Hady came over last week for help on an English essay about racism. Her opening sentence was as follows:
“There are four races of people in the world: the blacks, the whites, the reds and the yellows.”
Explaining the mildly politically incorrect implications of that statement was no easy task. Ironically, Hady’s assignment was to [in English] explain how we can eradicate racism from the world.
My job is to do one thing in a thousand different, imaginative ways. I spend my days showing girls how even the seemingly insignificant details of their lives are connected to the truth of the gospel and point towards
their desperate need for Jesus. Conversations about dating, marriage, food, movies, holidays, cultural traditions, music, the economy, poverty, racism-these are all things that I use to talk about our need for a Savior.
Islam is an entirely performance based religion. If the “good” that you do in your lifetime outweighs the bad, you have a shot at Allah arbitrarily deciding to let you into Paradise after you die. [Though it is important to note that there is never a guarantee of salvation for a Muslim, even if his good deeds turn out to outweigh the bad. Shortly before he died, Muhammad himself told his followers that he didn’t know if Allah would let him into Paradise. Everything is dependent upon the “merciful will of Allah”, who might decide to send everybody to hell on any given day if he hasn’t had enough coffee that morning.]
And so, a Muslim tries to be good. Straining, frantically, fearfully, blindly grasping for an assurance that simply cannot be found in Islam: that they have done enough. It is petrifying, maddening, and absolutely exhausting.
The gospel goes to war with the idea that we can ever do anything to be good enough for God. This is entirely counter intuitive for my girls. Islam looks at a topic like racism, and says “be better”. The gospel cures racism by telling us that God accepted us in the midst of the filth of our sin-and wants to give us new hearts that crave Him and the desires of His heart rather than the desires of our old, sinful nature.
In his book “Breaking the Islam Code” [A great read if you’re at all interested in better understanding what I’m doing in Senegal and why], JD Greear talks about this very thing. He says:
When our acceptance is based on our performance, we merely exacerbate two root sins in our heart: pride and fear. Our religious devotion is fueled by our fear of rejection and love of praise. Pride begets more sin, and fear of God does not create love for him, but an anxiety to prove ourselves to him and to others.
The sin of racism arises, ultimately, out of insecurity. The racist feels the need to look down on other people (in his case, a whole race of people) to bolster his own self-image. If you try to change the racist by saying, “Don’t be a racist, because racists are bad people,” you are implying to him that bad people will be rejected. And if he wants to avoid rejection, he should conform to the moral behavior that will gain him acceptance. You are appealing to his fear and insecurity-the very things that prompted the racism to begin with! The gospel, on the other hand, attempts to cure the sin of racism not by threatening rejection, but by showing us the unconditional acceptance we have received in the cross. How could those of us who have been accepted by Christ refuse to accept others?
My girls are correct about the very thing that most terrifies them-they are not good enough to stand before a holy God. But praise Jesus, he loved people like Hady and you and I enough to be “good” on our behalf! The brilliant news of the gospel is that I was DEAD in my sin-but God sent Jesus to earth to live the perfect, holy life that I should have lived FOR me. Then in the greatest act of selfless love mankind has ever seen, Jesus died the gruesome death that I should have died as the punishment for all of the “bad” in my life. When I decided to follow Jesus Christ, He redeemed my heart and made it new-and in so doing, took me from death to life. I can confidently rest in the knowledge that my relationship with God is entirely secure because my salvation has nothing to do with what I can do-and everything to do with what has already been done for me.
Somewhere in between correcting comma splices and explaining that there are more than four races of people in the world, I got to explain to Hady that the only way to eradicate racism [or any other sin] from the world is for Jesus to redeem our sinful hearts. That’s what most of my days look like in Dakar.