Baltimore and Christian Nihilism

NOTE: This post was written by one of our guest bloggers,
Nathaniel Grimes. For more from Nathaniel, be sure to check out his page.

Do we as Christians believe with Paul that God was and is in Christ, reconciling and restoring all of creation?

Given some of the responses that I have seen to recent events in Baltimore (and the constant executions of black folks nationwide), I have my doubts. The responses range from a misguided call for nonviolence (directed only at the victims, and not the state) to a general hopelessness. The first aspect is absurd on its face, and is not unique to Christians, but I believe the second has a firm basis in Christian eschatology (theology of the “end times”).

For many, modern conditions of violence and unrest recall the bleak picture painted in Matthew 24 of lawlessness increasing and the “love of many” growing cold. Things must get worse until the eschaton, when God acts decisively on behalf of the ones who have made the choice for him. This is a self fulfilling prophecy.  Our justification of the murder of poor black and brown folks as being an inescapable part of God’s plan for the world serves to confirm our hopeless view of the future.

What we call Christian hope is often just an absurd fantasy of an abstract afterlife in which those who made the right choices will get a condo in the suburbs of heaven, and those who made the wrong choices will be consigned to the fiery ghetto. This is a theology that is re-inscribed constantly in the policies and structures of the world we inhabit. The ultimate redemption and reconciliation spoken of in Scripture is reduced to an act of cosmic segregation which looks more like apartheid than anything predicted in the Bible.

The kids in Baltimore who were rounded up by police yesterday will, barring a miracle, experience hell for most of their natural lives in a neighborhood, a city, and a country where they are the targets of an ongoing campaign of state terror. From the outside many Christians expect the protesters to be inhumane, to be unaffected by the police violence, to be unaffected by the situation of injustice and by the fractured social relationships. Perhaps this has something to do with impassibility doctrines which portray God as unaffected by His relationship with humanity.

The God revealed in Scripture is profoundly affected by the suffering of His people. He hears and He sees. There is something at stake for God in the suffering of His people. When the police vehicle swerved, Jesus felt it in his spine.

The grief and protest on display in Baltimore are the most honest and faithful reactions to the reality of racial oppression, because even if they seem destructive and addressed to no one in particular, they contain the slightest bit of hope that someone will hear and respond. To stop crying, to stop fighting back, would be to accept total loss. As long as they keep fighting, keep burning, keep insisting on the legitimacy of their own grief and experiences, they are keeping alive the possibility that things can be different. This is a kind of hope that is foreign to a Christianity which has been comfortable to write off black genocide as an unfortunate necessity in the line of apocalyptic prophecy. This Christianity tells the kids in Baltimore to stop fighting back, to accept God’s awful plan. This is Christianity utterly bankrupt and without hope.

God in his redemptive wisdom is not content to leave it this way, but has given us an example of hope from an unexpected place. Right now these kids in Baltimore throwing rocks back at cops are the only reason I believe in Jesus. Right now he is at work in the world, reconciling creation to himself. He is looking for faith the size of a mustard seed, faith that knows there is no reason to believe things will change, but still insists on it. May he find it in his church as well.

Nathaniel Grimes

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