I Don’t Need to Repent of That

A middle schooler sits in PNW history reading, for the first time, about the internment of Japanese Americans during world war II.  He is horrified to learn that 120,000 innocent people were rounded up and imprisoned because some of them might be spies. He thought to himself, “how could the US fight to liberate Europe while simultaneously committing atrocious war crimes against its own people?” 

One of his best friends is a second generation Japanese American. One day after school, at the friend’s house, this young man apologizes to his friend and his whole family, including his grandma, for what Americans had done to their people. 

The family just looks at him in awkward and stunned silence. “but,” his grandmother says, “you didn’t do that…your parents weren’t even alive. And our family was still in Japan, enemies of the United States. But I heard you and my grandson talking about how you were treating your classmate poorly; tomorrow, apologize to him for what you actually did do.” The boys go out to play basketball. 

When we say the United States sinned, what does that mean? The United States isn’t a person. So, who did the sinning? 

When we say that non-Japanese Americans sinned against Japanese Americans who did the sinning? Every non-Japanese american? Against every Japanese American alive then and now? In the case of the Japanese prisoners, US politicians, military officials, local government officials and normal citizens who claimed the businesses and homes of those interred Japanese Americans all participated in particular sins against particular individuals. Specific crimes against Specific people. Who is responsible for those sins? Those war crimes? 

We live in the information age in which we know a great deal about what happened 300 years ago and what is happening 3000 miles away. Meanwhile, we hardly know what is going on 3 houses down our street. When we hear of atrocities, crimes, sins, injustices and wrongs what is our responsibility? 

We are not responsible for the sins of every American or everyone who shares our ethnicity, our language, our creed, etc. 

During the first Crusade, the Christian soldiers marched into the Middle East and promptly slaughtered 30,000 infidels. The problem was, well there are lots of problems with that, but one of them is that they weren’t infidels, they were all Christians who dressed and talked differently than the Germanic soldiers. The first massacre of the first crusade were Christians slaughtering Christians because they looked and talked different. So, you are Christians. Are you responsible for that? 

Does the bible have anything to say about this? Covenantal theology is necessary at this point. A husband is responsible for His wife, a free agent who commits sins. His responsibility does not mean his wife will not answer for her sins, it means he will answer for his sins and her sins. Add children. Add greater and greater spheres of authority and responsibility. 

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 

Your pastors will give an account for their own sins and yours. This is federal headship, covenantal headship. FDR will give an account for His own Sins and the sins of his administration for Interring Japanese Americans. Mayors, presidents, generals, husbands, mothers, pastors – anyone who has authority and responsibility will give an account for the sins of those in their care. 

We must repent of our worldly thinking. The false belief that the bible has nothing to say about the most difficult questions that face us right now. God’s word is sufficient for the problems of our age, if we have the courage and humility to study it and apply it no matter how unwelcome in the public sphere, we are people of the word. 

Here is an example. Deuteronomy 21:1–3 “If in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke.

Did the whole town repent? No, the elders and judges of the nearest town repented. How were they responsible? They were covenantally responsible, sice the unsolved murder happened in their jurisdiction. Do we want more justice in our community? Then the mayor and judges of Lynnwood ought to repent, on behalf of the city, for every unsolved murder and cold case on record right now. That is biblical justice. And this is just one example. Let us shape our cries for justice with a biblical standard rather than the standard of academics, sociologists, race-baiting social Darwinists. We have a great deal to learn about how to process the injustices we learn about. Whether through history books or the nightly news. 

The struggle is real though, because our culture does not recognize God, his law or the responsibility leaders owe for the sins of their administration. We are tempted to make justice solely an issue of this age. We want vindication now, but we are not promised vindication now. We ought to cry out against injustice, but all injustice will not be reconciled in this age. We can be neither complacent nor without hope. 

In the age to come all injustices will be dealt with by Christ. If that isn’t our ministry than we have a gospel problem. And if that isn’t enough, then we have a gospel problem. We see here an opportunity to pray for our leaders, but prayer doesn’t seem like enough. It seems futile. We want to grasp the levers of power and reshape this world. 

Being a just person is harder than bewailing the injustice we so readily see in others. There is a great temptation in national or ethical repentance. C.S. Lewis sums it up in his essay on national repentance.

 “When we speak of England’s actions we mean the actions of the British Government. The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour; for a Foreign Secretary … is certainly a neighbour. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others.

National repentance can rob us of the crucial virtue of charity. There is a great deal everyone needs to take responsibility for. But does that include you and I repenting for the trail of tears or wounded knee or the Tuskegee Experiment? Those are all hard and important lessons from history. Those kinds of injustices are happening today and there are covenanted authorities responsible for them. 

How about the Chief of the Minneapolis Police department repenting publicly for the negligent homicide of George Floyd? The Obama Administration repenting for the fast and furious program? Every government official who has supported the murder mills of Planned parenthood? 

Want to address injustice? Pray that those who are in authority would count the cost of their authority and responsibility for which they will give an account? That they would be converted and seek to obey God’s law in their office?  

Pray that we all would stop being distracted by things three thousand miles away and things that happened three hundred tears ago and start concerning ourselves a lot more about what’s going on three doors down the street. 

What are the sins of millennials? Gen X-ers? Baby boomers? Things they actually participated in?  

What are the national idols and what is the spirit of the age with which you and I are actively whoring ourselves with right now? We can’t let injustice across the country distract us from the most important injustices that involve each one of us – those injustices we ourselves commit. Those sins of omission and commission affecting our spouse, children, friend, family, neighbors and our larger communities.

Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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