I don’t know why, but every time I go shopping I always choose the trolley with the dodgy, squeaky, sticky wheel that keeps veering to the right or to the left. It’s quite a job to keep the trolley moving forward in a straight line.
In a similar way, it’s tough to keep having a correct, biblical worldview about life with all its many areas.
Our own in, the world’s systems, and Satan keep pulling us to the right or left, especially in our thinking about race.
We constantly need to check ourselves that we are keeping a straight line with what the Bible says.
May I humbly add that if you were raised in South Africa, particularly as a white person, you (and I) probably have a dodgy, sticky wheel in our worldview that pulls our thinking towards racial prejudice – without us even realizing it.
What does the Bible say about race?
1. Our unity in Adam
The first few chapters of the Bible are foundational in our understanding of who God is, the world in which we live and who we are.
God creates all things big and small. God forms the earth and fills the earth.
In 1:26 there is a marked break in the repeated pattern, indicating that God is now doing something special:
Then God said, “Let us make man (mankind, human beings) in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man (human beings) in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
In those days in the Ancient Near East, kings would make statues or images of themselves and place them at strategic places in their kingdoms to remind their subjects of who the king was. The statues represented the king.
God created human beings to be his representatives in the world as his image-bearers.
Notice in v26 God says “Let us”, not “Let me”.
God is Trinity, Three in One; in perfect relationship with himself – and we are created in that Image.
That means we are created for relationships. Relationships with others and with God. Therefore, in a life without meaningful relationship with God and others, there will always be something missing.
Being created in the image of the triune God also means we have diversity in unity.
The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Spirit; and the Spirit is not the Father; yet there is only one God.
Beautiful diversity in beautiful unity.
Last week I was at Home Affairs in Bellville and stood in the socially distanced queue. I stopped for a minute, paused the podcast and simply looked around in wonder at the wonderful diversity of people – reflecting the wonder of God.
The first few chapters in Genesis go out of their way to teach us that human-beings are not mere mammals, but wonderfully created in the Image of God himself.
Genesis Ch. 2 tells us that Eve was created out of Adam’s side or rib.
The point of this account is that Eve is not a separate species to Adam. She is created from the same stuff.
Men and women are equally created in the Image of God and worthy therefore of the same respect, dignity, care and worth.
The scourge of Gender-Based Violence in South Africa of men hurting and killing women is a huge offense to God and must be to us too.
The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Genesis 3:20)
You and I and every human being on God’s earth have common parents, Adam and Eve.
We are distant relatives.
We, therefore, owe each other as human beings what relatives owe each other: care, love and protection.
Adam and Eve were not Hebrew, Egyptian, Chinese, white European or black Africans. Although in many children’s Bible’s they’re pictured as white Europeans – as is Jesus – which is highly problematic.
Adam and Eve were human beings created in the Image of God and are the Father and Mother of all people, not just some people.
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man (mankind)when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. (Genesis 5:1-3)
The Image of God continued in Adam and Eve’s children.
All people are created in God’s Image. From the person that forages in my dustbin to the Queen of England sipping her tea in Buckingham Palace.
Before we think any more about race and racism, we should remember that there is only one race , the human race, with each and every person of every tribe, culture and language created in the Image of God.
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man(kind) in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)
Killing a human being is not like killing an animal.
God requires the death penalty for the premeditated murder of one of his image-bearers because human beings are very special to God. This implies that there is a fair, competent, unbiased judicial system in place; which is not the case in South Africa.
These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. (Genesis 10:32)
As human-beings, we are actually even closer relatives that we may think. Not only are we descended from Adam and Eve, were are descended from Noah’s family after the flood.
The gene pool is very small.
Science also tells us this.
In 2002, the Human Genome Project started charting differences among various ethnic groups. These differences are called SNPs — single nucleotide polymorphisms.
But despite these SNPs, human beings only differ from one another by about 0.1 percent; enough to ensure that no two human beings are genetically identical.
Human being of different ethnic groups are genetically 99% the same. Confirmation of what the Bible has been teaching all along.
“Race” is usually associated with biology and linked with physical characteristics such as skin color or hair texture. However, race is a social construct used to categorize and characterize seemingly distinct populations. Race is not detectable in the human genome. These variations cannot be tracked to distinct biological categories.
Vivian Chou of Harvard University:
In the biological and social sciences, the consensus is clear: race is a social construct, not a biological attribute.
“Race” as a category is an artificial, unbiblical, social construct used largely to alienate, oppress and dominate people.
You, with your height, skin-tone, texture of hair, shape of mouth, colour of eyes, profile of toes, were wonderfully, purposefully and deliberately created by God, in His Image. Cf. Psalm 139:13-18
Your significance and identity is not determined by what you do, how many degrees you may have, your job, your clothes, or your “race”; but by who you are.
Or more correctly, by whose you are.
