June 20, 2015

Confederate flags and loving our brother

I open with a question:

Is it inconsistent to call for the removal of Confederate flags (from state-owned properties, as well as Christians dissociating themselves from this flag voluntarily), while not calling for similar treatment of Old Glory?

This question has been raised all over my Twitter feed, and perhaps most prominently in a blog post by Douglas Wilson. The US flag does, after all, stand for a number of reprehensible things itself. In our past we have the horrors of slavery...quite the same ones as the Confederacy, come to think of it. We have the massive injustices of murder, land theft, and more of the Native peoples of North America. Currently we murder our babies in the millions. And of course I'm just hitting the lowest of the low notes. So, is there a difference?

I believe the answer is, most definitely, yes. First of all, as Wilson labors in his post, flags mean a lot of things, including what a nation should be. We might say, aspires to be. All men are created equal. That's a good place to start. Not that some men are equal and others are the stuff of personal property. I would press this, though, in a different direction. Because as a nation that is still living, the US can actually still be pulled toward these ideals. That is, our sins, while real, need not be all that defines us 200 years from. We may yet change course, and shape a broader picture for our society that is not one dominated by greed, murder, and the pillaging abuse of our brother for personal gain. 

Is this true of a nation that no longer exists? Can the flag of a dead nation represent abstract and unrealized ideals? I struggle to believe that. Instead, what we have is a historical artifact that represents what actually was there. In the case of the Confederate flag, we have a symbol which stands for a nation whose primary reason for existence was the perpetuating of human slavery. You can argue states rights or economic issues, but these and the vast majority of other reasons sighted for the American Civil War will all tie back to this issue: claiming other humans as sub-human property. Beyond that, we have what the flag has meant since then, with it's use for groups like the KKK and others fighting against civil rights, nay, human rights, for black Americans. That is what the stars and bars stand for. Unmitigated and unjustifiable hatred. And there is no way to change this. It simply stands as self-evident fact.

"But that's not what it means to me!" "That's not all it stood for!" Um, so what? Here becomes the obvious application for those reading this who are believers in Jesus Christ: can you not muster enough brotherly love to see that this is what it means to most of our fellow Americans who aren't white? That this flag is an obvious symbol of white supremacy, and thus to cling to it is a clear and, frankly, ugly disregarding of Scripture (eg, Romans 13:8-10, Romans 14:19)? Is this really rocket science? 

It feels painfully obvious to say, but in addition, I have clear commands in Scripture (Romans 13:1-7, for instance) to obey and submit to the governing authorities. I believe that would include proper respect for the flag of that governing authority. However, in case you have not noticed, no one living today is living in the Confederate States. No one is beholden to that flag.

It is offensive to many, there is no reason to hold onto it besides selfish hardheadedness...can we figure this one out?

June 14, 2015

Repentance, Forgiveness, and Consequences

Just a few thoughts on, as the title suggests, repentance, forgiveness, and consequences.

Many of you may be familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba (if not, you may read it here). You may also be familiar with David's prayer in Psalm 51 (here),

In Psalm 51, David makes a most curious assertion when he says to God, "against you, you only, have I sinned." Having performed an even cursory reading of the story, we know that David has either coerced Bathsheba into adultery, or (perhaps more likely) simply used his power as king to demand her "services". At best he's led her into sin, at worst he's raped her. Then we have her husband, Uriah, whose wife has been used sexually by a man to whom he has been exceedingly loyal, and continues to be, even after the fact. And when Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David tries to trick Uriah into coming home and making this look like his kid; when that fails, he has him purposefully killed in battle. Those are the parties immediately affected, but think also of the nation. Their king has failed to go to war when he should have, plunged himself into sexual sin and the resulting cover-up, and now has brought blood-guilt upon himself. Woe to you, oh land, when your king is a fool. David has, in a very real sense, sinned against the entire nation of Israel.

And yet, God accepts this repentance as genuine and forgives David. From which I think we may learn two primary things.

First, the nature of repentance. David sees his sin as primarily against God. I believe that the weight of his statement in Psalm 51:4 that against God alone he has sinned is meant not so much to deny the reality of his sin against other people as to point to the fact that all sin is ultimately, finally, fully against God. Our injury to others is a result of our rebellion against God, not vice versa. The earthly damage left in its wake is collateral damage, if you will, of the original sin. A heart that desired to serve God would have served his people sacrificially, rather than lazing at the castle. A heart that desired to see God would have turned away from sexual temptation. A heart that desired to follow God would have repented of sin, rather than covering it up. David grasps this. He understands the holiness of God, and that God has every right to blot him out: in his repentance he desires to see God's mercy, to see his transgressions blotted out instead. But he does not ignore the immense offense that has been committed, first and foremost against God.

Second, we see the interface between forgiveness and earthly consequences. Does God forgive David? Yes. Does that free David up from paying a price for his sins? No, because of his sin, his son dies. His son dies. Oh, how we fail to grasp this truth! We say things like "forgive and forget" like they are from the lips of Christ Himself, or speak to some great Christian virtue, when they fly in the face of the biblical witness! God forgives sins, yes. He rescues us from the eternal, burning, hellacious consequences of that sin. He may or may not remove earthly consequences. Frankly, most often not. God's forgiveness is not, as it were, a cleaning of the slate; at least not in an earthly sense. We still live in the real world and our actions bear real consequences. I can't go un-see the porn I viewed as a teenager. I can't take back all of the horrible things I said to siblings. I can't go back and change who I've been. I must live with that. Thank God I can, in the knowledge that He has forgiven me and removed my condemnation. But there are earthly consequences to all of our actions.

As a final note, I want to apply that to parenting. We must not confuse forgiving our children with sheltering them from the right and natural consequences of their sin. We must understand that sin leads to death, and if we shelter them from earthly consequences to their iniquities, we may well be clearing the path for them to run headlong into hell. There is a time for mercy, yes. But the very nature of mercy is that it proves an exception to the natural rule.

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).