good to those who hate me, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute me. But I want to be Your child, a real peacemaker, so teach me. Matthew 5:44-45, 9