Monday, February 8, 2010

National Debt

On today’s date, The United States Congress asked President Roosevelt to place Japanese - Americans in special camps for the duration for the war. The action was taken in the heat of conflict after the Japanese surprise attack on the American naval fleet in Hawaii. We now look back at the human suffering that these camps caused to Americans of Asian ancestry, and we shake our heads in disbelief.

We also tend to understate events like these, especially when they are caused by those on “our side.” American history is full of accomplishments of which we can be proud. It is also full of situations that cause us shame. We live in an era in which the political left seems to focus on all the shameful things we have done and ignore the good we have accomplished. The political right tends to do the opposite: focus on the good and ignore all the wicked things we have done.

It is the nature of a person (and of a people) to airbrush their history in ways that allow them to ignore those parts of character, attitude and behavior that would make them feel shame.

What German wants to talk about the holocaust?

What American wants to discuss slavery?

What Turk wants to discuss the Armenian genocide?

Nations tend to downplay the shameful parts of their story as they teach children the myths of their tribe.

The result is often a skewed view of oneself and nation. One goes about his life causing pain and distress to others, oblivious of the effects of his actions and attitudes on those around him.

Here is an old African proverb that says this well: no one knows when his own breath stinks.

When one knows that his own breath stinks, he can do something about it. As long as he refuses to hear any report about what his life looks like from the outside, he just continues on living inside the story that he manufactures to protect his own ego.

This is true for nations as well as for individuals.

Other people notice when we do not take responsibility for our own actions. Others expect us to notice our own shortcomings and to ask for forgiveness. We expect it of others too.

Nations remember the injustices committed against them long after the perpetrators want to “put it behind us.” However, it is not the prerogative of the abuser to set the statue of limitations on grief and anger experienced by the abuser. The abused decides when the issue has been settled and may be put in the past.

The story of scripture is that God is offended at our rebellion against Him. He wants to forgive us but he also wants us to acknowledge our offence. In the long account of God revealing His Word to humanity, God records everything: good and bad. Nothing is airbrushed from the account.

I've heard a little story about a boy who came home from Sunday school class, disturbed about the bloody wars in the Old Testament. He went to his Dad, who was sitting in an armchair reading the paper.

“Dad, why was God so mad at those people?” the little boy asked

“Well,” the father replied, “I don’t know. I guess that was before God became a Christian.”

Well, that’s not the right answer!

The apostle John tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only son. God forgives. The wars and suffering are about the consequences of sin.

Perhaps the Lord’s most touching was the one we call the prodigal son (St. Luke 15). Jesus told that story because he wanted us to know just how eager God is to forgive us.

A father had two sons, Jesus said. One day the youngest asked his father for his share of the inheritance. The father sorrowfully granted the request. Then the boy went to a far country and spent all his inheritance on parties.

When the money was spent and the boy had to support himself, he found a job feeding pigs.

One day the wayward son got hungry. He started eating carob pods he had been feeding to the pigs. That was then he came to himself.

Most of us know that feeling: “coming to ourselves,” realizing that we have been doing something stupid.

“I will go to my father,” the boy decided.

On his way to his father’s house, the son rehearsed his speech.

“I’ll say to him, ‘father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy to be your son. I will be content to be a hired hand.”

Jesus was not the first person to tell this story. People had been telling it for many generations already. However, the ending of the story had gone something like this: “and so the son told his father that he was unworthy to be a son but would be glad to be his hired hand. But the father sorrowfully said, ‘I have but one son who has been faithful. My other son died. And then the prodigal son walked away forever.”

The story was told to teach children responsibility.

Jesus surprisingly gave this ending: “When the father saw his son from a long way off, he ran to meet him and wept and put his own ring on his finger and said to his servant, “go kill a fattened calf and prepare a feast, for my son that was dead is alive again.”

Why did Jesus risk ruining a good moral story? Because He felt that it was more important to tell us about our Heavenly Father’s willingness to forgive us. He watches “from afar off,” waiting for us to make a move toward repentance. He is ready to forgive us. He is slow to anger, full of compassion, and not willing that any should perish.

That is the Father that Jesus taught us to worship.

Today’s reading in the One Year Bible contains Psalm 31:

“Have mercy on me Lord, for I am in distress. I am dying of grief; my years are shortened from sorrow.”

The Psalmist goes on to pray, “Sin has drained my strength.”

After several lines about his sorrow and distress, the Psalmist says,” in your unfailing love, rescue me.”

We have a God who responds to repentance. When individuals and nations repent, he turns his face toward them. He doesn’t hold grudges.

Nations and individuals that desire God’s favor must not only shout against the injustices of others; they must repent of their own injustices.

First, of course, they have to notice those injustices and feel the shame of regret.

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