When confronted with racism and injustice, do you feel impotent or ashamed? Do these problems seem gargantuan and, thus, impossible to overcome? Maybe you feel pained and rendered immobile by the realization that you benefit from a system that oppresses people of color. How do you traverse from feeling shame to feeling unfettered to pursue justice under the umbrella of God’s grace?
My advice: suffer with.
We must choose to feel the suffering that our brothers and sisters of color experience from the sin of racial injustice—not just to show support, build empathy, or create an “eye for an eye” kind of scenario. No, choosing to suffer with is an act of supernaturally-inspired love.
Look to Jesus. He is the model of what it looks like to suffer with.
When Jesus lived on earth, he chose to feel the sting of injustice, the black eye of betrayal, and heartbreaking love. Jesus didn’t just bear our sins on the cross. He took on the pain caused by our sins. He endured suffering—a suffering that wasn’t his—out of unfettered love. He willingly entered into the pain of sin and the pain of death with us, for us. His decision to live among us and die for us was a decision to suffer with.
Yet, he struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane when confronted with the full weight of what he needed to do. Mark 14:36 says he cried out, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Here, he brought his conflicted feelings to the Father to receive strength to endure the path of suffering that was set before him. Christ’s prayer was so intense that Scripture says his sweat was like drops of blood. It was through prayer (and prayer alone) that he was infused with strength to suffer so sacrificially. This strength was a supernatural gift from the Father.
Choosing to suffer with is a supernatural relational act that requires reliance on God’s power and love.
What made Christ’s ministry so powerful was that he did it with us. He was able to minister to our deepest needs because he did it up close and personal. If we are to imitate Christ, our suffering with must also be relational. Ministering to people of color (POC) who suffer at the hands of injustice, requires that we do so up close and personal—both to them and to their pain.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29, NIV)
The opportunity to suffer with is our calling and a privilege.
Truth be told, this is not how we view suffering. But Paul makes it clear, writing from his prison cell, that suffering for Christ is part and parcel of following him. Paul tells the church at Philippi that belief in Christ is only one part of the equation; suffering is the other. Going to jail for preaching the gospel of reconciliation—not just of people to God, but of people to people—is a cost of following Christ. Being ostracized by family members or mocked by unbelievers because of our faith is a cost of following Christ.
What’s more, Paul writes that suffering is an opportunity, a privilege even. This is where our prayers must begin. We must pray to view suffering for Christ as our inheritance and as a unique gift; we must pray to see this gift not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to an end, which is showing the presence of God’s Kingdom in the world.
For if we are people committed to breaking down dividing walls in our churches, truly loving our neighbors as ourselves, and fully mourning with those who mourn, then every time we witness a black man being shot down unjustly, we will grieve and call out the sin because that’s exactly what Jesus would have done. Every time we see an immigrant—whether here legally or not—being discriminated against, we will hurt.
We will allow ourselves to feel the pain caused by the sin of racial injustice. We will not scroll past headlines about it or timidly say, “Well, what can I do to change it?” No, we will allow its heaviness to hit us, and then take that heaviness to God so that God can be God. We will ask God to give us the strength to unmask it, understanding that the historical and contemporary forces of racism are too powerful and venomous to carry alone. (Trying to do so will leave us either bitter and filled with rage, or hopeless, despondent, and worn out.) We will ask God to bring justice and show us how we can be a part of this work. We will embrace this road marked with suffering, even—and especially—if it doesn’t feel like ours to bear…until it feels like our own.
Let’s be real—suffering with is hard. It requires a willingness to endure pain and love past convenience and myopic vision. Suffering with can’t be initiated by good intentions or by “shoulds” if it is to be effective. It has to be birthed in the deep love of God, who gave his only Son “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” This love has to fill us until we want to suffer with, until we feel privileged to do so. Then our actions won’t be forced or short-lived or reek of paternalism or self-aggrandizement. And shame will not shroud them. Instead, our actions will be a sign of God’s boundless love and the nearness of his Kingdom.
Want to learn more? Consider reading My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love and Forgiveness by Patricia Raybon, Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World by Doug Schaupp, and Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith.
Chanté Griffin is fulfilling God’s call to be a voice to her generation. She is a writer, performer, and former collegiate campus minister. She is the Lord’s servant. Connect with her at yougochante.com.
Photo by Johnny Silvercloud