Sometimes I think we’re all just a little bit too unaware.
In reading about the Israelites, today, these words speak directly into some of the social and political contexts that are most prevalent in our current culture:
Ezekiel 39:26-29, “They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord” (NIV).
This passage comes at the end of the Lord’s words regarding exile, and it’s worthwhile to read more for additional context, but these verses are sufficient for the purposes of this post.
I was struck by the irony that the Israelites were most unfaithful in the midst of ‘safety.’ Interestingly, I think we are much the same. It’s easy to give lip service to our desire to be the hands and feet of God in the world, but it is much more difficult to actually be them. As an example, in recent days I have heard several people speak about how, as the white, American Church, we have prayed for years (even decades, maybe longer) for open doors to reach out to others from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. However, we had a very specific plan in mind that would allow us to enter into their world, blowing in and out with our truth in such a way that they would convert and begin to look just like us. It’s appalling if you think about it long enough (or at all). Interestingly, we seem averse to those same people groups setting foot on our turf. We insist that God must answer our prayers in our way, in our time, or we will not be faithful to love the people we thought we wanted to. We are unfaithful when we are ‘safe.’
I’m not a huge fan of fear, but maybe we need to be afraid—not of others but of ourselves. I should be clear: I don’t think our well-being is actually threatened by ‘the other.’ I think our fear is misplaced. Maybe we need to recognize that we are not the gold standard of truth or culture or religion or anything. We are the problem. No one wants to hear that, even if it’s true. But sometimes it doesn’t matter whether or not we want something.
So here are a few more words we might pray:
Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NIV).
It’s better to know where our own culpability lies. It’s better to be real, even if it hurts. This is how we let go for the sake of others. Let me be the first to confess my offensive ways. Change begins here.