With Men This is Impossible
Human society is broken, to say the least. No matter how hard we try, there is always room for improvement. There will always be poverty, crime, and prejudice. Since the beginning of civilization, men have been trying to build a society which is free of these pains. We create cities with master plans designed to encourage growth, community, economic welfare, and harmony between man and nature. We write laws and develop justice systems to rid our cities of crime. We create governments with the hope that we can establish a polity, where the many rule in the interest of all. But, in all our efforts, we fail.*
We have seen some of these failures in the history of our own nation. While discussing the problem of slavery in America in his book Democracy in America (published in 1835), Alexis de Tocqueville says that slavery will continue to cause Americans trouble even after it is abolished. This is because slavery in America was based on race, so the racial differences will always remind the two races of slavery. He writes:
That is a very bleak view of the future of America. It has also been proven to be wrong. It has been a difficult road, and the journey is not yet completed, but the two races do live on an equal footing in America. Mind you, prejudice is still being combated in America, but much progress has been made. And it has been made without the edicts of a despot. In our efforts to fulfill our goal of “liberty and justice for all,” we Americans have been able to rise above ourselves and our prejudices.
But, how has this been possible? de Tocqueville’s prediction makes logical sense. How can two races peacefully coexist when one has oppressed the other for hundreds of years?
I contend that this reconciliation between the races has not occurred by the power and will of mankind. It is human nature to conquer, oppress, and resent. But, here we see that human nature has been overcome.
Christianity was, and is, the common faith among the two races, and it is from Christianity where we get our idea of justice. Christianity proclaims, without reservation, the equality and brotherhood of mankind.
It is the light of Christianity that exposed the error of slavery and prejudice+. Even de Tocqueville recognized this a few pages after the quote above when he said slavery was a dying institution which is “attacked by Christianity as unjust.” Prejudice and segregation are not compatible with the Christian ethic. It should come as no surprise that Abraham Lincoln attacked slavery from a Christian perspective (the fact that there is some debate whether he was a Christian or not is not important, as is suggested in Phillipians 1:15-18). It should also not be surprising that Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who did the most to bring the two races together, was a minister of the Gospel. Both men were able to see the evils of their society because of the light of Christ, and both were able to attack those errors with the Christian ethic. They were inspired to rise above the sin of their culture and were able to encourage others to rise above as well.
This could not have happened by the reason of men, but only by the law of the Gospel. By the reason of men, racism and prejudice is justified. But, by the law of the Gospel, these things are sins that will not be tolerated by God. By the light of the Gospel, we have identified and overcome these evils. The Gospel will continue to guide us to justice and righteousness and the Gospel will continue to improve the world until one day there is no poverty, slavery, or prejudice. de Tocqueville was wrong. It does not take a despot to force a people to rise above themselves. It takes a Lord.
* For more on these continued problems please read A Work in Progress
+ Some contend that the Bible never argues against slavery. Rather, it tends to accept it as a natural part of human society. The Old Testament is full of laws governing the treatment of slaves, but none that free slaves. But, according to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the Scriptures interpret themselves. These Old Testament laws are not properly understood except in the context of the Gospel which proclaims that all, whether slave or free, are equal before God (Phm 1:10-21; 1Cor 7:21-22; 1Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:8; Eph 6:9). Further, Revelation 18:11-13 refers to slaves as being among the lustful cargos sold by the merchants of the earth who mourn over the Whore of Babylon. So, the Bible sees slavery as a consequence of our broken world, not of God’s divine plan.