I would like to start by expressing that there is nothing authoritative or final about the number eight here. I have no intentions of presenting this as an exhaustive list. One could come up with number nine or ten or even more. The number eight simply arose in the context of a conversation already in progress. In fact, during the initial conversation, the number was six and in the process of writing this it became seven and then it became eight. This is no final word but rather my attempt to establish a foundation for further dialogue.
I would also like to state that the word “primarily” in my title is an important word. I intentionally selected it instead of “exclusively.” Much could be said here. But I want to assert that by saying that this is primarily a theological conversation I do not want to exclude historical, sociological, political, or really any other voice from the conversation. I emphatically welcome a plurality of perspectives. I simply contend that this conversation at its roots is a theological conversation.
Before listing my eight reasons, unfortunately one more comment must be made. I initially wrote this thinking specifically about Ahmaud Arbery. I was consciously aware that the same reasons could be listed for deaths that preceded his. I now am grievously aware that these also hold for the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
So, here are the eight reasons why the conversation about Ahmaud Arbery (and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd) is primarily a theological conversation:
- THE IMAGE OF GOD: The one incontrovertible truth that the entire church can agree on is that Ahmaud Arbery bore the image of God. His life possessed infinite value and demanded that it be fully protected because he uniquely bore the image of God. By uniquely bore the image of God, I obviously do not mean that he bore the image of God and no one else does. I mean that he bore the image of God in a unique and irreplaceable manner. He can never be replaced. It is the very definition of tragic that his life has been lost.
- ETHNICITY: Ethnicity is divinely originated. Acts 17:26 teaches that it was God himself who from one man-made all nations. God himself from one man created every ethnicity. Ethnicity is divinely originated. This means that Ahmaud Arbery didn’t happen to be black. Rather it means that God joyfully engineered him to be black. His ethnicity is architected by God himself and God rejoiced over his blackness. When we realize that ethnicity is designed and implemented by God himself then we can consequently come to see that racism is designed and weaponized by the enemy.
- JUSTICE: Justice is inherently and indispensably theological. We learn from Isaiah that our Lord loves justice and Micah teaches us that God requires us to do justice. Justice in its complete and perfect form requires a transcendent judge, a universal sovereign to whom all will give an account, one who is incapable of perversion of justice. Earthly justice is derived from and foreshadows this ultimate justice.
- MURDER: The prohibition of murder is clearly and famously established in the Ten Commandments. The sixth commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill, irrevocably forbids it. But is not being directly responsible for a murder sufficient for complying with this command? In 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany, Zachariah Ursinus contended that it was not. In the Heidelberg Catechism he expressed that “in condemning envy, hatred, and anger [which are the roots of murder], God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy and kindness towards him, and to prevent his hurt as much as possible.” For the Christian, obedience to the sixth commandment has long meant a requirement that we be resolutely committed to the prevention of the hurt of our neighbor as much as in us lies.
- CHURCH: Within the larger context of an unrivaled description of the unity and diversity in the body of Christ, which is the church, the Apostle Paul expresses that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” By grace through faith we are united together in Christ, when a brother or sister suffers, we join in and suffer along. Our black brothers and sisters have been and are suffering, to be the church means to conjoin ourselves to this suffering.
- DEATH: Somehow this world has fooled itself into making peace with death. But death is no friend of ours. The Apostle Paul contends that the last enemy to be destroyed will be death. In his death, Jesus put death to death. We cannot afford to have a cavalier approach to death.
- LOVE: So much could be said here. Jesus taught that to love your neighbor as yourself is the second greatest commandment. The Christian biblical understanding of love necessarily includes a substitutionary component. Whatever else may be said about Christian love, it can never be less than substitutionary. Jesus loved us perfectly by dying in our place. This is beautifully explained in Romans 5:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. But the love with which we ought to love one another is derived from Christ’s perfect love. The beloved apostle tells us that “This is what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 4:10)
- THE CROSS: I have described love and I have described justice as essential reasons why this is primarily a theological conversation. My conviction remains that the cross of Jesus is the only place and the only time in human history where love and justice have perfectly intersected. The Roman torturing device on which my King was crucified ties together all of the previously listed reasons.
My reason for strongly contending that this is primarily theological is to encourage you to come to understand that the Christian in the context of the church is in prime position to engage in this conversation.