“Let me tell you something: I am a man. A sob hit me somewhere around my ankles; it came surging upward…I was just bawling, as I hadn’t since I was a baby. ‘Meester Kinte!’ I just felt like I was weeping for all of history’s incredible atrocities against fellowmen, which seems to be mankind’s greatest flaw…” (Alex Haley, describing his journey back to his ancestor’s African village in Roots: The Saga of An American Family)
“Abolishing slavery settles the fate for all coming time, not only of the millions in bondage but of unborn millions to come. Shall we stop this bleeding? We must cure ourselves of slavery. This amendment is that cure. Here stepped out upon the world’s stage now with the fate of human dignity upon our hands. Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment.” (Abraham Lincoln, from the movie “Lincoln”)
“A confession, which…comes too late…It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” (John Newton, former slave trader turned abolitionist)
Last week I finished reading Alex Haley’s saga Roots. Then in Sunday’s sermon, John mentioned the slave-trading captain John Newton, who late in his life penned the words to what we now know as the song “Amazing Grace”. And yesterday, John and I went to see the movie “Lincoln”. Not surprisingly, my mind has been a muddle of questions about how mankind is capable of participating in — and tolerating — the wrongs committed against one another. How could they live with the guilty bloodstains on their souls?
The description of the conditions aboard slave ships is horrific. The separation from home and loved ones; the lack of warmth and nourishment, the rampant disease and widespread filth are conditions that are nearly unimaginable to someone like me who has never experienced true want or mistreatment.
If my son / husband / father (or any of my loved ones) had been stolen, beaten, shackled, chained, starved, tortured, sold, forced into slavery, and humiliated, I don’t know that I could ever forgive the ones responsible. Can God forgive them of such?
Could God forgive David of reckless adultery, or of plotting the violent murder of an innocent man? Could God forgive Saul/Paul of his participation in the violence against early Christians? Could God forgive the ones responsible for crucifying His Son, as Jesus asked Him to do? Can God forgive ME?
In the face of his shame David said “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” and “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit,” (Psalm 51). Despite the guilt he must have felt (and the temptation we often feel to deny ourselves forgiveness,) Paul said “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal…” (Phil. 3:13-14). John said “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9).
I’m so thankful that anyone – ANYONE – can make the choice to turn from their past, be obedient to God and receive His forgiveness – even the worst slave-trader and murderer. And I’m so thankful that God is not like me, with my unforgiving, stubborn, prideful, grudge-holding tendencies. HIS grace and forgiveness are full and complete:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:8-12
Amazing grace – how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see!