Ex nihilo, nihil fit
(Out of nothing, nothing comes)
According to the website space.com, in science, the Big Bang Theory is, “the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it says the universe as we know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.”
Similar to the scientific view of the origins of the universe, there are those today who have a ‘Big Bang’ view of racism.
Like the reality of the universe itself, they acknowledge the existence of racism – though the definition of ‘racism’ varies greatly – but that its existence is purely the result of uncaused “singularities” that are external to the individuals who would exhibit such a sinfully prejudiced disposition. Consequently, racism, with its myriad definitions and interpretations, is spoken of primarily, though not exclusively, as systemic or global with regard to its origins as opposed to being intrinsic or congenital in nature.
This is important to note as, over the past several decades, the strategies and tactics employed to ‘fight’ racism have largely been directed at the structures which many perceive to be representative of a culture of systemic racism rather than the attitudes that gave rise to those structures to begin with.
But structures are not formed from nothing. Discriminatory policies and practices, whether systemic or otherwise, do not come into existence by virtue of a series of serendipitous or autonomous convergences of ideological and philosophical singularities.
Like many who subscribe to the notion that the universe – with all its intricate and recondite complexities – was formed ex nihilo, adherents of “Big Bang Racism” believe racism to be the result of forces and influences that are external to human nature. In other words, it is the systems and structures themselves that result in people’s racist attitudes and behaviors as opposed to the other way around. Which is why many today place a higher value on transferring monuments than transforming hearts (Rom. 12:2).
The argument I am positing here is often a point of consternation for Christian social justice advocates, many of whom deem it of more missional benefit to protest what is wrong with “the system” than to preach what is wrong with us (Rom. 3:23). But such was also the case during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
There were people then who, convinced that Jesus was the agent of socio-political change for whom they had been waiting – and praying – made the eternal mistake of seeing Him as their king and not their Messiah, never realizing that to whatever extent “the system” under which they lived was corrupt or unjust, it was merely a reflection of the innately sinful individuals who comprised “the system” (Eccl. 5:8-9).
As the 19th-century theologian J.C. Ryle wrote in his classic work Holiness, “If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false and imperfect remedies.”
Ryle wrote those words in 1879. Yet I believe they are just as relevant today, as social justice advocates continue to pursue “false and imperfect remedies” for a spiritual malady whose genesis is quite definitive yet is being treated as an ex nihilo or Big Bang-type of reality. But as pastor and theologian, John MacArthur exclaims,
“Nothing we can do for ourselves will free us from the bondage of sin. Adam’s transgression had a catastrophic effect, not only on him and his environment, but also on his progeny, including you and me. And we cannot make sense of our moral plight until we come to grips with where it all began.” – Think Biblically: Recovering a Christian Worldview, p. 87
Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume stated, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.” This applies to racism as well. Racism is not an ex nihilo proposition borne out of theoretical Big Bang reasoning. It is the product of a spiritually depraved heart that is innately darkened by the deceitfulness of sin.
In other words, racism is always individual before it is ever institutional.
As Jesus declares in Mk. 7:21-23,
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
At the heart of the social justice movement, and its constant calls for putting an ‘end’ to racism, is the misguided idea that humanity can fix itself by simply deconstructing old systems and structures and replacing them with new ones.
But the antecedent question many social justice advocates are failing to consider is: how did humanity become broken in the first place? The answer intrinsically conveys why such logic is misguided to begin with, for everything that exists has both an origin and a cause (Gen. 1:1), including the brokenness of humanity (Gen. 3). Conversely, the answer further communicates that remedying humanity’s brokenness is extrinsic to our nature as human beings.
In biblical terms, there is only justice and injustice. Scripture never uses qualifiers like ‘social’ as if to suggest there are various ‘kinds’ of justice. To apply God’s precepts equitably to each of His image-bearers is justice; to fail to do so is injustice (Ps. 106:3; Pr. 28:5; Isa. 1:17; Mic. 6:8; 1 Jn. 3:4).
Christ understood what many of us do not – that our fundamental problem isn’t the systems or structures under which we live as a society. They are merely symptoms of the problem. Our problem is our soul. Which is why the gospel is so necessary in the first place (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 2:1-9).
When all has been said and done, unless and until you and I, as individuals, begin to recognize not only that racism exists but why it exists, we will continue to regard it as an ex nihilo phenomenon produced ‘out there somewhere’, when the problem lies much closer – within us.
Humbly in Christ,