What’s even stronger than the world’s most powerful nation? It’s something God has placed deep within the human soul.
“You know what? How about I get you a one-way way ticket to Venezuela! Then maybe you’ll realize how great this country is!” Sound like anybody’s Thanksgiving meal? I would bet an entire pumpkin pie (that’s a big deal for me) that something similar was said at thousands of Thanksgivings across the country this year.
Here’s the context: Red-state parents send their kids off to deep-blue colleges, and the kids come back home armed with slogans and statistics proving how systemically racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and imperialistic the USA is. Parents respond that, sure, it’s an imperfect country with some unfortunate history, but compare it to the rest of the world! We should be grateful for the good things we enjoy in this great land we have built.
“You mean stolen,” retorts the student. We’re living on land stolen from the native inhabitants, he accuses. Anything of substance we’ve built was done on stolen land through slave labor. Even capitalism is racist, continues the student, who goes on to describe the virtues of a socialist system. This prompts the parent to offer to buy the one-way ticket to see one of the trodden trophies of socialism. The conversation’s getting really heated even as the turkey on the plates is getting cold.
Should the Argument Work?
Should the parent’s “great nation” argument work? There’s a lot of truth to it. Millions of people are trying to get into the US, not escape from it. There are some substantial benefits that come with living in the US which you would have to have a PhD in wokeness not to see: freedoms, abundance, national parks. One would hope that kids raised in such luxuries would look back with gratitude, not cynicism.
Yet the parent’s argument strikes the student as little more than Antoinette-esque pronouncements of power and privilege. Reminders of this country’s greatness feel to the student like the parent is being evasive and dismissive about the real issue.
What’s the Real Issue?
What real issue? It’s something stronger than all the physical perks that come from living in the world’s most powerful nation. And what could be more powerful than that? Here’s what it is: It’s what the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 2 when he described the “requirements of the law written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15). Another term for it is the “moral law within.” Put simply, it’s our innate desire for justice.
It’s true that, when radicalized young Americans respond to injustice by looting stores, burning cities, and calling all white people racist, they are making the place less just, not more so. Yet these humans made in God’s image show that they have an awareness, though often mangled and manipulated, of something God planted within them: a sense of justice. They rightly feel revulsion when they learn of lynching in the South or of the Trail of Tears left by the Indian Removal Act. They rightly felt sick when they saw the footage of George Floyd’s death. The moral law within is undeniably real. There are sins that cannot be simply swept under the rug. Things must be made right. It’s part of the moral fabric of the universe. It’s how God wired us.
“There are sins that cannot be simply swept under the rug.”
What Paul calls the “requirements of the law written on their hearts” is so real and powerful that we’re seeing perverted versions of it played out in riot-ruined cities and yellow-taped crime scenes. We see it played out at the Thanksgiving table where radicalized kids disown the perks of living in a great nation in order to inherit what, for them, is a far worthier pursuit: justice for the oppressed. These matters of guilt and wrath and justice are very spiritual, even if they don’t realize it.
So, can we say of these people, as Jesus said once, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”? Well, our desire for justice is good, but, minus an acknowledgement of the God who gave it to us, we spiral ever-downward into vengeance and violence. Without God, even our pursuits of justice find us burying ourselves deeper and deeper in layers of lostness. There’s only One whom we can trust to make things right.
Who Can Make Things Right?
Meanwhile, injustice busters say to upper-class Americans driving new cars and living in big houses, “You must pay.” They say to white people in a country which enslaved black people, “You must pay.” They say to non-native Americans who claim the country as their home, “You must pay.”
“I’ll pay,” says Jesus. Jesus is the One who takes the pursuit of justice more seriously than anyone else. And in paying with his life, it is also Jesus who shows us something even more valuable to pursue than justice: it’s reconciliation. He paid the cost of history’s injustice in order to reconcile us to God and to each other. As such, he’s easily more powerful than what’s more powerful than the world’s most powerful nation.
It was Jesus’ sacrificial death that made peace of the wrath between us and God, and in turn, between us and our enemies. In turn, the “Lamb of God” became the King of kings on the throne: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (Rev. 5:6). I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that either we bow to the Lamb, reconciling with God and with others, or, in futile attempts at torching injustice, we end up burning the place down.