It's Coming For You!
Updated: Jun 3
"The worst thing about it [being a Negro] is at one point, somewhere in yourself, you have to realize that, 'Alright, you are a Negro, and this is all true [race riots, lynching, etc.]--but before that you are a man and your life is in your hands.'" -James Baldwin, to CBC host Nathan Cohen, 1960
It's been 60 years since that interview. While we can never take a thinker's words out of their time without some reconsideration, there are things quite worthy of remembering from Baldwin in our age. Of course there is blame, and ignoring it is foolish; we diagnose rightly so we can administer therapy rightly. Still, there is something about being a man, being human, that requires that our sufficiency is not in ourselves, but in God, and God has made a certain prevailing wind of principle--that you reap what you sew. It doesn't mean the thief won't steal, the taxman won't plunder, or that there are not conditions that will undo your labors. It means that stopping the thief, restraining the taxman, and defending against conditions are precisely part of the labor God will bless.
The dominion of the New Human, that is Christ, is achieved by our co-laboring in this. We teach the Law, the Gospel, and then the Law again. But this is the basis for being able to say, "You are a man and your life is in your hands." And when Baldwin ends by saying, "I am not a pessimist. Pessimists, I've noticed, are silent. I am not bitter, either, for example. People who are bitter are silent, too. No, I'm not pessimistic. I don't know how this will be achieved, but it must be achieved. So we will have to do it." he can only say so because there is a superseding /reason/ for hope.
Christian theology, following Jesus and Paul's very Jewish theology, has taught for two millennia that Lamech will not be tolerated, and the Song of Swords, which reads:
Adah and Zillah! hear my voice;
Ye wives of Lamech give ear to my speech:
I will slay men for smiting me,
And for wounding me young men shall die.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Lamech seventy and seven. (Genesis 4:23b-24)
...will not be sung by the New Human. Instead, we give ourselves up for brother, neighbor, and even enemy. Strange that this should be our hope. The old human thinks it is defeat. But this message went from 11 confused guys in Jerusalem to Billions worldwide who call on God in the name of Jesus. Enemies will be turned into brothers. Even great wrongs will be forgiven. To be new means to care about righteousness before rights. It means to be aware that what you've been given to you was for the benefit of others. We remember, then, that we are fishers of men, taking humans out of a troubled and polluted sea, not to cook them over a fire and devour them, but to transform them into brothers. As Paul told the Galatians, "Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
Some of you have said to me, in effect, "If they want to hurt you, they must go through me." I saw Philadelphians take up their own brooms and tools to sweep up broken glass and board up windows of businesses they didn't own, at cost of time, labor, and money, for people they didn't know. I saw police kneel for 9 minutes in indictment of the standards of their own profession. I saw a Chief of Police, who I expected to be a hawk, speak like a dove, rebuking the President's bellicose rhetoric.
I can say to you, because I know you will understand: If Cain is your king, Jesus is coming for you, through His Church. The Kingdom of God is coming for you. It won't be a profane man with a Bible in front of a church for a photo opportunity, after singing the Song of Swords for the cameras.(1) It will be a person you don't know, maybe that you thought was worthless until the moment it happens, who will teach you to love. It's coming for you!