“Those” People

This past week has been difficult. It has been another week dominated by news of shootings, and riots, violence and strife. All happening right in our backyards. After watching the news for a week I’m not any closer to knowing where the blame should lie for these situations. And it’s tempting to assign blame.

Few people want to wait until the facts come out. What I have seen and heard this week on Facebook and twitter and on the news and in conversations are people who are more than willing to take sides and place blame instantaneously. I’ve seen that stereotypes and prejudice are alive and well. When you first heard of the latest shooting, to whom did you give the benefit of the doubt? Did you give it to the officer? Did you give it to suspect? Wherever you gave the benefit of the doubt, absent any real evidence, reveals where your sympathies lie. As people we like to pick sides and draw lines. It’s us against them. The police vs. the citizens. It’s the white vs. the blacks. One community vs. another.

And we are all guilty of doing this to one degree or another. Our guilt is betrayed in those initial reactions to these news stories. These stereotypes and prejudices run deep within us. And they always have. From the time we can walk and talk, we separate ourselves into groups. It happens in school where kids sort themselves based on their sport, or musical instrument, or love of computers, or hatred of conformity. It happens at work. It also happens on a regional and national level.

All of this is evidence of our sinful natures at work. Satan wants nothing more than to keep us divided. He wants to stir up hatred and distrust and fear of “those people” whoever they are. Because if he can get you to do that, you won’t be so worried about peace or forgiveness. Your concern that “those people” know God’s mercy and grace in Jesus will be a distant memory. This week the devil has been cheering as our communities have torn themselves apart in words and actions.

The question we all have to wrestle with is this. Did Jesus come for just a select few or did he come for everyone? How do you know?

Well, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
– John 3:16-17

Even the greatest men and women of God struggle with stereotypes and prejudice. There is a great quote from 1 Samuel 16. “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God spoke these words to his prophet Samuel. Samuel was sent to anoint the next king of Israel, one of Jesse’s sons. Looking at all of the young men lined up Samuel immediately knew who the next king should be: Jesse’s eldest son Eliab, the tall good looking one.

But God set Samuel straight. “Don’t look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) God hadn’t chosen Eliab, the oldest and tallest. He had chosen David, the youngest and shortest.

thugs-and-criminals

When you look at others what do you see? Are you looking at outward appearances or are you looking deeper? Do you just see “those people?” The lost causes, the hopeless, the criminal, the godless? Or do you see others as God sees them? As people just as much in need of God’s grace and forgiveness as any of us?

It is so easy to draw lines between ourselves and others. It is easy to begin to think and speak and act as if people from another country, or town, or racial heritage, or political affiliation are simply “those people.” But thank God that Jesus taught his disciples that God sees differently. Because by Jesus’ grace and forgiveness we have the privilege of being called the children of God. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of what God has done for us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

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