“Everything clarified and articulated becomes visible…. Why avoid, when avoidance necessarily and inevitably poisons the future?”Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, an Antidote to Chaos, Random House Canada, 2018. pp. 272-3.
As we saw last time, Germany’s successful emergence from its terrible past and dark night of the soul is a signpost of hope. As per Peterson’s insight above, Germany allowed its desperate soul-sickness to be articulated, to be clearly declared in full light of day. Once it was confessed, real steps became possible and were and continue to be taken in turning things around. In large part, they have succeeded. Failing to do so would have poisoned Germany’s future for generations. Germany’s repentance is shown in action to have been real and genuine. The Germany of the last thirty years has been Europe’s anchor rather than its terror. Its most ancient and bitter foe, France, is now its closest ally and firmest friend.
While never condoning the 100 million (including in Asia) or so deaths directly attributable to those wars, we can see one good thing to have come out of the horror of World Wars 1 and 2 – Germany’s substantial redemption. (Until the final wrap-up of all things by the Creator, everything is partial, even the best things.) As Saul/Paul of Tarsus wrote to the ekklesia in ancient Corinth almost two thousand years ago:
“We know, you see, in part; we prophesy in part; but with perfection, the partial is abolished…. For at the moment all that we can see are puzzling reflections in a mirror; then [at the great culmination], face to face. I know in part, for now; but then I’ll know completely, through and through.” (First letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 9 and 12.The Kingdom New Testament, a Contemporary Translation, N.T. Wright, 2011.
As to the rest of the West, we have not seen such a turn-around, such a turning about, such a recognition of having so terribly missed the mark and needing to repent, needing to lean in a new direction and actively take a different path. Perhaps, as we watch with fascination the increasing signs of the unravelling world order largely created by the Western victors of the World Wars, we are approaching the reckoning. Or, more optimistically, perhaps we are the threshold of an awakening of the spirit, in the Spirit. Every crisis is also an opportunity. It need not be for evil to take charge.
When it comes to candidates of nations with deep, unresolved, unrepented sins buried in the closet, or even having come out of the closet but still not dealt with, there is no lack of examples we could pick and choose. As a white Canadian, I could quickly sketch out a list for my own homeland and its European-stock population, as could my Canadian readers. Take, for example, our utter, shameful, and so far unpardonable failure in dealing justly with our Native Peoples. And, as a Canadian, that is perhaps what would be proper for me to do. After all, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.” And then there is, “Before you go taking the speck out of your neighbour’s eye, take the log out of your own,” – a saying of Jesus, by the way, and one which Canadian lumberjacks can appreciate.
According to international perceptions, Canada is a model of progressive multiculturalism and accommodating, inclusive pluralism. So non-Canadians (and even some Canadians) might yawn from lack of interest in dissecting the internal squabbles of a minor state such as Canada. While I am well aware of the possible impropriety of picking on someone else, we will take the United States as our next case-study while reserving the right to deal with Canada later.
After all, the USA is the leader of the democratic world, the self-acclaimed “land of the free and home of the brave”, the “cradle of democracy”. For over 240 years the USA has touted itself as the “champion of the oppressed and down-trodden”. It is not hard for outsiders, and even many Americans, to poke eighteen-wheeler sized holes in these brash declarations. But Americans have been bold about wearing these labels and dressing in these cloaks since 1776, when the “Founding Fathers” signed and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence in breaking from the “Mother Country” of Great Britain.
So let’s just consider the Declaration’s opening statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” – except… Africans and African-Americans, Native peoples, Latinos…
The Founding Fathers themselves did not really believe what they said, as much as some were probably at least consciously quite sincere in saying it. It is the hidden (and for some of them not hidden at all) reservation beneath the high rhetoric that, from the very first, cracked the Liberty Bell and undermined the very cornerstone of the nation’s constitution. In 1776 and 1787, the problem was reserved for future resolution, but never resolved. Instead, as Jordan Peterson put it, it was systematically avoided by the vast majority, left unclarified or excused, obfuscated instead of clearly articulated—until it produced the inevitable result Peterson states: it poisoned the future. It continues to poison the US. Even the Civil War did not really lance the boil and extract the poison. And so the race issue continues to do its devastation, having set profound hooks in the nation’s very soul from the very beginning.
