As you have probably seen in the news, a common phrase at protests these days is, “Say his (or her) name.” When a life is cut short, it is important to remember that each person is a human being, not a statistic nor merely the topic of some point to be made about one’s own cause. God created us in His image (even if some of us – like myself – turned out a little weird), and He puts a high value on each of us (ref. Leviticus 24:17).
I think that this phrase is a good reminder for all of us: that any loss of life is tragic, from the womb to extremely old age. Anyone’s death, whether of “natural causes” (which are really the curse of sin) or at the hands of another human being (regardless of the reason), represents the end of certain opportunities. For those who don’t know Jesus Christ, their death closes the window for their soul to be saved. For those who have already accepted Jesus and secured eternal life, death represents the end of their service to God and to others on earth. (Paul reflected upon this in Philippians 1:21-24.)
God did not create humankind for death, though. He created us for life. Death is not God’s ideal; rather, it is the consequence of our sins (see Genesis 2:15-17).
I think that John Donne captured some of my thoughts well (although my reasons for valuing human life are perhaps different from his) in his well-known quote:
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
For this reason (and others), I am certain that we cannot entirely solve this challenge (i.e., individuals dying at the hands of other people) through merely human means. We are sinners, living in a world full of sinners, and our own efforts inevitably fall short. Having said that, I do believe that we should continue to try – in earnest – to fight against evil, wherever we find it (and unfortunately, there is plenty of evil to go around).
For the most effective solution to sin and death, though, we must call upon another name. It is not enough to merely name those who have died because of sin (whether this was their own sin, someone else’s sin, or the general brokenness of this world because of our collective sin). It is also not enough to name those who have sinned (no matter how much we may dislike them or be angry at them). Naming these people may occasionally be necessary, but it is not sufficient.
The name that can truly help us – both as individuals and as a society – is that of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away —all who have been called by the Lord our God.”
Acts of the Apostles 2:37-39 NLT
In a world that may accept general references to “God” or “faith” (but only if these phrases aren’t followed up by specific details and expectations), we need a concrete person who actually did something about our problems, and who gave us a plan to make us better. In fact, we’ve needed that since the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), and none of our plans completely solved the problem of sin, along with its consequences, until Jesus Christ came to earth. Jesus didn’t just explain the plan of God’s salvation for every person who will accept it (see John 3:16). In addition to His teachings, He was the plan (see John 14:6). His perfect life, whose blessings He exchanged for the death that our sinful actions deserved, became the solution to our failures, our sins, and our inability to fix things ourselves (see also passages like 1 Corinthians 6:11).
As a result, a fallen world needs to hear the name of Jesus Christ. Those who know Him must share the good news: that He brings the healing, peace, and life that we need. (We must also do our best to live as He did, following God’s leading on a path that is better: not only for us, but for others as well.) Those who don’t yet know about Jesus Christ are only a single decision away from choosing to read or hear about Him and His great message. (In fact, if this describes you, I encourage you to click on Luke 1 or John 1, and start reading about Jesus.)
Government can’t solve all of our problems. Movements can’t solve all of our problems. Other people can’t solve all of our problems. And we certainly can’t solve all of our problems ourselves. Only Jesus Christ can make the change – a complete transformation – that we need. Only then can we expect to truly change the world for the better.
So, if you want to honor those who have died unnecessarily at the hands of others, I encourage you to say their name, and to remember them. Just don’t stop there. Consider Jesus Christ, who allowed Himself to be murdered unjustly, and say His name as well. That is the only name that can truly save us all.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.