The Gospel is About a Parent and a Child
A person’s story obviously shapes the way in which he or she interprets the world. For me, as a person who has had a child die, I tend to have a greater sensitivity toward parents when I hear of suffering and tragedy. When a person has died or been victimized, I almost immediately consider how the parents of that person are feeling.
I found this experiential lens particularly true as I watched the incredible ten-hour documentary, OJ Simpson: Made in America this past summer. I watched the film through the eyes of the victims’ parents. The documentary revolves around the murder of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson and the subsequent trial, where O.J. Simpson was prosecuted for the crime. A brief history of racial injustices that the LAPD perpetrated against African Americans in Los Angeles served as the backdrop for understanding the complexity of the situation. I must say that viewing this movie from my perspective as a bereaved parent generated anguish, anger, outrage, and sadness.
To think of a person victimizing my child with such wicked abandon and unadulterated violence was overwhelming. However, the pure atrocious nature of the murder was not the sole reason for my intense cocktail of emotions. Listening to the way that different people hijacked and exploited the People v. OJ Simpson trial for their own purposes and agendas horrified me.
I listened to a defense attorney brag about the gamesmanship that the defense team used to manipulate the jury. He seemed almost tickled by the way they employed unethical tactics to confuse the jury. His tone and commentary made it feel as if the trial were a game — even recreation — to him.
I watched a juror bluntly say that she voted to acquit Simpson as a measure of “payback” for the Rodney King acquittal. She smiled smugly as she shamelessly admitted that she used her role as a juror to settle an emotional and social score, rather than concern herself with evidence and justice in the specific case to which she was assigned.
My blood boiled as a civil rights leader candidly admitted that he used the trial to advance his political platforms. The man interviewing him asked for clarification — almost as if he could not believe this leader would so openly confess his warped intentions on camera. Given a second opportunity, the man changed only one word: I used the trial, not for my purposes, but for our purposes. It was as if he was clueless to how sinister his admission of hijacking a murder trial for political purposes sounded to the outside ear.
As my blood boiled listening to these people, I finally snapped and started yelling at the television (as if the people on the screen could hear me), “YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT THE VIOLENT DEATH OF SOMEONE’S CHILD, YOU PERVERTS!”
I continually said to my wife, “I pray the Goldman and Brown families do not watch this.” I could not imagine hearing someone twist and hijack and manipulate my child’s death into anything other than my child’s death. To the juror, the lawyer, and the community leader, it was a convenience for their personal agendas. To me, because of my experience as a parent of child-loss, I could only interpret the events through the lens of the violent death of children and the anguish and grief of their parents.
When the policeman on duty that night described having to call the parents, I felt a vicarious sinking sensation in my chest, personally knowing the horror of receiving that call. As they described the grizzly and depraved nature of the murder, I thought about the parents’ experience of identifying the child’s body. When they showed clips from Ronald Goldman’s funeral, I shared in the sorrow of carrying your own son’s coffin to an open grave and releasing it so sadly and finally from your hands. When I watched the father, Fred Goldman, cry in an interview over twenty years after his son’s death, I identified with the broken heart that never fully heals from the loss of a child. To watch the host of people who exploited the trial for different purposes — from the media to people who sold t-shirts outside the courthouse to the aforementioned individuals in this article — it offended me to see the general public so blindly insensitive to the human elements involved: the violent death of someone’s child and the anguish and grief of parents.
Trying my hardest not to be one of those very people in this very article, my experience in watching the documentary further deepened my understanding of my religious faith. I am a Christian and the central act of our faith revolves around what we call the Gospel, which is God’s work to rescue sinners from death and to reconcile them to himself through the death of his son, Jesus Christ, on a cross.
Very often, Christians distance the personal nature of the cross from the Gospel. We talk about salvation — getting to heaven — in mechanistic and formulaic terms. We draw out schematics where Jesus + our faith = eternal life in heaven. To talk about the way to salvation in organized terms is not inherently wrong, since the New Testament scriptures do talk about the forgiveness of sins in both legal/forensic and accounting terms. Still, we can often strip away the human element and underplay the suffering. It is terribly incomplete, and even further evidence of our sinful and self-serving agendas, to reduce the Gospel simply to a salvation formula.
Far worse, many Christians reduce our faith to a set of morals or rituals for the sake of self-improvement. They extract the sad yet redemptive narrative of God’s tragic loss from the Bible and highlight only moral imperatives. In other words, they ignore the truth that Christianity revolves around the violent death of someone’s child for the sake of reconciling God and man; they say that the cross is simply an example for sacrificial living. Nothing more. It’s just a good illustration for what otherwise is a religion that comes with a self-help manual.
When American civil rights icon, Emmett Till, was cruelly abducted, murdered, and mutilated by two Mississippi racists, the teenage boy became a powerful and influential martyr in the movement. Till’s mother insisted on an open casket at the funeral, where people could see the inhumane brutality inflicted on her child. Publications with predominantly African American audiences published pictures of his mother receiving his body back in his home Chicago. They also published pictures of her standing by the coffin. Part of the impact behind Till’s legacy flowed out of the reality that he was not just a nameless teenage boy. This was a Mama’s baby, whom she had nursed and swaddled, whom she had walked to kindergarten, whom she had hugged and kissed good-night for years. It was a Mama who had to see that baby beaten beyond recognition in a coffin. Till’s death, while a powerful moment for the civil rights movement, was not divorced from that fact that it’s central narrative was the violent death of a child and the anguish and grief of a parent.
Christians should never divorce the Gospel of Christ from what is central to its essence: the violent death of a child and the anguish and grief of a parent. The sorrowful face and bereaved voice of Fred Goldman paint the picture of the face of God the Father at the death of his son. There was weeping in heaven, there was lamentation over the violence and injustice inflicted on God’s son. There was grief in His heart.
God is a parent who lost a child. Jesus is God’s baby, who was violently slain.
To remember the personal element of the cross forces us to account for just how costly the death of Christ, on our behalf, was for God. Simultaneously, it magnifies just how deep God’s commitment to both justice and mercy is, as we see that he willfully enters into the worst nightmare of all parents for the sake of lost people.