Even Bad People Matter

There are those who seem to get bent out of shape by the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” This is odd, because the phrase has arisen due to Black people facing a crisis of racism. The response by some, “All lives matter” misunderstands the point. There is a story in the New Testament that might be helpful:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:10-14).

To respond to Jesus’ parable with “All Sheep Matter” would mean you missed the whole point.

And so there is justifiable push back against the phrase “all lives matter.” It’s not that it isn’t true in other contexts, of course.

But not all attempts at pushing back against the misunderstanding of “Black Lives Matter” are any better. Some are worse. I recently found a remarkably stupid meme posted on Facebook which states:

All lives don’t matter.

KKK lives don’t matter.

Nazi lives don’t matter.

Rapist lives don’t matter.

Pedophile lives don’t matter.

Stop saying all lives matter.

On the surface it seems a clever response, perhaps and certainly emotionally satisfying.  But justifying hatred leads to very dark places.  Once you can start saying certain people don’t matter because they are bad people, you soon find the people you can decide are bad easily grows exponentially.  We will all agree that these sinners that have been listed are guilty of despicable actions.  But they remain human beings nevertheless, and saying that a human being doesn’t matter means you are open to gas chambers sooner or later. You are willing to decide some people are to be excluded from the human race.  Dehumanization is a dangerous road to get on. What have you become when you walk that path?

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying that the best way to destroy your enemies is to turn them into your friends.  That’s what God is in the business of doing: the opposite of what humans by their nature do.  We pervert good for evil.  God likes to pervert evil for good.

Paul stood by approvingly while a lynch mob murdered Stephen, and sought to arrest any Christians he could find.  But rather than kill him, God redeemed him and transformed him into a friend, making him a preacher of the very thing he had most hated.

Jesus of course had something to say about the attitude reflected in the meme.  He was talking to people who had experienced much mistreatment and oppression.  They did have enemies that it was only natural to hate.  But love, mercy, forgiveness and grace do not ask us to say that bad behavior is okay. It simply means that even bad human beings can be transformed and that should always be our goal.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor z and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)

 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:6-10)

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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