Did you ever notice that the Bible makes absolutely no attempt to “sanitize” the history of its key figures? The sins of Moses, David, Paul, etc., are on full display in Scripture. It is very clear that Jesus alone is sinless and worthy (Rev 5:1-5). He came into a sin-sick world to bring redemption and forgiveness.
So why doesn’t the Bible (a) eradicate the histories of all of these and other evil people, or (b) just ignore their mistakes and only present their virtues? Scripture provides the answer:
“Remember our history, friends, and be warned…” (1 Corinthians 10:1, MSG).
Paul then proceeds to list many failures of the chosen people, and says:
“The same thing could happen to us… These are all warning markers—DANGER!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were” (1 Corinthians 10:6-11, MSG).
I am not celebrating anyone’s sin. I don’t condone Moses’ murder of an Egyptian, David’s adultery and subsequent cover-up (that also involved murder), or Paul’s horrific persecution of first-century believers. We learn from those, and we celebrate the mercy of God in spite of their grievous flaws.
People are thinking much about the anarchy, rebellion, and mob mentality we see happening in our country these days. Some of this is targeted toward those who owned slaves or fought for the confederacy. In that light, let me clarify a few things. I do not condone slavery and am 100% thankful that such an evil has been eradicated from our land.
I appreciate those who worked for abolition and am thankful that one of my heroes, John Wesley, was influential toward ending slavery in England. Six days before his death, Wesley wrote his final letter. His purpose was to encourage William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, in his tireless fight to end the slave trade in England. Wesley wrote:
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Having said all that, let me go back to my original point. Neither sanitizing nor erasing history is wise; we must learn from history. If we are to vaporize every sinner in history, there will be no history. I am not defending every action of people for whom statues have been erected, but I am advocating for a civil society where its affairs are conducted with honor and respect.
In thinking the lessons of history, I was reminded of a scene from “Remember the Titans” where coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) speaks to his high school football players during a time of racial tension amongst his team members:
Anybody know what this place is? This is Gettysburg.
This is where they fought the Battle of Gettysburg.
Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we’re still fighting amongst ourselves today.
This green field right here was painted red, bubbling with the blood of young boys, smoke and hot lead pouring right through their bodies. Listen to their souls, men:
‘I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family.’
You listen. And you take a lesson from the dead.
If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed — just like they were.
I don’t care if you like each other or not. But you will respect each other.And maybe — I don’t know — maybe we’ll learn to play this game like men.
There has never been a more important time for believers to look intently to the Lord Jesus Christ and his example. Hebrews 1:9 (NLT) states:
You love justice and hate evil.
Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you,
pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.
The Passion Translation renders that verse, “For you have cherished righteousness and detested lawlessness…”
We should hate evil and lawlessness. We should have the utmost disdain for every form of racism, oppression, violence, and abuse. At the same time, we should love justice and cherish righteousness. We are called to be people of love, and Paul teaches that love “does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail” (1 Corinthians 13:6, AMP).
Sin permeates the history of humanity, but God works redemptively nonetheless. While I celebrate the many sincere voices calling out for righteousness and justice in our nation, I am concerned about a “fifth column” in our nation that is motivated by a very godless, Marxist ideology. This hellish element appears to call for equality, but in fact, they desire to see the subversion and destruction of our nation. Marxist regimes that have promised to rebuild better societies have always done exactly the opposite, and untold millions have been slaughtered by totalitarian leaders and thought police who ruthlessly enforce “groupthink” and seek to obliterate a nation’s history.
I was reminded today of the admonition Jesus gave to a church that was resting on its past reputation. To the church at Sardis, Jesus said “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” Revelation 3:1-2).
Is it possible that the same principle also applies, at least somewhat, to the condition of our nation? Clearly, our works are not perfect before God. We have come a long way. We have made some good progress. But there is much yet to be done. Is it possible that we need to “strengthen the things that remain” instead of seeing the complete dismantling and destruction of what has been built?
If you think I’ve written this to defend every statue that has ever been erected, you have entirely missed my point. What I am stating is that we must learn from history, and if we are to “erase” from history every person who has sinned, just be aware that someday, you will probably be erased as well.
We would do well to remember the wisdom of the psalmist:
LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you (Psalm 130:3).
I am a Christian and a minister, and the gospel will always be my message. I am also a concerned citizen, and I am praying for my nation. And one final clarification… I am not advocating a “nationalistic gospel” that places my country on a pedestal and diminishes nations. I am have preached the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in more than thirty nations, and I am mindful that the Savior shed his precious blood so that heaven could become home to people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9, NLT).
God bless you richly as you exalt Jesus!