So we just witnessed another round of opportunistic outrage. A video was released of the violent beating and tazing of Tyre Nichols, and it certainly appears that some Memphis police officers massively overstepped, abused their authority, ultimately resulting in Tyre’s death. Of course, the Left has used this as a moment to preach their gospel of systemic racism, white supremacy, and revolution. The theme is something like: America was built on inherently racist principles, so the whole thing must be burned down to the ground and a new society must be formed on the basis of anti-racism, which apparently functions a lot like a racial form of Marxism. Racial minorities, which apparently now includes so-called sexual minorities, must lead the revolution, deposing the rich and powerful (mostly white males), until a new equilibrium emerges.
Now there’s all kinds of problems with this false gospel. It identifies the original sin of America as genes and skin pigment as somehow inherent to the system. And then it identifies the solution as revolution, violently grabbing the power levers and then, as Marx prophesied, demolition of the old oppressive system and building a new utopian society of equality and harmony. But if corruption is inherent in our genes and abuse of power is inherent in our pigment, why in the world would we think that the new leaders grabbing the power levers will be any better than the last oppressors and tyrants? They won’t be. The gospel of revolution and demolition is false and empty. It just trades oppressors and tyrants and crushes the weak and the needy in every generation. Just ask the peoples of Russia and China and North Korea.
However, sometimes in our critique of this false worldview, I think we may dismiss the whole thing as hogwash, when there are actually a handful of truths present that we need to acknowledge and not dismiss. Again, I certainly grant that their supposed original sin is hogwash, and I also grant that the proposed solution and outcomes are hogwash. I also reject the notion that all responsibility, all guilt, and all potential for progress rest solely in the collective, the mass of society, or the systems built in a society.
Nevertheless, I do believe that the collective, societal systems that men build are players. They are not the sole players, but it’s true that men build systems. We build civil governments, we build traditions, we build customs, we build law codes, we build families and businesses and cultures; we do function to some extent as bodies, communities, and collectives. The problem is defining human meaning and potential solely in terms of collectives and systems.
Now the biblical name for this reality is “covenant.” We exist in various covenants in our families, in our nations, in our communities, in our churches. These covenants have real existence and they have real impact on our lives. They are not the sole factors in everything, and individual choices and responsibilities remain primary, but we are not merely a drawer full of marbles rolling around by ones. We are like individual cells that can and do join together by covenant bonds in marriage, church membership, and civic citizenship, along with various contracts and agreements we make with schools, businesses, and other community associations, along with many other (often) unspoken cultural practices and allegiances. We are members of various platoons, with overlapping loyalties, overlapping and varying responsibilities, and these various allegiances, responsibilities, and loyalties, along with our personal, individual responsibilities are all before God, and to our point here, they are all in play in this world, they have real influence, for good or for evil.
So the main point I want to make in this post is simply that it is true that men can and do build systems of oppression. The families we form, the communities we serve, the churches we attend, the nations we build all have systemic functions, influences, and gravities, either pulling us in healthy directions or else not. When they are not built on biblical norms, they will necessarily be systems of oppression. And this is because all humanistic systems oppress, and all humanistic systems are greasy poles of rivalries and enmities and powerplays.
When the final word, the ultimate authority, the decisive standard is not outside of this world, that means it’s (at least in theory) within reach of any of us. If ultimate power is not transcendent, people naturally think it’s possible to grab for it. This is why everything is reduced to power and oppression, empowerment and abuse of power in an atheistic worldview. But in the real world, the world that God made, all authority and power is derived from God. God is over all. God is the final arbiter, the decisive standard, and no one can reach Him. No one can even get close. It is not even possible for His power, His ultimate authority to be handed off, shared, stolen, or relinquished. He is God forever. Amen. The Creator-creature divide is infinite, and no creature is ever, even close to crossing over.
But men really can build impressive humanistic systems of oppression, with cultural and moral gravity and momentum that tend toward injustice and oppression. And when previously virtuous societies are given over to this oppression, the “system” is a judicial judgment and blindness from God. God not only gives individual people over to their sins and folly (Rom. 1), God also gives peoples, families, churches, and nations over to judicial blindness and folly, and those covenant curses are often fully systemic. So the discussion of systemic oppression is not all by itself wrong or foolish. They are often describing reality as it really is in a fallen world. And in this fallen world, systems of oppression can come in the form of oppressive economic policies, housing policies, racial policies, taxation policies, and judicial policies, and much more. If it’s a stick, men full of hubris can band together and find a way to hit you with it.
The Only Way Out
The only way out is by repentance, both individual and corporate. While individualists focus on the necessity individual responsibility and repentance, they are missing the covenant component. They are missing the fact that God made the world in such a way to weave us together through various relationships and vows. And God intends for repentance to spread naturally through those associations and bonds. The collectivists are wrong for thinking that we are only impersonal points in the collective blob, rendering individual responsibility and repentance nearly meaningless. But the Bible teaches that we need bother realities. And we need repentance on both levels.
Jesus called upon churches to repent in Revelation as churches, or else He promised to remove their lampstand. So pastors and elders may pray and repent on behalf of their congregations. Fathers and husbands, are the heads of their households, and therefore, they can pray and repent on behalf of their families to the Lord, just as Job did when he offered sacrifices and asked God to cover any sins his children may have committed. And civil magistrates may truly repent to God on behalf of their citizens just as Josiah and Hezekiah and the King of Nineveh did, and God will hear in Heaven and answer and forgive. Of course, individuals must repent for themselves as well. Every individual will also stand before God for their own personal choices and decisions, but God made the world such that we have these covenant systems and they are capable of carrying either blessing or cursing. And of course, if you are a faithful individual in a cursed system, you are responsible before God to acknowledge that walk faithfully there.
If you only mock the systemic blame shifting, you are likely to miss the covenant realities. If you only mock the collective guilt mongering, you are likely to miss the covenant potential. It’s absolutely true that you are not guilty simply because of the amount of money in your bank account, or the color of your skin, or your sex, or where you are from. And by the same token, you are not justified or innocent for any of those reasons either. All of that is stupid. But we are united by various covenants and promises, loyalties and allegiances. And God does see those relationships and He does honor them, since He invented the three central ones: family, church, and nation.
And by the same token, there is such a thing as systemic justice and blessing. But this is no impersonal lucky charm; it is the personal, covenant blessing of the Triune God (Dt. 28). When God promises blessing on Israel’s fields and flocks, kitchens and dining rooms, battlefields and courtrooms, children and grandchildren, what do we call that kind of blessing? We call that Deuteronomic blessing. We call it covenantal blessing, but you might also call it systemic blessing. It’s God’s personal blessing on the organization, on the structures of justice, mercy, kindness, and truth, traditions and customs of love and loyalty, that we’ve put in place by God’s grace in obedience to Him.
Photo by Deva Darshan on Unsplash
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