What a hard question! Probably I should simply say nothing and let other people have the fight. The possibility of making people angry is not something I flirt with often as a Pastor. Yet, in this instance, I have been provoked by two things.
The first provocation is the response of people whom I love and care for who are also black. They feel justice has not been done. The second is the response from Anthea Butler. To be fair, you may have never heard of Anthea Butler. I had only heard about her once before. Yet her response here is lacking. Allow me to quote her and you will see why:
God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.
So there are some issues here. Let me just try to make a little list:
- How can we feel any sense of justice when a young man has been killed and no one is to be punished?
- How does the verdict given by the jury reflect on God?
- Is there some difference between the “American God” and the God found in the Bible?
Maybe that is enough to be getting on with just now!
How can we feel any sense of justice when a young man has been killed and no one is to be punished? Here is writing which helped me through one aspect of this question:
The undisputable facts are as follows:
George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin on a dark and rainy night on February 28, 2012. Zimmerman admitted to the killing but claimed he acted in self-defense. Zimmerman was charged with Second Degree Murder.
Approximately 16 months later, Zimmerman’s trial started. The prosecution and defense mutually agreed on a detailed juror questionnaire that was filled out by 211 potential jurors. Over the course of nine days, both sides sifted through every response, whittled their way down to 40 prospective jurors, and picked a final jury of 6, with four alternates.
Over the course of 14 days, the jury heard opening statements, viewed over 200 exhibits, and listened to the testimony of 56 witnesses (38 for the prosecution and 18 for the defense), and heard closing arguments.
The jury received detailed instructions on the elements required to find Zimmerman guilty of second degree murder, as well as a lesser-included offense of manslaughter.
On July 13, 2013, the jury of six women made a unanimous decision: “Not Guilty.”
So, from a criminal point of view, justice, as much as we can work out, has been done. George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder or manslaughter in a criminal sense.
Yet, is this justice? I think not. I am not sure how justice could have been served without breaking a law. So if Zimmerman is not guilty under the law of the land in which the incident happened then he can only be guilty if some new law is imposed upon him. This new law could be some kind of wrongful death lawsuit or some kind of civil or hate crime charge brought against him.
Still, would that be justice? I still think not.
Where do we go from here? I think we must ask more penetrating questions such as why these problems exist in the first place. Why did Zimmerman allow things to escalate to the point where he was under attack and a gun was fired? Why did Zimmerman follow Martin against the instructions of the 911 operator? Why did Martin allow things to escalate so much that he attacked Zimmerman?
These are very important questions! Justice may not be possible in this case. Where the letter of the law has been satisfied while leaving the emotional demand for satisfaction unmet there may be no final sense of justice. What may remain is the ability to do something different in the future.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.
Zimmerman and Martin, both in different ways, could have made peace. This would have been a form of preemptive justice. Yet each of them, through the eyes of their own prejudice, could not see a way through to a peaceful resolution.
God is Good
How does the verdict of the jury reflect on God? Is God suddenly not good?
Actually the case brings God’s goodness into focus very clearly. Did God cause the death of Trayvon? Of course not. Did God create a messed up world full of violence and racism? Of course not.
God created a good world which has gone wrong because of the choices people make. In spite of numerous – and the number is too great to count perhaps – warnings and demands for repentance, people do not change. Anger still sparks up in the heart of men and wrongful deaths occur every day around the globe. The very state of the world testifies to the truth of the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
New International Version (NIV)
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
God is reliable and good. His word, the Bible, predicts exactly what we are seeing here. Is God unmoved? Certainly not! God has been so moved that He gave His one and only Son in order to make a way for there to be any justice. Without God’s intervention through Jesus Christ there would only be the fearful expectation of eternal punishment for every one of us. Now, through the injustice done to Christ, God’s justice has been satisfied and a way has been opened for some to be saved.
Ms. Butler’s writing reveals nothing new about God. Instead, it reveals her own prejudice. From the beginning people have been told God is not good. This was Satan’s strategy in the Garden. Repeating the lie does not make it true.
An American God?
Is there such a thing as an “American God?” This is probably the only point at which Ms. Butler and I could come very close to agreement. I think there has been a tendency in the West to equate prosperity with God’s will and favor. This is, I think, not correct.
Clearly, I think America worships prosperity. Material luxury, social wealth and emotional security have become the ultimate goal of America. This has affected the church in numerous ways. Perhaps most obvious is the growth of the prosperity gospel. America worships riches in every sense.
There is, however, only one God. There can be no such thing as an American god and a real God. There is only one God. The real question is how God feels about America’s worship of other, lesser things.
I think He is repulsed. I think He finds the chasing after wealth to be disgusting. I think He mourns the barrier to intimacy which prosperity has become.
What is the solution? To be sure the answer is not going to be to start bashing God or to make up a new god.
Repent. That is the answer.