“I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.”
These words from “I Dream A World” were written by distinguished Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes in the late 1930s. At this time in America, when the stage was still being set for the civil rights movement, this was an audacious dream. Honestly, sometimes it still feels audacious.
We look to the beauty described in Revelation 7:9–10:
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”
It is a strange thing that hope can make us sad—sad to have so far to go. Turn on the news, open your Twitter feed, or check your Facebook timeline, and it won’t be long before a story reminds us of the depths of racial strife in our communities. And it’s not just on the national news. There are stories everywhere—from our cities, neighborhoods, churches, and even our families—that swirl around us, weighing on our hearts and minds. Like Hughes, we wrestle with what is while we grasp for a greater vision of what could be.
In our most desperate of moments, it’s easy to want to opt out of seeking racial justice and reconciliation. Our weariness can catch up with us. The problems can feel so overwhelming that we prefer to wait for the promised victory of Christ and do nothing until then. We grasp for excuses to cast off our burdens and wait for the inevitable source of our hope: Christ’s return. We’ve heard the excuses (or have even said them ourselves): “Well, things will never be perfect until Christ comes,” “We just need to wait for a few generations,” or “If we give it enough time, things will change.”
But these excuses do not take into account the ways God expects us to relate to one another, right now, today. Over and over again the New Testament proclaims the ways we are to live together as Christ followers. Paul assures us in Ephesians 2 that we are now one in Christ:
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. (Ephesians 2:14–16)
I once heard New Testament scholar Dr. Jarvis Williams proclaim, “If God can tear down the divide between Jew and Gentile, largely erected by God, surely God’s promise extends to the racial divisions man has created.” We must be diligent in living into the truth that we are united in Christ.
The apostle John wrote boldly as he told us in 1 John 4:20 that if we say we love God but hate our brother (fellow human) then we are liars! “For if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” John wrote. This is a considerable challenge, for us to love those we can see—their race, their culture, and their language. The differences between people have a long history of inspiring fear and distrust. But we have been instructed to love. If we cannot love then we must question whether or not we truly love God.
Even Christ, when asked about the Greatest Commandment, responded, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37–40). In recent times it’s been common to navigate around the convicting depths of this verse by asking instead, “Do we really love ourselves?” and thus turning Jesus’ teaching into a question about our personal self-esteem. But in our incredibly individualistic society where we regularly make decisions based on our own needs, our own priorities, and our own gain, this command takes on greater meaning, not less. In the parable that follows this passage, Jesus expands the explanation to make clear that no one is excluded from being our neighbor, not even those we would consider enemies.
These and other passages make clear that Christ’s work of the cross crushed division and hatred, creating the path for reconciliation along with the expectation that we will choose that path. Seeking racial justice and reconciliation is not just an option for Christians—it’s an expectation. So rather than using our hope in the future to remain passive, our hope ought to spur us on. The certainty of love’s victory undergirds our efforts. We can rest in our hope, but once rested, it’s time to continue living until love blesses the earth and “peace its paths adorn.”