The George Floyd “Apocalypse”: What His Death Reveals About Our Western World

10 June 2020

5.6 MINS

George Floyd is now a household name across the globe. An African American man who was killed while being arrested by a white police officer, Floyd’s death has sent shockwaves throughout the US (and much of the world). As I write, protests are still continuing in many American cities, with many of them turning violent.

And so, George Floyd’s shocking death is something of an ‘apocalypse’ – an ancient Greek word for ‘unveiling’, or ‘revelation’. By his death, and the societal response, Floyd has pulled back the curtains on the state of America, and indeed much of the western world.

Here are a number of ‘revelations’ that I’ve noticed arising from his death. (As a non-American observer it’s not my place to comment on specific race-related issues, but I will engage the wider worldview implications). [1]

1) People Are Realising Love And (Just) Punishment Are Inseparable

God’s Judgement will seem more plausible to our world as a result.

A common question many non-Christians have in the West is how can a God of love punish people? The underlying assumption is that love is the antithesis of punishment: that punishment is somehow morally defective and inferior, and not worthy of any person – or God – who claims to be loving.

But Floyd’s death has shifted this paradigm.

The outrage generated by Floyd’s killing shows us that in the face of evil, love and (just) punishment go together. Loving George Floyd, loving his family, loving the African American community demands the just punishment of brutal police officers.

(Indeed, the family of Floyd is not satisfied with the mere sacking of those police officers, but demand they ‘all be convicted with first degree murder, and given the death penalty.’)

The underlying principle here is a deeply biblical one: love for the victim demands that we hold perpetrators to account, and punish them justly.

Evidently, millions of protesters and commentators across America now agree.

2) Evil Is Now Seen As Objective and Real

Not subjective and ‘culturally relative’.

The universal condemnation of Floyd’s killing also reveals something else the Bible holds to be true: that morality is objective, and real.

Contrast this to the common secular belief that morality is relative to your culture: each culture has it’s own preferences around right and wrong, we’re told, not unlike their preferences around food and clothing. And so, by this view, condemning another culture’s moral views is arbitrary and bigoted. [2]

And yet, there is now widespread condemnation of any culture deemed ‘racist’ – whether that be the culture of American Police Departments, or sections of American society.

But if morality is relative – if each culture makes up its own rules about morality – then on what basis can we condemn the morality of others? If morality is relative, then there is no basis to condemn other people’s views – including that of brutal police officers.

And so, if we’re to condemn other people’s morality, then we need to appeal to a universal standard that holds each one of us accountable, regardless of race or culture.

This (biblical) view of objective morality makes sense, whereas the common secular view does not.

3) Secular Progress is Not Delivering On Its Promises

‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ have fallen short.

While there has been much progress in race relations within America over the last few decades, there is still much brokenness. The promise of secular progress hasn’t delivered on its promises.

As a result, there’s anger. There’s despair. There’s rage.
As African American journalist Charles Blow pointed out recently:

When people feel helpless, like there is nothing left to lose, like their lives already hang in the balance, a wild, swirling, undirected rage is a logical result.’

And we’re seeing that rage on our TV’s and social media feeds, as many American cities burn. If your hope is in progress, and that progress fails to materialise, it’s understandable that you would feel frustration and anger.

So, is there a better, more secure hope that we can hold onto during times of suffering?

4) Why Eternal Hope Is Better Than Secular Hope

The history of African American people has often been marked by brutality and injustice, especially during the era of slavery. And yet, historians argue that African American slaves were marked by hope, rather than despair.

As author Tim Keller points out:

Howard Thurman, an African American scholar at Boston University in the mid-twentieth century, gave a famous lecture at Harvard in 1947 on the meaning of “Negro Spirituals”. He engaged the criticism that the African American spirituals were too otherworldly, too filled with references to heaven… The argument was that such beliefs made people docile and submissive.

Keller continues:

On the contrary, Thurman argued, this sung faith served to deepened the slaves’ capacity for endurance. The spirituals encompassed the Christian belief in a final judgement, a day on which all wrongs would be made right. It also included a belief in personal immortality and the reunion of loved ones forever. Out of these doctrines “the conviction grew that this is the kind of universe that cannot deny ultimately the demands of love and longing…Uniting with loved ones turned finally on the hope of immortality and the issue of immortality turned on God. Therefore God would make it right.’ [3]

This message of eternal justice, and eternal hope sustained the African American people in their darkest hour, in a way that no secular mantra around ‘progress’, ‘hope’ or ‘change’ ever could.

5) A Belief in Eternal Justice can Keep Us From Revenge

While many of the protests have been peaceful, many have turned violent. In a sense, it’s understandable: if you feel deprived of justice, then it’s natural to lash out and take matters into your own hands. Few things come more naturally to us than a desire for revenge – a desire to pay back people for the wrong they’ve committed.

This desire can’t be overcome with platitudes like ‘now don’t you see that violence won’t solve anything?’.

But a strong belief in God’s eternal justice is able to overcome this impulse. As Yale Theologian Miroslav Volf (a Croatian who has seen the violence in the Balkans) points out:

The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God’. [4]

Or as the apostle Paul puts it:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written
It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
(Romans 12:19)

6) Christians Should Be Shocked By Sin, But Not Surprised By It

Even as we aim to do good to our neighbours.

George Floyd’s death was deeply shocking. It was disturbing, and gut wrenching.

But we shouldn’t be surprised by such evil. In a fallen world filled with sinful people, people carry out evil on an individual level – like Floyd’s killer did.

And while I’m reticent to use terms like ‘white privilege’ because of its ideological loading, we can and should expect evils like racism at the systemic levels of our society as well. Modern institutions and cultures are not beyond sin (!).

Furthermore, the biblical doctrine of total depravity will also temper our expectations of what we can and can’t do about this sin on this side of eternity. Unfortunately there is no utopia on this side of eternity, and so we shouldn’t expect it (the failed system of communism is testament to humanity’s inability to bring in utopia).

However, that doesn’t we can’t do things to improve our world. As theologian Don Carson points out:

Sometimes a disease can be knocked out; sometimes sex traffic can be considerably reduced; sometimes slavery can be abolished in a region…Of course, none of these good things is guaranteed to be enduring; none brings in the consummated kingdom. Yet in these and other countless other ways cultural change is possible’. [5]

This question of how to love our neighbour well is an urgent question confronting American Christians, but it’s a question for all of God’s people, wherever we may be.

[1] Floyd’s death has sparked many conversations and debates about racism in America. African American Christian Phillip Holmes wrote this important piece recently for The Gospel Coalition (USA). For another voice, listen to this 2016 interview with African American commentator Larry Elder.

[2] Anthropology is a field where this idea of ‘cultural relativism’ is rife. See ‘Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights’ by Carolyn Fleuhr-Lobban, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 9, 1995.

[3] Tim Keller, Making Sense of God – An Invitation To The Skeptical (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016), 158.

[4] Quoted in Tim Keller, The Reason For God – Belief in an Age of Skepticism (London: Hodder & Staughton, 2009), 74.

[5] D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 218.

___

Originally published at AkosBalogh.com

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