June 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Large-scale calamities – some natural and some caused by human evil – recur in human history. God says as much at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple from which today’s text comes: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people” (2 Chronicles 7:13, NIV). God’s instructions address times of disaster, including economic, social, and public health ones, much like our own. At times like these, we are reminded that God’s people are to be agents of repentance and restoration of the world in which God has placed us. What might that look like today?
We see our public institutions reeling from a triple disaster: a pandemic not seen in a century, an economic collapse unprecedented since the Great Depression, a rapid succession of tipping-point examples of the recurrent American nightmare of structural racism graphically displayed for all the world to see. It almost seems like someone is trying to get our attention. As C.S. Lewis once observed, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
What might God be saying to us in our collective pain?
Large-scale calamities – some natural and some caused by human evil – recur in human history. God says as much at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple from which today’s text comes: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people” (2 Chronicles 7:13, NIV). God’s instruction addresses times of disaster, including economic, social, and public health ones, much like our own. At times like these, we are reminded that God’s people are to be agents of repentance and restoration of the world in which God has placed us.
Today’s text is helpful in that regard, particularly in its opening, middle, and closing words.
First, we are to “humble” ourselves. Catastrophes remind us of our creatureliness and of our fallenness. As human beings we are all beset by the primal sin of pride and arrogance. We are not content to be part of a human family who are all made in the image of God; we want to make others into our own image. Instead of celebrating God’s creation of the unique diversity of individuals and ethnicities, we draw our circles to include only those who are made “in our own image, after our own likeness.” Structural racism has its roots in a pernicious theory that treats some human beings as being not fully human after all, not truly “one of us.” It grew up in the soil of a perverted social science and an even more perverse theology. So the humility commanded us in today’s text requires us to confess the “why” of where we are. In the words of our current moment, we need to face the truth that Black lives have not mattered to us, as a community and as a nation, in the same way that white lives have mattered.
Second, we are to “turn from (our) wicked ways.” Words and feelings, even true words and feelings, are not enough. What John the Baptist said to respectable and devout people in his day should warn us today: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7-8a, NIV). I don’t know about you, but I don’t appreciate being associated with a “brood of vipers”! But that vivid description tells me how serious our situation is, and how important is a genuine change of mind, heart, and life. John’s comment to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” also indicates that we are on a long journey and not merely looking for a racial justice epiphany. With all the current passions aroused on matters of social justice, we need to be reminded that those passions need to be channeled into a long obedience in the same direction. We will need wisdom and endurance to produce fruit in keeping with the repentance we seek.
Finally, we are to look forward to when God will “heal (our) land.” I find it instructive that today’s verse doesn’t end with forgiveness but with healing. One of my unhelpful instincts as an evangelical is to see forgiveness as the end goal of God’s work. Having our sins forgiven and salvation become synonymous. But forgiveness is not enough. Forgiveness is a necessary step to God’s final goal of salvation – to restore creation itself. In the words of our text, God’s ultimate goal is to heal our land.
My other unhelpful instinct is to defer any hope for real structural change to the Final Day. But God’s promise of healing is not just an eschatological one. In Solomon’s time, people were praying not just for a far-off hope, but for present deliverance from plague and famine. In the same way, as history reminds us, real institutional progress is possible and worth praying for and working towards. In John Newton’s day, slavery was abolished in the British Empire. In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s day, real progress on racial justice was made. What will God do in and through us today to heal our land?
What does repentance look like for you regarding structural racism?
Have an honest conversation with your friends or work colleagues about how structural racism has affected you and the institutions of which you are a part. Discuss actions you might take that would make a difference.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You know how easy it is for me to take refuge in my own comforts, and how difficult it is for me to embrace the pain that I see around me. Forgive my hardness of heart. Turn me towards those who are suffering and oppressed. Grant me the courage, wisdom, and power to contribute to the needed changes in our society so that all who are made in your image can flourish.
I ask in your name,
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: A Call to Humility