Holy Anger on the Streets

Tim Isbell, June 10, 2020

The protests on American streets encourages me more than anything I’ve seen in my 73 years. The achievement of a favorable future for our nation and the world remains beyond human ability, but it is not beyond God's.

When COVID-19 hit a few months ago, and we were beginning to shelter-in-place, I used Zoom to move the little Christian group I’d been leading online. Three weeks ago, we were reflecting on a passage in 2 Corinthians 13 that lists the gifts that the Spirit of Jesus gives to his followers and sometimes more broadly. So I invited the group to pray this prayer for a season.

Holy Spirit, please

Give wisdom to the protestors,

Give discernment to those in authority, and

Frustrate those who would do evil.

I understand wisdom as a godly judgment in everyday situations. I see a distinction between protesters whose presence in the streets speaks the only language the world might hear and rioters trying to hijack the protesters’ “speech.” The protestors need wisdom to find their way among those intending to do evil and authorities trying to restore peace. So I asked our little group to pray for wisdom for the protesters.

I understand discernment as distinguishing when something is from God, or Evil, or from the natural sinfulness of humans. Civil authorities face chaos in the streets as they balance a desire to serve their constituents and a desire to stay in office past the next election. Law enforcement faces chaos in the streets as they balance a desire to restore order and their training as warriors. So I asked our little group to pray for God to give politicians and law enforcement the gift to discern between those who are out to do good and those who are out to do evil.

That leaves frustration, which may seem an odd thing to pray for. But some come to the streets intending to do evil, such as looting or hijacking the protestors’ cause. Others intentionally do harm out of a distorted concept of fun. Some promote racism, anarchy, bigotry, and other evil. As a Christian, I don’t wish these hijackers harm; I wish them redemption from sin. But I do find in the psalms and other Bible passages things like “The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.” (Psalms 146.9). So I asked our little group to pray for the Holy Spirit to frustrate the wicked's plans.

Over the past few years, as the chaos steadily grew, people occasionally asked me how today compares to the 1960s. Recently, my response changed from “the 1960s chaos was similar but even more cities were burning then than now.” Today’s unrest seems bigger and different, in two ways.

First: In the 1960s, the streets were full of young, black protestors making their case for justice and doing so from a Christian theological position through the leadership of Martin Luther King. Videos appeared nightly on the news, which showed almost uniformly black marchers, with only a few whites sprinkled in. Today the streets are again full of young people seeking justice, but this time the demographic is an extremely healthy mix of black, brown, and white Americans. I find this extraordinarily encouraging. While overt Christian faith is not as prominent today as in the 1960s, I see God's fingerprint all over today’s events, especially in the change in white peoples’ hearts.

Second: In the 1960s, the chaos was confined to the United States, while the world watched from afar. This time, the anti-racism protests extend far beyond American streets. Racism isn’t just an American problem, it’s a human problem, and it’s one God wants to change. Over the past several years, our government has lost its position of moral and political leadership in the world. Authoritarianism is rising dangerously in America and many other countries. But in the last few weeks, our young people are reasserting American democracy’s leadership far beyond our borders.

As I see it, the massive changes at play in the world today are the result of God’s hand intervening in the affairs of his Creation. The Bible, especially the New Testament and even more so the Pentecost story, shouts loudly for the flourishing of humankind - including every race and tribe. What we’re seeing on the streets and in the news is far beyond the capabilities of governments. God is at work and I am encouraged to live to see some of it.

Finally, I am not so arrogant as to think that God is responding to my prayers or the prayers of our little group. Instead, I am grateful to see this change and God’s hand in it, and for the opportunity to join God in what he is already doing.

May God bless and enlighten you in these days of change. And may God bring justice to our black and brown sisters and brothers.

Blessing, Tim