“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1–5)
Several years ago, I met a Jewish journalist who, after learning I was a seminary student, asked me what the Book of Revelation was about. Without even much thought I said: “The return to Eden. At the end of the book the Tree of Life reappears, the curse of death mentioned in Genesis is no more. All things are made new.” “Oh, that doesn’t sound so bad!”, he replied. To this day I am surprised at how quickly I replied with such a simple concise summary of such a complicated book. But that is precisely what Revelation depicts: the removal of the curse of death, of weeping, crying and pain. (Rev. 21:1-5) The Tree of Life reappears and mankind once again has access to it. And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.
What an amazing concept - all the nations of the earth being given access to the Tree of Life and being restored and healed! That’s the future of humanity in Christ Jesus. That is where we are going folks! That is why Jesus came into the world. And it is also why he has left us in the world, to give the world a glimpse into this glorious reality!
And this brings me to my main concern which has been weighing on me for some time and got heavier over this past weekend. It has to do with how we as Christians respond to issues of race in general, but particularly to the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville. I realize that what happened is like an onion and that we cannot simply peel back one layer and think we’ve gotten to the core of the problem. I am not claiming to have all of the answers, or understand all of the dynamics that were in play. But here’s what I know to be absolutely true: it is the duty and obligation of every Christian to be a window into this glorious reality which Jesus is preparing. I doubt any Christian would argue with that, but I am not convinced all of my brothers and sisters understand the full implications of this obligation. It means that we put the agenda of God’s Kingdom and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ ahead of every other agenda, whether that be political or social. It means that we Christians are to be careful about how deeply involved and entangled we get into worldly agendas and ideas. It means our future shapes how we live today, how we see the world AND how we view the past, including our heritage.
There is a lot of talk about ‘heritage’, particularly southern heritage these days. I say this as one whose heritage is southern. Everyone with the last name ‘Bradsher’ who fought in the war between the states fought for the Confederacy. So I understand that many southern Americans believe the heritage and history of the south is being wiped out by liberals and are upset by this. They claim that the battle flag and the monuments are not about racism, just about southern heritage and history. But those on the other side of the issue view these monuments as celebrations of a hateful ideology; reminders of racism, slavery and oppression. For them these emblems also represent the fact that racism is alive and well today. And this is only reinforced by what happened in Charlottesville. For them, separating southern “heritage” from slavery and racism is an impossible task.
So how should a Christian respond to this issue? What is the biblical response? The danger for Christians is to get sucked into the conflict by choosing “sides” and by losing our Kingdom bearings, forgetting that our primary citizenship and our primary heritage is not of this world, but is of the world to come. And so the right response is the one that most clearly gives the world that look into that glorious reality which Jesus is preparing. This includes speaking out against the rhetoric of the White Supremacists and calling it what it is - evil and demonic. Racism and the Kingdom of God do not mix. Racism and the Kingdom of God are opposites. Racism and the Kingdom of God are not at peace and cannot be at peace with one another. Racism will lose in the end. The Kingdom of God will overcome and destroy racism in all of its forms. The Kingdom of God will endure forever and ever!
In the Father’s house there are many rooms for all peoples, colors, tongues and tribes. (John 14:2). Therefore, our response to what we saw in Charlottesville, and even to racism overall needs to reflect this Gospel truth. Let us endeavour to bring the healing leaves of the Gospel of peace to our wounded nation.