A lot of bandwidth has been wasted over the cause of these riots and I don’t have much to add to the speculation and reasonings. One of obvious things said is that the root cause of these problems is human sinfulness and depravity. This is of course true; human’s are great at putting themselves first given the opportunity. That humans are sinful still doesn’t answer the questions of why human sinfulness manifested in this way but it is important to start with it. And so it’s important to clear up exactly what the bible teaches on sinfulness, not so much that people understand the riots correctly and respond appropriately, but more so we see the great and glorious love of God better. Because at it’s heart the doctrine of sin is a pretty horrible doctrine except that it magnifies how great God is. It’s the deep dark blackness of a cave that shows you how bright and amazing the light of God is.
The clearest passage in scripture on sin is probably Roman 3:9-20. The first part of it goes like this:
“9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written:
‘There is no-one righteous, not even one;
11there is no-one who understands;
no-one who seeks God.
12All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no-one who does good, not even one.’”
At the heart of an understanding of sin therefore is this; everyone is under sin (v. 9), no-one is righteous in God’s eyes (v. 10), and no-one seeks God of their own accord (v. 11), no-one therefore does anything good and so all are worthless in the eyes of God (v. 12). In short, everyone does evil and no-one of their own accord seeks God. This is what is technically called the doctrine of total depravity. It’s easy to gloss over these verses, right now I feel uncomfortable writing them. Am I really agreeing that scripture says everyone is worthless? I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that. But see the weight of scripture behind them. Paul, the wisest author of the New Testament is quoting here Solomon, the wisest man of the Old Testament, and David, one of the Godliest. For good measure he even quotes Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets. Not that one part of scripture can weigh more than another part —after all all is breathed out by the Spirit of God— but the emphasis on this is clearly there. Can we really shrug off this passage as much as we don’t like it?
Of course, you might say that this understanding is wrong because people without Jesus clearly do do good things. And in a sense, they do, building a pump that will give clean water to a village is a better thing for the world regardless of who does it. But this passage, and the bible as a whole, doesn’t define good and evil in terms of benefiting society or being morally good independent of reference to God but rather good and evil are defined in reference to God. Goodness is turning to God, trusting him and so obeying him. Does someone trust in God and obey him and so do good things or do they trust in themselves and do things they decide to do, which however good they may seem to be are still done not trusting in God and therefore actually acts of rebellion? I give you an example from my work. A while a go a young person was banned from a youth club. This happens. Quite a lot. Anyway, a week after they were banned they cleverly snuck back into the building and sat down on one of the sofas and refused to leave. I said leave they said no I said yes they said no and so on. They said look, let me prove how good I can be by staying in the youth club and obeying you and not speaking to anyone but just sitting here and I said prove you can obey me by leaving the youth club now as I’m asking you to do. And they said no, I’ll prove I can be good and obey you by staying here quietly and so forth. Do you see how silly that is? The right thing for them to do, the only thing I was asking them to do, was to leave the youth club. They refused to leave the youth club, but insisted that they could still obey me and do good in another way. When we do good things without Christ, this is how we end up acting towards God. We say to God, look at all these good things am I doing, and God says the only good thing I am asking of you is to trust in Jesus and we say no thanks God, I’ll do these good things for you instead of that to prove that I’m good.”
So what then? What has this to do with the riots? And how can this show us how bright and amazing God is in consequence? Well, it shows us at least two things. The first is that these rioters aren’t any worse than anyone else. If we see sin as something we do against God then we have to recognise that without Christ we’re no better than the looters. We have no moral high ground to stand on. Just because they did something worse for society than you think you’ve done doesn’t mean they are more evil.
But more than that, much much better than that, this truth of total depravity means we don’t have to find something loveable about these rioters so that we can forgive them or love them. A lot of talk post-rioting seems to be about how these rioters aren’t so bad, and there are reasons for their behaviour. There is a reason to still love them. While there clearly are underlying issues and causes, God does not need to find goodness and loveability in people so that he can love them. He does not have to justify his love by saying ‘oh, he’s not so bad after all, he really looks after his mum’ or by pointing to the social forces that stopped her getting a job. He is God and He loves because He is love and He justifies that love, He justifies loving people though they are worthless and do not do good, in His Son Jesus. Does anyone say to him how God? How can you love such a wicked person when they do nothing but evil to you? If they do (and Satan does say this to Him) He can point to His Son Jesus and say This is how I justify my love. My Son Jesus paid for their sin and now they are perfect. This is a better and perfect love. Not that we were loveable but that God loved us despite our unloveability. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) If we don’t accept our wickedness without God then we’ll always have claim that we have something good in us that we can hold on to; something that makes us loveable to him. The problem with that is that it places the grounds and security of love in our own character. And that means other people, whether rioting scum or scum politicians, might not have this loveable characteristic. But if we accept that God is so merciful and loving and gracious that he’ll love us in spite of our sin, then how secure are we now! What a God, who loves us though we are evil, and sends his Son to die for us and save us. The God who will love a rioter and send his Son to come save them!