The second profound flaw that took root in that now distant time was class domination, apart from race, but inextricable with it. Of course, class distinctions in human societies have existed for thousands of years. They seem to be an innate aspect of fallen, mark-missing human nature, despite all the ideal scenarios human ingenuity can imagine.
It’s not that there has been no repentance or attempt to reconcile in the USA. There have been some valiant initiatives to undo the most serious consequences of the sins of the Fathers. For example, in 2019 there were some important ceremonies and activities to repent for and commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the first importation of African slaves into the British colonies of North America. So why has American society slid into such a dire state of division and turmoil, apparently even deeper than what we see in other nations of the West?
There is no perfect or scientific answer to such questions, and no one alive (apart from the Resurrected One who will someday give the answers) has the wisdom to unravel it all and find the perfect road out. Abraham Lincoln might have been that person, at least a Pathfinder, but he was martyred shortly after giving the most splendid oration of his career (the Second Inaugural) which included the phrases “with malice towards none” and “binding up the wounds of the nation”. He eschewed the road of revenge and punishment towards the defeated Rebels while signifying that the newly freed African-Americans must now be integrated as full citizens.
His death meant the death of his unique, hard-earned authority to lead the nation on that very path. Instead, it was vengeance and retaliation which took hold, and ten years later this engendered the return to power of the old southern racist and ruling-class elite bound and determined to both keep the blacks in their place and the poor whites in line through fear of the negro and manipulation. The industrial magnates and financial plutocrats of the North also played their role in condoning and conniving in the South’s backdoor revenge, for class suppression was in their interest too, and they were no less racist than southerners, just not outright slavers.
Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy might also have been Pathfinders to the way out and up, but they too were martyred and the path since then seems to have reentered the quagmire.
Thus, until the American nation as a substantial whole repents and renounces these sins and their continuing deep racist and elitist class roots and their blatant current manifestations from the heart , forgiveness cannot be asked and given, and true healing cannot begin. The Southern myth of the noble “Lost Cause” must die. it remains a deep poison. Northern complicity in that myth must be repented. We could say the same about the terrible and repeated genocides of American First Nations.
Without such deep and wrenching measures, which cannot be done in any short time and once truly begun will have to be ongoing and continuous, as Germany as done in its national repentance, the US will not lose its violent, divided heart. That can only be a work that begins by a massively turning towards the One Being who has the power to move on human hearts and spirits to break the chains of slavery and the festering wounds of unresolved internal conflicts. It involves surrendering the blame-game and the right to make the other side pay “the last full measure”.
The example for doing that was given on a small hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem two thousand years ago when the Creator chose to take it all upon Himself in the Person of His incarnate Son, Yeshua/Jesus of Natzeret, rightful heir to the throne of Israel. Instead, He accepted a crown of thorns and took the full wrath of His own people’s leaders and sins as well as that of the quintessential world empire, Rome, representing all the rest of humanity.
Instead of saying how He would make them all pay “the last full measure” once His Father vindicated Him and raised Him incorruptible and immortal from the grave, He prayed for His executioners, and for the whole human race, so blind and enslaved by the depth of their “failing to measure up” (hamartia –missing the mark, sin), saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Would He have prayed a different prayer even if they had known what they were doing?
If you know Him at all, you know the answer to that question. Because, let’s admit it, since then, millions and even billions of us have known very well what we’ve been doing, and how wrong it has been and is, and how these things so deeply wound Him, His Father, and those humans we sin against, and the rest of the Creation we sin against by our destruction of it. But he still offers His full forgiveness “to the last full measure, for the last full measure”, thus robbing us of any right we have to claim it of those who have wronged us. He has claimed it and paid for all of it, from Eve and Adam to you and me.
To paraphrase a young Swedish maiden, “How dare we!” keep claiming we have a right to extract the last measure of vengeance, of profit regardless of how its getting has made others suffer? On the other hand, if we will not turn from our wicked ways to the Healer Who can really bring us to the healing we all so desperately need, the Creator will leave us to do our own will to persist in our sin and thus to also experience the terrible consequences thereof.
“Domine, in Tua gratia, misericordiam Tuam nobis da.” (Old Latin Liturgy – “Lord, in Your grace, give us Your mercy.”