This is a quick follow up thought after reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Throughout the book, there were a lot of challenging thoughts on race but something stood out to me when Coates began to reflect on history. I should probably state that all these opinions are just impressions from reading his book.
One of the themes of the book, though, was Coates’ fascination with this idea of “body”. When he was growing up he learned in his neighborhood that power meant the ability to assert your will over someone else’s body whereas powerlessness was only truly recognized when someone could attack your body with impunity.
These ideas were only cemented in his mind as he grew up, went to college, and became a man. The world around him told him that his body and those like him were dispensable and therefore those who cared about him and lived with him protected their bodies with a type of fervor that a man who has grown up never absorbing the affects of slavery could know. Since the body was what was being attacked, the body became ultimate. It became his god.
Coates, in his learning, then proceeded to apply this perspective back through history and in his eyes it held. However, yet another belief emerged due to his observation. To Coates, life became a zero-sum game. One body only ascended to power when another was beat into submission.
This was a striking and impactful thought to my slightly insulated mind. “Empires and kingdoms only rise by the destruction of bodies,” I thought. Well, through my limited knowledge of history, I resonated with this concept briefly. Taking only the United States as an example, it was only created by the destruction of both British and American bodies and then for a long time only prospered due to the structure of slavery.
Soon, though, I halted in my line of thought. Out of all the empires and kingdoms of this earth I came to one exception to this supposed rule. Coates posits that kingdoms rise by the destruction of other people. But the anomaly comes when the ruler of a kingdom gave himself over to murderers in order to give life to others. The Christian kingdom rose, not by the destruction of others, but in the face of the destruction of its own members. It is a kingdom of sacrifice for the elevation of those who are outside of it.
When I read from someone’s perspective such as Coates, I learn a lot. And in that learning I also come away with an idea of what it feels like to have no hope. What hope is there in a world that seems set against you from the outset and seems determined to take away everything that you hold dear? Well if you view the world as Coates does, there seems to be very little if any at all.
But the truth is that we were not made to idolize our bodies or anything else in this world for that matter. We were not created for a zero-sum game. When Jesus Christ died on that cross He altered the equation so that everyone who believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life. Everyone who laid down their life as he did would be picked back up again just as he was.
We were not made to live in fear. We were made to live with sacrificial courage and through Christ we have no need to fear. Let us therefore live a life free of fear and full of faith.