Just a few quick thoughts on Voddie Baucham’s post at the Gospel Coalition this morning:
I want to connect what I wrote here about the Ferguson situation with Baucham’s post. My point was not directly a comment on the justice or injustice of the decision not to indict Wilson. My inclination was expressed modestly in my general trust of the American courts. I stated that I’d rather be tried in a court in this country than any other nation. I haven’t done the research to have any more of an opinion of the Wilson/Brown decision than that. My primary point was that there are tectonic plates shifting under all of this. On the one hand, the violent looting mobs are irrational, ill conceived, and immoral. In some ways, they are only serving for some to illustrate racial misconceptions rather than to disprove them. But on the other hand, and to the point of my original post, there is a deeper logic at work. Whether or not the system failed in this particular moment, there are massive cracks in the system and the single most glaring is the legacy of racial eugenics. As some have pointed out, the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.
In other words, while there may not be any conscious recognition of the connection, I do believe there has been a systemic racism in our country upheld and defended by American courts. In so far as white men in black robes have upheld and defended the murder of millions of black babies, the anger and frustration of blacks in America is well founded.
One of the particularly salient points Baucham makes is the uselessness of appealing to undefined systemic sins. Baucham writes:
I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.
It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.
I completely agree with Baucham and would only add that “systemic sin” is only a useful category for sins we can name and repent of. As it stands in our current climate, “systemic sin” is the handy monicker for guilt manipulating and theological complexifying. People need theological complexifiers for issues they don’t actually want to deal with. Let’s have a dialogue. Let’s chase our tails in theological circles. Let’s form committees that can bleat sympethetically for several years before returning a bland recommendation about racial reconciliation that’s as helpful as a wet towel. This is a form of argumentation that refuses to actually argue. It’s like a three year old boy boasting of exploits while hiding safely behind his mother’s skirts, a form of bluster that claims to be engaging in the world while enmeshed in the safety of prevailing talking points.
I have no problem pointing to systemic issues, but they should be the kind of issues that can be named, defined, and repented of. The devil loves vague guilt, vague accusations, vague condemnation because then you can never be sure you’ve actually repented, actually been forgiven, actually been reconciled. But this is a nasty demon masquerading as an angel of light, and it plagues deep divisions like race issues.
And this is why we must proclaim again and again the cross of Jesus, not in a perfunctory way, not in check-the-boxes sort of way. We need to proclaim the cross, knowing nothing but Christ crucified because in the cross our flesh got killed. In the cross all our fleshly pride got crucified, executed. And there all our fleshly, racial, biological lives were put to death and died. And now we no longer live as Americans or blacks or hispanics. Now it is Christ who lives in us. But vague, systemic guilt is a sucker punch. It claims to want to dialogue, but all it actually wants to do is rehearse the wrongs, rehearse the problems, go back over the sins again and again. And get this: the problem isn’t that the hurts go down deep or that the sins are truly hideous. The problem is that our bitterness can’t go deep enough. Our purgatorial rehearsals can’t scrape together enough tears, enough heart break, enough blood to cleanse the stains on our hands. Penance can’t atone for sin. It just can’t. We can’t muster up the pain. No committees, no joint statements, no amount of hand wringing or moping can pay for our sins.
And, to the point here: forgiveness cannot be tricked from understanding. You don’t forgive somebody because they fully understand, because they’ve felt the depth of the hurts, the wrongs. And that’s because it’s not possible. Sin is an infinite offense against God and in so far as men and women are made in God’s image and we are sinned against, we participate in that infinite hurt, that infinite pain, that infinite offense. How could finite men and women possibly understand the depth of their own sins or the sins that have been committed against them? The problem with vague systemic guilt is that it’s an attempt at holding a finite individual or society over the fires of infinite pain. But you can’t squeeze infinite justice out of finite individuals. To reappropriate Mick Jagger: You try and you try, but you can’t get no satisfaction.
But Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus, because He is God in the flesh, can bear the infinite pain, the eternal hurt, and in the cross, God displayed His righteous indignation over every white man stolen from his home and sold into slavery, every black girl raped by her malevolent master, every child beheaded by terrorists, both those in the middle east and those in America performed by men in white suits.
The cross is God’s infinite fury with every injustice, every lie, every lustful thought, every violation, and in Christ, God Himself has felt our pain, our hurt, our shame. And the glory of the cross is that He has felt it more than we ever can.
Until we see this, until we get this we will be going around in circles trying to solve these issues, but the cross is where true reconciliation happens, where guilt is paid for, where bitterness dies, where real restitution and repentance happens, where repentance and reconciliation are not attempts to squeeze blood out of our brothers. Rather, because our debts have all been paid, Christian reconciliation moves forward on the basis of the goodness of God, in thanksgiving.
And on that note, may God give every one of us a truly Happy Thanksgiving.