During the first Great Awakening, some people wanted to look at the revival as a monolithic movement. Some saw its benefits as entirely good and others saw its excesses as entirely bad. Yet, Jonathan Edwards wrote a careful treatise about this revival of his day in which he distinguished true works of the spirit of God from false works sewed by the devil. The good and bad were to be discerned and separated. The true from the false.
Here were some of Edwards points on the revival of his day:
- “We should not judge of this work by the supposed causes, but by the effects.” This reminds me of Martin Luther King’s slogan that we should judge someone by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Not the source or cause but the effect and action.
- “We should distinguish the good from the bad, and not judge of the whole by a part.” This is my main point. Edwards goes on to point out the great evil in the heart of humans, and that Christians should expect this to crop up along side genuine works of God. In Baltimore’s case, there seems to be many rioters, but when one considers the number of people in the city not participating, it becomes evident that only those acting illegally should be condemned.
- The Nature of the Work in General. Edwards observes of revival: “The weakness of human nature has always appeared in times of great revival of religion, by a disposition to run to extremes, and get into confusion; and especially in these three things, enthusiasm, superstition, and intemperate zeal.” Look, if such a thing as riotous excess can occur in a revival of Christian religion by a genuine work of the Spirit of God, how much more ought we to expect ungodly people devoid of a move of God’s Spirit to be acting morally and insanely? This gives them no excuse for their sin, but as Christians we have a reason to expect such chaos and rebellion.
Just as Edwards was careful to discern true from false revival, so too we should be careful not to look at the Baltimore situation as a monolithic movement of uniform ideas and actors. There’s protester and there’s rioters. There’s grievances and there’s greed. There’s justice and injustice – which will be heard in the courts. There have been good citizens rising up to protect and there have been evil people sinking into dark depths of destruction. There have been legitimate cries to be heard and there have been lies sewn to be uprooted. Reading a headline from Daily News that describes various Baltimoreans’ reactions to the riots, and watching a video of gang members uniting to promote peace, must be taken into consideration when thinking about the protests-riots narrative.
Like Edwards, we must learn to judge with righteous judgment. And this takes time and reflection. In the meantime, destroying people and private property must cease and those people must pay for their injustice. Mass media – which thrives on ratings – must report justly; for name-calling, mass labeling, and polarization never help. Order must be respected and restored – both externally and internally. The former can happen quickly, but the latter takes generations.