Charles Darwin knowingly or unknowingly fueled the fire of racism.
Darwinian evolution teaches that human-beings evolved from animals, who evolved from who knows what.
Charles Darwin promoted the view that the different so-called races evolved in different ways down from the evolutionary tree from different species. He referred to some races as civilized and other races as savage.
He thought that the so-called civilized races would destroy the so-called savage races – which was simply the logical outworking of his evolutionary thesis.
This is so evil on so many levels.
Ultimately, if you buy into this evolutionary theory there is no logical reason why your life would be worth more than the life of a dog, rat, cow or chicken.
Closer to home in South Africa, you probably remember the #RhodesMustFall movement?
Cecil Rhodes was so inspired by Darwinian evolutionist writings that he was the architect of one of the most brutal acts of European expansion in history.
Rhodes wrote in 1877:
“I contend that we are the finest race in the world (white Europeans) and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race…more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race, more of the best, the most human, most honorable race the world possesses.”
Evolutionary thinking fuels the view that one group of people is superior to another.
The Nazis in Germany believed the Aryan Master race was superior.
Hitler and other Nazi leaders viewed Jewish people not as a religious group, but as a separate “race”, which “lived off” the other races and weakened them.
In total contrast, the Bible teaches that all human beings are wonderfully, equally and purposefully created in the Image of God himself, each worthy of respect, dignity and care.
How do we explain the differences among us?
2. Our diversity as people groups
The Bible teaches that God is Trinity, diversity in unity.
God creates beautiful diversity in creation. Consider peacocks, zebras and bottle-nosed dolphins.
God creates beautiful diversity in humans too. It’s God’s intention that we don’t look the same or sound the same.
However, something tragic happened in Genesis 3.
Adam and Eve sinned.
Human beings defy their creator and want to run their lives their own way. And we’ve tried to do the same thing ever since – and failed.
The consequences were monumental. Human beings are alienated from God and alienated from each other
God pronounced his judgment:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband (to control), but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
Human beings will now try to rule over, dominate, manipulate and control each other in all kinds of ways using all kinds of excuses.
The problem is not race; it’s sin.
In Genesis Ch.4 we see the development of art, culture, music, industry, agriculture and technology. They are all good things; but they are tainted with sin.
In Genesis Ch. 11, instead of filling the earth, human beings decided to stay in one place together and to build a tower reaching to the heavens in order to make a name for themselves.
The Tower of Babel was to be a monument to humans’ glory rather than God’s.
The result is that God confused their language so they could not understand each other. Their unity fractured and they scattered and filled the earth.
God’s judgment reflected the alienating consequences of sin.
Because of the new languages and geographic barriers, people groups no longer freely mixed with other groups.
Different cultures and people groups developed, with certain features becoming dominant within each group. People groups adapted to their differing environments. Adaptation, not Darwinian evolution.
The characteristics of each people group became more and more prominent as new generations of children were born.
And all his was part of God’s good purpose for his world. Beautiful diversity, sharing a common unity and humanity.
And God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. (Acts 17:26)
Unfortunately humanity was and is always tainted with sin: the desire to idolize my own culture as superior and alienate other people and cultures.
The Bible does not use the word “race”, but the phrase “the nations” (ta enthna) from where we get the word ethnicity.
Ethnic groups are people groups with their own culture, customs, traditions and even language.
But because of sin ethnic groups often seek to dominate and control other ethnic groups.
The Definition of Racism, according to National Geographic:
Though race has no genetic basis, the social concept of race still shapes human experiences. Racial bias fuels social exclusion, discrimination and violence against people from certain social groups.
In turn, racial prejudice confers social privilege to some and social disparities to others, and is widely expressed in hierarchies that (my insert: usually) privilege people with white skin over people with darker skin colors.
Sin and the sin of racism has greatly alienated people from each other and caused much suffering, hurt, pain and trauma.
Imagine that in South Africa we all saw in each as wonderfully created in the Image of God and worthy of love and respect?
Imagine that in South Africa we appreciated, celebrated and learnt from our wonderful cultural diversity as fellow human beings?
Imagine that in South Africa we vehemently opposed all racism and structural racism and worked for each other’s good?
3. The calling of the church
What is the church called to be in a midst of a world that often wants to divide and alienate people along race lines?
God calls the church to be a small, working model of diversity in unity.
The Church should be a signpost to the world of how things should be.
In Christ, people from different ethnic backgrounds are not only distant relatives in Adam, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
Therefore, as Christians from various cultures and ethnic groups, we love each other and work for each other’s good.
As Christians, we oppose any racial prejudice and we work for and advocate for the good of all people, especially the poor or marginalized.
One day in the New Creation, if we belong to Jesus, we will be part of a great multitude of people from every tribe, nation and language.
We should be living that reality now as best we can.
Our worldview trolley may veer towards favouring our own ethnic group above others and thinking ourselves better.
This is racism.