In his powerful book, Under Our Skin, Benjamin Watson talks about the power of the media to shape our perceptions. On Sunday, March 6, 1965, 600 blacks led by Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted to march from Selma, Alabama to the capital in Montgomery to protest voter registration practices. In what became known as Bloody Sunday, state troopers beat the marchers with clubs as they crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
When the images of the atrocities were broadcast on TV, white Americans were horrified. Public opinion galvanized against the troopers. When the marchers tried again on March 21st, they were 2000 strong. Along the way, they were joined by people of all races from across the country. When they reached the steps of the capitol, their number had swelled to 50,000.
Watson said that for him, the enduring images of the march were the faces of women, which reflected “fear and faith, hurt and hope; their eyes, focused on changing the reality of life, perhaps not for themselves, but for their children; their lips, prayer for deliverance, not so much from the white state troopers as from a life and future of indignity.”
Then Watson asks, what is the impact of images of “black people burning cars and raiding convenience stores?” Images like those have the power to undo “the purpose, spirit, and progress” peaceful marchers fought for in Selma.
Images have the power to both unite and divide, don’t they?
Today, we tune into the cable channels and social media platforms that support our point of view. What passes for news are often “canned shouting matches that only deepen people’s entrenched positions.”
Maybe we should turn off our screens and focus on some images from the Bible.
Long ago, Moses asked God, “Show me your glory.”
God replied, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”
And what is the “goodness” of God?
God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and put a hand over Moses’ face, so that Moses could only get a glimpse of God’s back. The image of God’s face would have been fatal.
As God passed by, God said in Exodus 34:6: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished….”
One might be able to tell where we stand by what channel we tune into, but we can’t manipulate the image of God to our support our point of view.
God is both loving and just.
Maybe the most powerful image of all is the cross, where both the love and justice of God were satisfied.