These days we seem to go through a “cultural convulsion” in our land. Physical convulsions occur in our bodies when something goes wrong causing our muscles to contract and relax rapidly and repeatedly. We cannot help ourselves. We often lose consciousness and shake. Convulsions are a dramatic sign that a person needs help.
That seems to be where we are as a nation. Coast-to-coast, north-to-south we have movements and counter-movements, violence and arguments, charges and counter-charges. Many Christians choose to say “God is in control” as if that solved the problems. We often sidestep our responsibilities in that way, as well as our opportunities to be in a sense God’s “first responders.” But neither God nor His people can ignore the pain and anger and confusion around us. Instead, we are called to aid others. Like the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable, we are not to be drawing lines about who we will help and who we will not help. So, what sort of aid are we giving to the world?
We know that God is big on forgiveness. That’s how we became part of His family. But today there seems to be a shortage of forgiveness. Public figures are condemned for past incidents or words or photographs supposedly illustrating their sin. We do not forgive. We accuse. We do not pray. And we ignore God’s truth: “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”? That “all” includes all humankind today and all humankind of the past, those whose sins we discover and those whose sins are yet to be discovered.
This is evident in the way we are trying to deal with our nation’s history. We seem surprised and angry when we discover that our heroes, our founding fathers and mothers were sinners. So we try to erase the past. But can we destroy enough statues, change enough titles, put away enough symbols to change our past?
Nehemiah, Daniel, Ezra, our ancestors in the faith, knew that time does not flow backward. God was not going to change Israel’s history. He is not in the business of changing our history. These men prayed in difficult times brought on by the sins of the past. As they recognized those sins they did not pray but held God’s words, judgment, and mercy before them as they prayed. They were determined in so far as possible not to repeat the sins of the past. (Cf. Ezra 9:5f, Nehemiah 1, Daniel 9)
We cannot change the past of our nation. We cannot forgive those who have gone before. That is the ministry of Christ the great forgiver. We can, however, recognize the sins of our past, particularly as they have contributed to our present agonies. We can change what is in our hands today that needs to be changed. When we prioritize God’s mercy and grace, His use of fallible men and women of their own time, we can see more clearly the wonder of our nation’s history. We can deal with the present time, the only time that is ours.
These are enflamed times. Feelings range from disgust to fascination. Prejudice and arrogant pride sit in the same soul. There are no sinless among us. So, these are the times to hear James’ counsel, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20 ESV)