03.26.16

Greg Gunn and the Resurrection

Several weeks ago, I woke up to an NPR story on the radio. Lying in bed, I heard Greg Gunn’s name for the first time. I learned that Mr. Gunn, who was Black, had been murdered by a white police officer in Montgomery, my old home. This news delivered by this seemingly emotionless reporter shook me like my mom used to wake me to tell me I was late for school. Violently and in an unfair way. My heart was beating fast. And I was confused, disoriented, angry.

The facts were like so many other shootings we’ve heard about… white cop approaches Black man, Black man __fill in the blank with any verb__, white cop shoots to kill.  But somehow because it happened in Montgomery, the grief I felt this time was more intimate, as if I’d known Mr. Gunn and his family.

[Sidenote: If you have not heard about Mr. Gunn’s story, I issue a careful warning. The facts are terrible. Really terrible. Before you look it up, pray about whether you’re in a space right now to hear it.]

I don’t know why I was shocked that this could happen in Montgomery. Even though it’s known as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, living there for 5 years taught me that neither the civil rights movement nor the civil war, according to some people, were completely over.

I turned off the radio, and I wish I could say that I got down on my knees and prayed right then. I didn’t. I didn’t immediately remind myself of God’s sovereignty or His ability to turn what the enemy meant for evil into good. I was just in tears, mourning. I kept putting myself in the place of those who heard Mr. Gunn’s cries for help, who were awakened from their deep sleep by his desperate cries for his mother, neighbors, friends.

And then the frighteningly familiar anger returned. Anger at the White police officers—well, I take that back, any/all police officers—who equate Blackness with suspicion. Who don’t see us as potential family members but as potential threats who may take them away from their families.

And if I’m honest, I was also angry at God. That He would allow such a thing to happen. Again.

I was still feeling down when I got to work, which by the way, was really bad for productivity. And lately I’ve been struggling with productivity. Thank God I had a copy of Tim Kellers’ book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, in my office. In the chapter “The Reason for Suffering,” Keller explains how Elisabeth Elliott experienced deep suffering yet she trusted the Lord’s goodness and kindness through it all.

I often try to find the “silver lining” in suffering and tragedies. This is a form of pride and unbelief that Elliot in her book Through the Gates of Splendor warns us against. Both Elliott and Keller relate this to the Cross, comparing it to the many people who urged Jesus to avoid or abandon the Cross. “If Thou be the Son of God come down from the Cross.” Keller and Elliot encourage us to trust God even when there is no silver lining, even when we don’t—and perhaps never will—understand why. I “dethrone [God] in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.” God is God.

That evening I went to our weekly church “family meeting” or Bible study. The pastor walked us through and noted how Paul begins the chapter by referring to the resurrection. It is in and through the resurrection, he reminded us, that our hope in suffering is found—that Jesus died for my sins so that I might live and have eternal life.

I may never be able to justify or understand what happened to Mr. Gunn. But does that mean that God is any less worthy of my trust?  God is God. His own Son died in a way that—back then, on that Good Friday—I would not have understood. But God is God. He is merciful. And gracious. And loving towards all He has made.

It all reminds me of the third verse from one of my favorite hymns, “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery”:

Come behold the wondrous mystery

Christ the Lord upon the tree

In the stead of ruined sinners

Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption

See the Father’s plan unfold

Bringing many sons to glory

Grace unmeasured, love untold

Father, forgive me for my unbelief. Help me to trust you even when I don’t understand suffering—my suffering or the suffering of those around me. Help me to behold your wondrous mystery.

1:1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. (ESV)

Jadine Johnson
Jadine was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. She currently lives in Washington, DC where she works as an education justice attorney at a national civil rights organization. Give her a shout on twitter: @JadineJustice

C’mon Up!