Charlottesville is on everyone’s mind. And rightly so. Words have meanings, ideas have consequences, and people should stand up and fight the good fight wherever they see it. Plenty has been written and said about racism, the “alt-right,” Christian responsibility, and the need to openly oppose the non-sense that has taken place in Virginia.
But what no one is saying much about is why Charlottesville is so upsetting. Likely, most everyone is assuming the basics of human decency, modern sophistication, etc., etc. Let’s stop to ask the underlying question: why is everyone – black, white, religious, agnostic, atheist, Democrat, Republican, poor, rich, straight, gay, married, single – all equally disturbed by both the ideologies and events that have taken place over the past several days? I propose that there are two key reasons: one positive, the other negative…but both equally instructive.
Humans Are Made In The Image of God
The positive reason everyone is bothered by the events that have occurred in Charlottesville has to do with human beings as Image-Bearers. We have collectively been made in the Image of God. A number of theological nuances exist that help to explain what “Image-Bearer” means. Things cited often include reason, imagination, moral focus, etc. Sometimes, however, the simplest answer is the best one. Human beings uniquely reflect God. At least, we are meant to. At least, we use to. The presence of sin has marred the image in each of us, and we do not mirror God as we should any longer.
But, we are made to image God in the world. We should be able to look at one another and see the reflection of God. When things happen in our world that clearly do not image God – everyone takes notice. Severe acts of racism, sexism, injustice, or violence? Humanity collectively rises up and takes notice. We cry out it unison, “This isn’t how things should be!” It is moments like Charlottesville that give one of the best arguments for the existence of God and our being made in His image…the vast majority of humanity notices that something is not the way that it should be. It is moments like these that expose the nonsense of “relative morality” and demonstrate that there really are some things that are right and some things that are wrong. And, underneath it all, the foundation of the Divine is exposed. There is One that has declared what is right and what is wrong, and we bear His Image and take notice when the world spirals out of control toward folly.
Well, we take notice some of the time…
Humans Are Broken Mirrors
There is a negative aspect about Charlottesville that no one really seems to be talking about. Certainly, most everyone is acknowledging the negative underbelly of on-going systemic racism. As we all should. The problem with such a gross, public example of evil is that it becomes something of a smoke-screen. We point to the vileness, the broken ideology, and we say, “Look over there. That’s the real problem. There is the real evil!” All the while, we feel quite morally superior in the comfort of our own homes behind our own cell-phones or computer screens. Charlottesville gives us a chance to ignore the fact that we are also broken. We are able to point at someone else and lie to ourselves by saying, “Well, at least I am not as bad as those people.” And suddenly, unexpectedly, and without notice, the same attitude that motivated the ideas and actions of the alt-right in Virginia finds itself alive and well in our own hearts and minds. We are better than; we aren’t as bad as…
Charlottesville should remind us that we live in a broken world and that we are part of the brokenness. As I write this, I am 1172 miles away from Charlottesville. It is very easy for me to look at a news feed and declare myself above the selfish, evil spirit that drives what is happening there. But, am I willing to take responsibility for my own selfishness right where I am? Is my lack of compassion hurting someone in my own home? My own neighborhood? My own church, family, or immediate social setting? Am I more or less grieved by my own short-comings and contributions to the collective brokenness of the world around me because of Charlottesville? I should be. Yet, I am much more likely to breathe a little bit easier, because, I am not like those people. I have my issues, but at least it isn’t those issues. The evil of Charlottesville becomes a blanket to cover my own dark heart. Rather than being jolted back to the reality of my own contributions to wrong in the world, and the need for Jesus to transform me back into a proper Image-Bearer, I settle in smugly and full of self-assurance. I believe the lie (and it is a lie) that somehow, someone else’s racism is a far worse social ill than my own disregard of my neighbor, my lack of gratitude, my neglect of my wife and children, my own arrogance, pride, and self-preservation…The list could go on, but we all get the point.
Charlottesville should be a reminder to all of us that we are broken mirrors. The world is full of things that do not properly reflect the Image of God. And we should stand against all of them, wherever we see them. And the best place to start is with ourselves. I am Charlottesville. And so are you. It may not be the racism, but it is something. Many somethings. And unless we are willing to properly own that fact, and turn it over to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, then our hearts will be no different than the ones that sparked all the chaos this past week.
Great article, Phillip!