Songs of Mercy & Justice in the Wake of Tragedy

This week our nation has experienced more tragedies. Both Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot by police, and both incidences were caught on camera, allowing for everyone to witness what happened. These men were victims. The black community is outraged. Much of the nation is outraged. The church should be outraged at the systemic racism and injustice that still pervades our society, These systemic problems are, at least in part, to blame for such incidences occurring far too frequently.  

Others have written far more eloquently than I can about this. I would direct your attention to Russell Moore's article here. Dr. Moore helpfully points out that sin is the root cause of these tragedies. Sin has a systemic side and a personal side, and the church needs to call out sin for what it is, whether it is systemic or personal, or both. Micah 6:8 says, *"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." 

In humility, those who love Christ, should stand up for justice and mercy. Anytime something awful happens, such as the death of an Alton Sterling or a Philando Castile, I am driven to prayer. One of the ways my prayers are shaped is through music. I just want to share a few songs that might aid others in praying for justice and mercy in the wake of horrific tragedies.

1. "Does Your Heart Break" by The Brilliance

This is a truly gut-wrenching song. The verses are taken from two stories of tragedy. The first verse is about the children who went hungry and died because of the fall of Jerusalem. The second verse is about Eric Garner, the black New Yorker who was choked to death by a police officer in December of 2014. The chorus is perhaps the most gut-wrenching part of the song, though, as it asks of God, "Does your heart break?" This is either a rhetorical question or one of the most intensely serious questions anyone can ask of God... and even if you have a firm belief in God's love and think it is a rhetorical question, tragedy can really make you ponder the severity and yearning in the query.

In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, people ask all the time, "God, where are you?" "How long will you be far off from us?" "How long will you sit and do nothing?" "Are we not your people? Do you love us?" I often skip past those questions, because I am focused on the New Testament perspective of the promises being fulfilled and God's love being poured out through Christ.... yet those questions have their place. As I was reading Isaiah 64:12 this morning, I realized that God can take it when we pray things like: "God, I know you are loving. But are you seeing this???? Please do something..."

If you want to hear more thoughts about this, I did preach a sermon on Matthew 11 recently, and would be happy to send you a link to the recording. Part of the lyrics for the chorus of this song are taken from Matthew 11.

2. "Kyrie Eleison" by Keith & Kristyn Getty

This song is much more upbeat, but the lyrics are still profound. It is written for corporate worship by some of the greatest hymn-writers living today (if not the greatest), which makes it especially useful for the church. We need to be singing songs like this that call us to prayer and action.

The refrain of the song uses an ancient church text: "Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison," meaning "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy." Growing up as a Baptist, I used to think singing "kyrie eleison," was only for Catholics or some other group of non-fervent-New-Testament-believing Christians. I don't think so anymore. Although, for some, repeating "Christ have mercy," over and over again has turned into meaningless ritual for personal confession, the prayer itself is very meaningful. Its use is not limited to personal confession of sin. We can also pray it corporately or on behalf of someone else. In fact, sometimes in the wake of tragedy we have no words. No words come to mind that can really fit the situation. In such situations, I find that "Christ, have mercy," (or "Even so, come Lord Jesus," which I will talk about next) is the best thing to pray.

There are other great settings of this text. Here is one by The Brilliance: "Prayers of the People." 

3. "Even So Come" by Chris Tomlin, Jess Cates, and Jason Ingram (as made famous by Kristian Stanfill and Passion)

I was so excited when I discovered such a profoundly biblical song written and recorded by a mainstream CCM/worship artist. This song comes from the early church's cry of, "Maranatha!" ("Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!"-Revelation 22:20). Creation is groaning for Christ to come again. Our hearts groan for his return and our redemption. Our hearts groan all the more in the wake of tragedy, because we know he is going to fix this mess and take away all sin, tears, mourning, and death. I am currently planning on teaching this song to our congregation this fall.

It seems like there are more and more tragedies occurring each and every day (just think: Ferguson, Charleston, Paris, Orlando). We the church have the responsibility, the opportunity, and the privilege to be the ones offering hope. We can pray for justice and we can walk humbly and we can love mercy and seek all these things in Jesus' name.

*There is a great song based on Micah 6:8 called "You Have Shown Us."