When They Don't Forgive
“You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”
The truth is often times more complicated than we like to think. That was the case this weekend as viral footage emerged from DC of MAGA hat wearing teens mocking a Native American elder as he chanted. The infamous video made waves around social media, some drawing comparisons to when white people surrounded and mocked black patrons at restaurants. Yet today, many are retracting and withdrawing their criticisms of the teenagers. With the release of an almost two-hour video of the incident, we see that the viral moment was a part of a larger mixup that included the notorious black supremacist hate group: The Black Hebrew Israelites. What seemed to be a clear cut moment of antagonism towards a historically victimized culture was shown to be the exact opposite: a tense and confusing moment involving a group of Catholic teenagers, Black Hebrew Israelites, and Native Americans.
What followed this viral moment, detached from the larger, much more confusing context, was a deluge of nastiness directed towards these teenagers, specifically the one seen smiling at the elder. My goal is not to purposefully avoid obvious questions like: “Where were the chaperones?” or “Why didn’t they just walk away?” but to fit this moment in a larger cultural movement that has taken place over the past couple of years.
To see what I mean, go back to 2013 when Justine Sacco was fired from her job for one very unfunny tweet. Or in 2014 when Brianna Wu had to flee her home after being the target of Gamergate. Or more recently when Kevin Hart was booted from hosting the Oscars after some not great tweets emerged. What do all of these things, along with the controversy this weekend, have in common? Quick and merciless outrage.
This is not a defense of the words or actions on the part of those targeted by this outrage, but this is an examination of where our culture is today. Think of it this way: you are one status, one photo, and one tweet away from having your life destroyed. In the instance of a Thanos-like snap, everything you know as normal could be gone forever. What will happen when they come for you? There are no better words to describe our cultural moment than: mob rule. A mob fueled by quick and merciless outrage. Quick to anger and even slower to show remorse. Don’t believe me? See what screenplay writer Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049) tweeted about the DC incident this weekend:
“Plus side: A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.”
Read that again: “This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.” Many people are being defined by incidents like these; incidents extracted from larger contexts. But even more people are being defined by their past, where one tweet can stand in place of the legacy that person leaves behind. The religion of our outrage culture today requires a sacrifice. If you are caught in your sins (or perceived sins), then you must die on the altar of indignation. The only atonement that can be made is total conformity to whatever dogma caught you in the first place, if you are even so lucky as to merit their forgiveness. No one can take your place on the altar, you alone must work your way towards acceptance or have your life destroyed. Everything in your life is fair game to the cultists of outrage.
How different, how strange, how powerful it is when a Jewish, Middle-Eastern man walks the shores of human experience, is crushed under the weight of a mob, and declares from a bloody cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This man was God-incarnate and his name was Jesus Christ. He was handed over to a mob no different than the ones we see today. Beaten, mocked, and scorned. Not even for a bad tweet, but because He was innocent. He had to die like this so that we would know the power of a God who forgives. A God who searches the heart and tests the minds of man (Jeremiah 17:10) and finds them wanting of His standards (Psalm 14:3). A God who knows our past and our failures and says in Micah 7:
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
How powerful is it to know that a God who already knows everything about us delights to show us mercy? Where the mob demands your life, God put His Son in your place. Where the mob destroys your life, God works all things together for your good. Where the mob cries out for your works-based righteousness, God settles your sin-debts with the work of His Son. Where the mob tries to force you to join along as they attack, God calls us to turn the other cheek and forgive. Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Our world desperately needs this forgiveness. Where the mob declares that we should forgive no one, God says “forgive because I have forgiven you.” Christian, embody this radical forgiveness today, for you are following the example of the Christ-man. Show kindness and mercy where victims of the mob find none. And if you find yourself in their crosshairs, remember the God who is quick to forgive and delights to show you mercy is on your side.