We’ve been here too often.
The violence is numbing us.
The rituals and rhetoric of public grieving seem predictable and somehow insufficient.
The anticipation of tragedy is disturbing.
Amidst the cacophony of angry voices and opposing opinions – editorials and talking heads – our flag remained the most poignant silent reminder of our shared grief and the uncertainty of life.
At the beginning of the week the Stars and Stripes waved proudly as we celebrated the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. Before the week was over it flew sadly at half mast, testing once more whether this nation – conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal – can endure.
President Obama has ordered the American flag lowered more than any president in history.
It is a sign of our troubled times.
This time it was for five police officers slain in Dallas while protecting the lives of others.
We’ve been an increasingly divided country. We are North and South, red states and blue states, rich and poor and black and white.
Sometimes we’re simply Americans – but not often enough.
Values once held dear are today suspect. Beliefs that united and sustained us in tough times are questioned or scorned as idealistic and naïve.
Throughout history there have been nations that have been great without being good. The United States is not one of them. Our founders never intended it to be. They created a government that must rely on widespread virtue – and faith – to survive.
“We have no government armed with power,” observed John Adams, “capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Three years before the bloody civil war that would sunder the nation Abraham Lincoln argued that dependence upon economic and military strength alone would not be enough to preserve the Union:
“Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.
Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them.”
Abandon ordered liberty rooted in virtue, Lincoln said, and “you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.”
Our founders understood that in a free republic personal virtue and national greatness are inseparable. Forsake individual morality and this nation would descend into the bondage of anarchy.
Their warnings have proven prophetic.
After the last funeral is conducted in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas, white police officers will still be confronting young black men on the streets. And the tensions will remain. So will the judgments, suspicions and reactions.
The cause of racism will not cease even when its effects are addressed in law and practice. Bias and bigotry are stubborn and subtle enemies. They dwell deep within the human heart and the heart cannot be legislated.
For decades we have known that the deterioration of the black family – and the absence of strong male role models – has impacted the black experience much more than economic and legal factors.
Yes, racial discrimination is still a daily reality in this country and it’s immoral. Poverty is also real. But the ultimate answer is not more laws but more decency, responsibility, respect, determination, courage and self-control.
Right and wrong are not subject to race – they are colorblind. The content of a man’s character is the only judgment you and I have any right to make about him.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God warned of the desperate and unfathomable wickedness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Even as many began to trust in Jesus, he still “didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind was really like” (John 2:24-25, NLT, emphasis added).
Jesus knew what was in the heart of man.
These tragic acts of violence remind us again that we are all fallen creatures and we live in a fallen world.
Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.”
We are fallen not because of our race but in spite of it. In the end the only race that matters is the human race and the only thing that can redeem that is the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ.
Only Christ can transform our hearts and heal our divisions. He alone is able to excavate the angry heart of stone and replace it with a tender heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
Only God can heal our land by changing each of us. Only changed people can change society.
This is our calling. This is our duty.
May we pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV).
Only then can we begin to face the stubborn ancient prejudices that lurk within us all.
Because the heart of this problem is a problem of the heart.