This post isn’t for the victims of evil. It isn’t a pious call for the victims to forgive those who have abused them. Instead, this post is for me and the fact that redemption confronts and defeats evil.
I once heard a speaker (I remember the statement but not who said it so I can’t give credit where credit is due) say to a group of us pastors that at our best we are typically preaching to our younger selves at the point in our lives when we came to know the grace of Jesus. That is probably why I focus on the community of the Trinity so much. When I came to know and experience God’s grace I felt alone and that salvation from isolation seems to direct the majority of my preaching.
Right now I need to be reminded that even for the worst of us the possibility of redemption through Jesus is real.
Right now that means for some people that I am really mad at for some racist behavior.
There are a few groups that are socially acceptable to actually hate (socially acceptable does not mean actually acceptable). Racists seem to be one of those groups. If your social media feed is anything like mine it is probably very full of people rightly decrying the evil of racism. I’m not criticizing this because proclaiming racism to be evil is the right thing to proclaim. Racisim is evil. No debate there. To devalue anyone created in the image of God is a sin. Moral outrage is appropriate in the face of such evil.
It is just that sometimes we seem to really enjoy our moral outrage. We fill our cups to the brim with the intoxicant of moral superiority and empty the cup over and over again in our social media posts. We point out how evil “they” are and somehow lift ourselves up by doing this. We merely fail to realize that our sense of moral superiority comes from standing on the bodies of evildoers. It’s okay though because they’re racists and racists, like sexual predators, are okay to devour for our enjoyment.
Or at least it seems that way.
Of course, no one I know would actually admit to being a racist. It is always someone else. I heard this described on the Mockingcast as like the word “yuppie” – no one admits to being a yuppie but everyone knows what one is. The racist is also someone else and whoever they are they are the absolute worst.
Who they actually are is someone who stands in the need of redemption and in Jesus redemption is possible. Even for the racist. Instead of seeing them as someone so hurt that they can’t even see the difference between good and evil, I am tempted to see them as somehow less than. Someone beyond Jesus’s grace. Their redeption may not be possible for humans but with God all things are possible.
Of course, redemption isn’t actually “letting someone off the hook.” If anything it is the opposite. If you think grace, offering mercy, is just saying “oh it is okay” then you don’t understand redemption. At least not biblical redemption.
Biblical redemption implies ascent to the fact that you have participated in evil. Redemption calls evil exactly what it is … evil. No bouncing around it for nicer words. Redemption begins with the perpetrator admitting that what they did was sinful, evil, and wrong. What I did was evil. It is acknowledging what I did and what that action makes me.
I am the one who did this. I am the evildoer.
This isn’t letting someone “off the hook”. If anything it is pushing the hook in deeper. At the end of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission, everyone actually knew what the evildoers had done. The perpetrators didn’t escape justice because they were given absolution. Everyone knew exactly who they were and what they had done. When they walked down the street they were known by the whole community as the one who did that evil. When they went to the store, the pool, the park, or even to the church, they were known for the evil they had done. This is why some of them would rather have faced judgment than receive forgiveness. Biblical redemption is tough.
This is one of the things I really like about Alcoholics Anonymous and many other recovery meetings. When you are in one of those meetings you don’t deny that you are a mess. You lean into the fact that you have done evil. “My name is Robert and I am a sinner … let me detail the ways for you.” You acknowledge what has defined you so that Christ may then place His definition upon you.
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.“
I think this is why so few actually receive the free gift of mercy. It is simply too difficult for us to admit that we have sinned. To admit the evil that we have willingly perpetrated. We would rather just offer a vague meaningless apology than actually admit “I did this and it was evil.” The gate is narrow after all.
We bow our heads in shame and cry, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.“
And He lovingly says “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, I will have mercy on you.”
Man that is tough.