Being God is an unenviable job.
As George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more are murdered for the color of their skin, as systemic racism abounds in a country that purports to offer liberty and justice for all, as hundreds of thousands die from COVID-19, as countless others suffer financial hardship as a direct result of the pandemic, our hearts break for the injustice and suffering around us. As each of our hearts breaks, God's heart breaks eight billion times.
Don’t get me wrong: there is joy in being God. Joy in the beauty of a hopeless person who finds hope again. Joy in turning our evil into good, our wrongs into rights. Joy in entering into a relationship with those he has created. Joy in knowing that someday every tear will dry, every broken heart will be mended.
Yet, there is an immeasurable sadness. Sadness in the pain, suffering, discrimination, and death so many of his children must face. Sadness at the evil he must allow in the name of giving us freedom of choice, freedom of will. Sadness when we so often blame the very one who died to make things right.
No wonder Jesus was called the Man of Sorrows.
Jesus wept. He wept at death when his good friend Lazarus passed away. He wept over Jerusalem’s imminent destruction, because its people failed to choose the path of peace. He preached about injustice, inequality, and servitude. He spoke out against violence, even while his own life was being sold for thirty pieces of silver.
God is the God of the broken heart. His heart breaks when we choose power over peace. It breaks when we choose violence over love. Discrimination over acceptance. Anger over forgiveness.
Does what breaks God's heart break ours?
A little over a week ago, I attended a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in The Dalles, Oregon, a town not known for its particularly progressive views. Before we marched down to the police station, we assembled in a park while several African-American members of the community spoke over a PA system about their experiences, their fears, and their hope for change.
After being moved by their message, I was surprised to see a white man, dressed in a suit and tie and holding a Bible, walk up and grab the microphone. I held my breath as he began to speak. “If you would have told me four years ago that I would be speaking at a Black Lives Matter protest, I would have laughed at you,” he said. “I’m a conservative Christian, a Republican, and the last thing I wanted was to be aligned with a bleeding-heart liberal cause.”
He didn’t stop there, thankfully. This Lutheran minister, from a small church in a small town, got it. His heart had been broken by the things that break God’s heart.
“I have come to realize that this isn’t about politics. It’s about human lives, about my brothers and sisters of color. It’s about caring about the things Jesus would have cared about,” he continued. “And so, I’m here to stand with you, here to help bring about change for some of God’s children who are being oppressed.”
Does what breaks God’s heart break ours?
If it does, our hearts will break when we see injustice. Racism. Discrimination. Misogyny.
If it does, our hearts will break when we see anyone who is created in his image being treated like anything less than the sons and daughters of God that they are.
If what breaks God’s heart breaks our hearts, we will work tirelessly to enact the change that he, and we, want to see.
Yes, we have free will to do evil, to cause pain, to show prejudice. However, the flip side of the free will coin is that we also have the freedom to do good. To love everyone, regardless of the cost. To protest peacefully. To petition lawmakers. To give of our time and money to causes that champion those who are being oppressed.
I pray that your heart, and my heart, are broken by what breaks God’s heart, and that out of that brokenness comes the resolve to bring about lasting change.
If you find your heart being broken, though, by things that don’t break the heart of Jesus, I would like to gently suggest that you head back to the Gospels to read and re-read the words of the Son of God. If the sign that you bring to a protest is one of hate, one of judgment, or one of condemnation, I hope you can ask yourself if the Jesus who knelt and washed his disciples’ feet, who touched and healed lepers, who hung out with a Samaritan woman, and who partied with sinners would be seen carrying the same sign.
Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee, belonging to a group of people that far too many of his followers so easily turn their backs on today.
Jesus didn’t judge a prostitute who others were ready to stone to death. He attended dinner parties with everyone from dirty fishermen to despised government officials. He told parables extolling the virtues of Samaritans, hated by the Jews for their ethnicity and their religion. He treated women like the equals they are, not possessions like those around him did. He praised the less fortunate, the weak, the child, the outsider. He said the last shall be first.
The only people Jesus judged while on earth? The Jewish religious leaders. Pharisees and Sadducees who would rob the poor. Who would make money off of religion. Who would discriminate based on someone’s ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class. Who were far more concerned with religious rules than with loving their neighbor. Who wanted nothing to do with change if it meant losing power, losing control.
Read Jesus’ words, and then tell me if you can really picture the God who fed five thousand hungry people, who refused to condemn a whore, who told us do good to those who hate us and pray for those who mistreat us--can you see this God angrily counter-protesting at a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally? Refusing to bake a cake for an LGBTQ couple? Upset about Confederate flags and statues being taken down?
As Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Knowing this, why aren’t more Christians at the forefront of movements that fight for the oppressed? That champion human rights? Equality? An end to violence and police brutality?
These causes, so important to Jesus, are sadly not worth the time of many of his purported followers.
Yes, God’s heart breaks when we fall short, when we sin, when we fail. His heart breaks not because we have somehow broken his draconian, capricious commands, but rather because he knows that when we sin, we are only hurting ourselves, hurting others. Jesus put it best when confronted by a Jewish teacher of the law about which commandment was most important. The Son of God, the Author of laws but also of life, succinctly summed up his commands thus: Love God, love people. Mic drop.
When we love God and love people, God is happy, because we are happy. When we turn our backs on God and mistreat people made in his image, it breaks God’s heart, because he knows it will ultimately break ours, break each other’s.
Shortly before his death, the Man of Sorrows told a hauntingly prescient story about two ubiquitous farm animals. Jesus, foretelling his second coming, foretelling the day when no heart shall break again, said that when he returns, all the nations will be arranged before him. He will then sort people into two categories: sheep and goats.
What are the criteria for attaining sheep status, you ask?
Jesus, in Matthew 25:34-40, sums up the entirety of what our lives as his followers should be about:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’”
Love others. Love them regardless of their race. Regardless of their gender. Regardless of their sexual orientation. Regardless of whether they’re rich, poor, homeless, infirm, incarcerated. This is how you become a sheep.
Want to know how to become a goat? Do the opposite. Judge. Discriminate. Oppress. Stand idly by when injustice is taking place. Worry only about yourself, your rights, your beliefs, your 401k.
I leave you with a warning, though: things don’t work out too well for goats in the end.
Don’t be a goat.
Let your heart be broken by the things that break God’s.
This piece was originally published by Spectrum Magazine (www.spectrummagazine.org).