America is being torn apart at the seams. Our long divide over political and social issues has come to a head with rioting in the streets over the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, and other racial injustices present in our society.
Now, I don’t want to talk about whether Floyd was murdered or not. Most of America, both left and right, are in actual agreement that what happened to Floyd was wrong, and even murder. And I don’t want to talk about whether or not there is systemic racism in America’s police departments. There are intelligent arguments for and against these views from both sides of the spectrum. What is tearing our nation apart? Who is guilty? Blacks? Whites? Liberals? Conservatives? The police?
I would like to suggest that there is something more important than assigning blame across our racial divide. For the Christian, there is an important point of scripture that we need to consider if we are going to see our nation through this current crisis. We must put aside our righteous anger on either side of the political spectrum. Regardless of who is right or wrong, we must go beyond assigning guilt and do something more radical.
We must take the guilt upon ourselves.
There are two people in scripture who come to mind that demonstrate the importance of taking the guilt of others upon ourselves. These men are Daniel and Nehemiah. Both men lived in a time when God had judged their nation for their sins and put them into exile. Both men prayed for the restoration of their nation, confessing the guilt of their nation as if they were personally guilty of the sin that brought their nation so low. Notice how these men prayed. Let’s begin with Daniel.
“We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly, and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets…To us, O Lord, belongs open shame…because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:5-6, 8-9).
Nehemiah prayed in the same way. “We have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:6-7).
What’s interesting about Daniel and Nehemiah is that we have no evidence that either of these men were guilty of the sins they prayed about. In fact, we have every evidence that they lived exemplary lives. But they took upon themselves the sins of their people, asking God to forgive as if they themselves were guilty. Look at their language. “We have sinned.” “We have not listened.” “We have acted corruptly.”
Praying this way is counter-intuitive. We usually repent of the sins we have committed, but not for the sins of others. Why should I pray about my guilt of racism when I am not a racist?
Consider another passage of scripture that at first glance might not seem to have anything to do with our racial divide. Look carefully at what the Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians.
“Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18–19).
What is interesting about this passage is the word, “Reconciliation.” Normally we think of reconciliation as two opposing parties coming together, compromising on issues and being restored in relationship. And while this is a noble thing, it is not what “reconciliation” is meant in this passage. The Greek word used in this passage literally means, “An exchange of equal value.” In other words, God was in Christ reconciling us as if we were of equal value to him. Consider how shocking this is. God considers you as of equal value to his own perfect, sinless son. And it is this very attitude that we must have about one another whether black or white, whether police or suspect, whether protestor or rioter, whether citizen or illegal, amongst all people of every kind. God considers you and your rival as of equal value to him. So too, you must consider that other person, whether black or white, conservative or liberal, criminal or cop, or any other label as of equal value to yourself. Even the one who has sinned against you.
Ultimately, it was Jesus who took our sins upon himself. The innocent for the guilty. Can we claim to be true followers of Christ if we are not willing to do the same?
I don’t think that we, as a nation, can have our racial divide closed if we are not willing to take the guilt of others upon ourselves and recognize their equal worth. This divide won’t be healed with riots or criminal charges, with new laws or enforcing old ones. National guard in the streets and even peaceful protests don’t and won’t make a long-term difference. As a nation we’ve been having the racial conversation for decades. If things have improved for minorities so much over those decades, then why are we still in the sinking boat that we are today? In all these things we fight for “our right” and “our rights.” We must put that aside and go to God and our brothers in repentance. We need the attitude of Daniel and Nehemiah. We need the attitude and actions of Jesus. Without our willingness to take the guilt upon ourselves there can be no change. And it must start with the church.