In the dust of the streets lie the young and the old; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without a pity. Lamentations 2:21
When thinking about black violence and catastrophe, I am drawn to the book of Lamentations within the Hebrew scriptures. The Book of Lamentations is birthed out of a devastating moment in the life of Israel. A once thriving city has been burned and laid to waste as a result the violence of King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. For me, no better book reflects the pains and blues of black folk than this.
Ancient Text in Black Context
I cannot read the book lamentations without hearing the bewailing of Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin. The moans of Esaw Garner, widow of Eric Garner or the cries of the friends and family of Ty Underwood. I posit these Black bodies, cis and transgender, as well many more nameless Black bodies must be seen as the centerpiece of this ancient text. From this critical nexus one finds communities of people who have been left with mountains of grief as their loved one has been violently taken from them and much too often—with impunity.
As the mind and soul attempts to process this overload of devastation, one begins just as the ancient author of this text did, asking “ekha.” This is the Hebrew word for “How!” and is the Hebrew name of this book in the TaNaKH. Ekha tells the story of an ancient community attempting to reconcile how this painful moment in time has For me, no better book reflects the pains and blues of black folk than this. come. Throughout Lamentation the reader will find many places where the writer blames God for the tragedies the people are facing. This is not an uncommon theme within Hebrew scripture, where God is seen as the one who ordains violence upon God’s people often times out of God’s wrath.
I recognize this was an understanding in ancient communities, seeing God as the author of devastation. However, I say loudly and boldly, Black folks cannot afford to continue adopt this antiquated theology lest we continue to die–mentally, physically and spiritually–leaving God as the scapegoat.
I recall about 7 years ago having theological talk with a friend of mine who is an older white woman (it is important I name her race), whom I will call Mary. This conversation took place at a point where I was just beginning to wrestle with my own embedded theologies. I cannot remember the full context of our conversation but a portion of this dialogue, which I shall never forget, is when we began to talk about American chattel slavery. It was during this conversation I reconciled this horrific time in the history of Black folks as the “will of God”. Yes, I believed slavery was apart of God’s will for Black people.
I am a little embarrassed to confess I believed this at one point in time but I am clear that reconciling God’s will for tragedy is not an uncommon view in the 21st century. Mary looked shocked and asked me, “You believe God willed for Blacks to be enslaved?”
Her question caused me to rethink a God who causes/permits/wills violence and tragedy on my people, or any people for that matter.Our times set before us an urgency for Black folks who adopt an antiquated understanding of God’s will to begin to re-think ‘the punitive God’ for a God who is love and loves the people of God—regardless. In retrospect I realize what I believed, no matter how theologically problematic, was because it was an easy fix for the complex question of “How?”
Instead of doing deep analysis of white supremacy, I chose to put the blame on God’s will. I believe my blaming God was not only easy, but it removed the burden of responsibility from my having to engage the multiple ways white supremacy continues to impact the black community as well as my finding where I fit in to make a difference.
It is this errant theological thought which undergirds unjust systems and informs the likes of Zimmerman’s theology, as he states in regards to his murdering of Trayvon Martin, “ I believe that this was all part of God’s plan.” Sadly, we know he is not alone in holding this theological view.
Black Violence and Catastrophe: NOW
Our times set before us an urgency for Black folks who adopt an antiquated understanding of God’s will to begin to re-think ‘the punitive God’ for a God who is love and loves the people of God—regardless. It is my fear that our failure to do so will continue a perishing of Black Lives in the streets of this nation without question. For our own survival we must rethink God as the will-er of these manifestation of evil acts of violence.
God–who is love–calls us in this moment to take action.
To resist oppressive theology which suggests that it is God’s will and plan for the list of Black lives which has been snuffed out due to racism and others isms—is to continue. Death at the hands of hate is not the will of God!
Moreover, I believe we serve a God to Where is God in this? God is luring and empowering us to do something. whom #BLACKLIVESMATTER!!!! In these moments of human tragedy God is ushering us to take action against white racist systems that kill black bodies with impunity.
God desires that we no longer become well adjusted to injustice and violence but that we rise and take action that ends this black catastrophe. The cries we hear in this ancient text as well as the cries of black lives in our current context are not caused or willed or planned by God. Rather, they are the result of evil systems that go unchecked and unchallenged.
Where is God in this? God is luring and empowering us to do something.
God, may we do your will of Love!
Darnell Fennell is the Pastor of Just Love, a new community unfolding in Houston, TX. He has recently completed his Master of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA, and now looks forward to shaking things up in the lone star state.