Those stinging words from a black classmate more than fifteen years ago, after I had made a sarcastic comment about his race, still plague my conscience today.
“How could he accuse me of something so egregious?! Where does he get off indicting me on the atrocious decisions of people a long time ago that I don’t even know and with whom I fundamentally disapprove?! I’ve never owned any slaves! My best friend is black! What is this, 1950?! He needs to be less sensitive! If anyone here is racist, it’s HIM!”
This is the volcanic response that welled up in my heart and, unfortunately, out of my mouth! In this instance, the accuser was, in fact, my best friend. And yes, he was black. We didn’t talk for nearly six months after this exchange. If he was expecting an apology for something I didn’t do, then he had another thing coming!
Here I am 16 years later saying, “I’m sorry.”
WHY I’M RACIST.
It’s true that I’ve never owned slaves. Nor have I every supported segregationist ideologies. I have never winced when drinking after a black man from a water fountain or wished that I had a separate bathroom. Yet when God, our Righteous Inspector, Prosecutor, and Judge, dusts both the institutions AND intentions of racism, he finds my fingerprints all over it. I have no choice but to plead, “No contest.”
Writing to Christians in ethnically segregated Rome, The apostle Paul teaches, “…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).”
When Adam disobeyed God, he was cursed and the fruit of that curse was death. His spiritual DNA, so to speak, was devastatingly altered and a death curse would spread to his offspring. The Bible tells us, “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God . . . [but] Adam . . . fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image (Genesis 5:1-3).”
In other words, Adam is our “representative.” When he jumped “offsides,” the entire team got penalized.
Our problem is not that we are “like Adam,” but that we are “in the likeness of Adam.” We share his very nature, which has been corrupted by sin. That is why the Bible tells us that “we are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), and that we have been “conceived in sin, brought forth in iniquity (Psalm 51:5).”
When Adam sinned, we were there. When God cursed humanity, we were there. We bear the same spiritually DNA as those of whom God before the flood, “Every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).”
Surely God’s wiping out nearly all of humanity with a flood reversed the curse, right? Wrong. Even after the flood, with only Noah the “righteous” and his family left standing, God still says, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21).” When Noah decided to strip naked and get wasted, we were there. When Noah’s offspring rebelled against God and fractured humanity into diverse, antagonistic races, countries, and peoples through the sin of Babel, we were there.
The death curse had spread. Racism and ethnocentrism followed. And we were there.
The consequences of the curse have aggressively spread like cancer through our centuries, continents, countries, communities and consciences. Each time I instinctively apply sweeping generalizations to someone on the basis of their ethnicity, the curse is alive.
Every time I’ve secretly root for and celebrate the success of a white athlete in a predominantly black sport, the curse is alive.
Every time my spirit has been judgmental toward other ethnic groups on the basis of my reading skills, diction, syntax, or grammer, the curse is alive.
Every time I’ve accused a minority of “playing the race card,” I’m playing the race card, and the curse is alive.
Every time I consider myself ideologically superior to other ethnic groups on the basis of voting trends — assuming that “they only voted for that guy because of his race and not the issues” — the curse is alive.
Every time I make a pejorative statement or sarcastic comment that generalizes and demeans somebody on the basis of race or ethnicity, the curse is alive.
And so are all those who carry Adam’s DNA.
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.
WHAT JESUS IS DOING ABOUT IT.
In Genesis 12:1-3, God promises that He will redeem the cursed creation through Abraham and Abraham’s offspring. Significantly, Genesis 12 immediately follows the Babel account whereby the death curse scatters and segregates human community. Through Abraham’s offspring, God will bring together that which sin had separated.
He gives us a glorious glimpse of His ideal future through John’s revelation in which every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” that had been scattered by sin are reconciled to one another, and to the God in whose image they were created (Revelation 5, 7). How is God accomplishing this? How does he get humanity from the Babel disaster in Genesis 11 to a diverse, reconciled community of worship in Revelation 5 and 7?
We are introduced to the redeemed and reconciled “table of nations” in a worship song from Revelation 5: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language, and people, and nation (5:9).”
Two chapters later, the nations join in the chorus: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and before the Lamb (7:9)!”
We can spend countless dollars and man hours creating social initiatives to eliminate the blight of racism. But the Bible tells us that the only means by which the death curse and its effects will be eliminated is through a spotless Lamb who becomes the curse for racist sinners.
God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus, and those who have been scattered by sin are being regathered by God through Jesus. This is why Paul writes,
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal 4:27-29).”
Through Christ, the many become one. The death curse at Babel is being undone.
One day, the curse will completely unravel at the return of Jesus and all wounds from our histories will be absorbed in one all-encompassing, all-uniting purpose — the boisterous and harmonious worship of the Lamb who was slain and through whom we have been ransomed and reconciled.
Reconciled to God. Reconciled to one another.
Until then, the Church finds herself between two ages. The “present age” and the “age to come.” She is intended to be a foretaste of that glorious day yet to come, but still finds herself wrestling with the tiresome tensions of a world still standing in the shadows of Babel.
Our hope is in a second Adam. One through whom the disastrous effects of the death curse will be reversed and the tarnished image of God in man will be restored.
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17).”
My hope is that one day, I will stand ransomed and reconciled with my high school friend, and all those I’ve knowingly — and unknowingly — wounded with my racism, singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”
Until then, may we continually grow in grace and humility toward one another, learning to bear with one another and to forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us (Colossians 3).”
Agree or disagree? Offer your comments below.
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