Saturday, January 24, 2009

Total Depravity, The U.S. President, And The Grace Of God

Yesterday I taught my systematic theology class about God's common grace: the grace of God by which He gives countless blessings to all people, blessings that are not a part of salvation. One sphere of God's common grace is the social realm, which includes government and societal norms. The following was my conclusion to that section.

I can’t end this section without giving praise to God for the testimony to His common grace that our new president is. There was a time before any of us were alive when I probably wouldn’t be allowed to be in the same classroom as you guys let alone be your teacher because of the color of my skin. There was a time when I wouldn’t have dared to be in the same church as you because of the color of my skin. Total depravity expressed itself in the malice and slander (Romans 1:29) that whites expressed towards blacks and vice-versa. Total depravity expressed itself when lynching reared its ugly head as the latest invention of evil (Romans 1:30) meant primarily for black people. In those days, it was unthinkable that whites and blacks could sit down at the same table, use the same bath rooms, drink from the same water fountains let alone love one another as brothers and sisters. It was a time of great despair. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr. at one of these times:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

I don’t agree with everything Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech. And I certainly don’t agree with everything that President Obama wants to do. The truth is, I didn’t even vote for him. But I was humbled the day after the inauguration and then especially after I read Dr. King’s speech when I realized that we live in the generation that Dr. King dreamed of. And we definitely don’t deserve to. I know I don’t especially because of how much I take it for granted. I wonder how many years away he thought his dream was when he made that speech in 1963? 20? 30? 40? 50? 100? 200? 500? I am living in the answer to his prayer. You are living in the answer to his prayer. Non-believers and believers in this generation are living in the answer to his prayer. Consider this. A black man, at one time treated as less than human, is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. And how did it start? It started with people whose consciences wouldn’t let them rest as long as slavery was legal and then the government instituting laws to make slavery illegal and then racial discrimination illegal so that now we live in a day when, though racism definitely has by no means completely disappeared, God has restrained it so that society isn’t anywhere near as manifestly racist as it once was. Our depravity is greater than we realize. The manifest racism that once existed in our society is a testimony to that. But God’s grace is greater than our depravity. Our new president is a testimony to that.

There is a great irony in this, at least from our weak and feeble human perspective through which we now see only through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 12:12). Last Sunday was Sanctity of Life Sunday, the annual commemoration of Roe vs. Wade in which the trumpet is sounded to protect the lives of the unborn. Here is what our president wrote two days ago in light of this year's Roe vs. Wade anniversary:
On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.
For our president, abortion is about human rights, a woman's right to choose. If we look back to the institution of slavery, the roots of which are the very reason why the election of an African-American as U.S. president is so revolutionary, it was also about human rights. William Wilberforce and other men were fighting against slavery because they believed in a black person's right to be seen as one who is created in the image of God. But slavery as a human rights issue had two sides of the coin. In opposition to a black person's right to equal treatment as a human being was a white person's right to choose to own and keep slaves and do whatever they wanted with them. And in the same way, abortion as a human rights issue has two sides of the coin. In opposition to a woman's right to choose to end another's life is a baby's right to equal treatment as a human being (equal to humans outside of the womb for whom murder is illegal).

The irony in this all is that Barack Obama would not be president (and that would be the least of his losses) if the side of the coin that prevailed when the slavery coin landed, as it were, was the same side of the abortion coin he so strongly desires to see prevail in today's generation. Could it be any clearer? And in the same way that slavery was a testimony to total depravity (would anyone disagree with this?), abortion is a testimony to total depravity (murder: Mark 7:21, Romans 1:29).

You see, neither abortion nor slavery is ultimately about human rights. They are about Creator rights, Creator rights to create human beings that fully reflect His image in the world. These are rights that man has no business messing with.

And so we grieve and we celebrate because of our new president. We celebrate because of our new president because the Creator's rights that were opposed in the days of slavery are now being exalted because a black man, created in the image of God, can share in the mandate to have dominion over all (Genesis 1:27). And we grieve because of our new president because he today opposes the Creator's rights to wonderfully make little ones in His own image whenever He pleases (Psalm 139:13, Psalm 127:3). And the only reason his word can count in doing so is because the Creator's rights have been exalted for his benefit.

Though this is a great irony to us, one thing is for sure. It isn't an irony to God. This is by His infinitely wise design, a design through which no man can see. May our confidence be rooted in the fact that His grace always prevails, as can be seen today, to the praise of His glorious grace.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36
Related to this, the article John Piper wrote earlier this week after the inauguration is a must-read: The President, the Passengers, and the Patience of God.


Jessica said...

Thank you for writing.

Mel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mel said...

Greetings Brother Chris!!

My heart rejoiced with joyful singing as I read this thoroughly well-written and thoughtful post.

I am looking forward to reading John Piper's words as well.

I am seriously planning on printing out your entire blog and keeping it in a hard-copy format somewhere, just in case our internet freedom is ever hampered. God bless you!

Love in Christ,