I can’t breathe!
We will all have been horrified by the brutal killing of George Floyd, whose pleas of “I can’t breathe” were ignored by the police officer kneeling on his windpipe until he died of suffocation. Not pleasant to read, but we only have to see and hear it; he had to suffer it!
Many of us will understand why people protest against such injustices, but will also be troubled when the protests turn violent and lawless. Some of the protesters will have experienced racism, injustice and abuse for themselves, or against family members.
As Boris Johnson said yesterday, “In this country and around the world his dying words – I can’t breathe – have awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice, a feeling that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination: in education, in employment, in the application of the criminal law. (…) “And we who lead and who govern simply can’t ignore those feelings because in too many cases, I am afraid, they will be founded on a cold reality.”
Do you hear that? These feelings are based on a cold reality, even in our own country. He rightly went on to condemn lawlessness and violence and warned of the consequences of ignoring social distancing. I thought his statement was a wise and balanced contribution to the situation.
How might it feel like to be a member of an underprivileged, oppressed, discriminated, disempowered section of society? Many of us, like it or not, are members of the privileged, empowered elite, especially if we are white, male and well-off. How can we really know what it is like to be someone who is judged, overlooked, not taken seriously, fails to get a job, or is more likely to be stopped by the police, more likely to be imprisoned simply because of their race or colour, or even just for being a woman? Might we be angry, bitter and resentful? Might we lash out at a society that treats us like that?
Millions die from things like malaria, polluted water, lack of food, ebola, SARS etc. every year. How much have we done? But COVID-19 threatens the western world, it threatens our lives, and our way of life. Suddenly, all sorts of measures are put in place, all sorts of efforts taken, regardless of the cost. And of course, we should care and take action to protect people from the virus. And the truth is that every death is a tragedy. Black lives matter. So do white ones. All lives matter. Your life matters.
How much do we care? How much do we love? How much do I? Particularly if those affected are people who we think are not like us – not one of us.
What does does the Bible say to us on this?
- Phil 2:3-4 “in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
- 1 Peter 5:5 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
- Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does he require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
It is hard for us whose lives are so different, to put ourselves in their shoes, to empathise, to understand. For we are not one of them. In such matters we need to listen more to the voices of those who have known oppression and discrimination, and less to the voices of the privileged empowered elite.
Empathy is to be able to put yourself in the place, in the shoes of another.
God did not just empathise with our plight, he did not just metaphorically put himself in our shoes, but he literally did so. He became one of us.
- John 1:14 he “made his dwelling among us.”
- Phil 2:5-7 Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
- Heb 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.
- 2 Cor 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood. Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
That is incarnation.
Whose shoes, whose place might you stand in today?
Who will you be incarnate to?