So You Like Being White?

I grew up in Nicholas County, WV, an all-white county in the 1970’s. The only time I saw a black person was when our high school played against another team. To this day, not much has changed where I grew up. But it doesn’t matter what your experience was in the days of your youth, the heart is prideful and harmfully competitive in a thousand ways. One way is with ethnicity.

Last month, I finished John Piper’s book, and clearly, one of his best, “Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.” I previously posted on this book Sept. 19 and want to give a final high-five to this incredible and eye-opening tome that excels in what it delivers: everyone is a racist at heart, including Moses’s sister, Miriam, and like Miriam, everyone needs the gospel for this area of their lives. God’s response to her racism is alarming as it is telling of what God thinks about white people who love their whiteness, and by implication what God thinks of interracial marriage. (Footnote: Piper shows that there is no biblical warrant to even use the term ‘interracial’ when one person of one ethnicity marries another person of a different ethnicity; two humans who have Adam and Eve as their first parents are not marrying outside their human family. He also shows why the term “race” is unhelpful, while “ethnicity” is preferred, see chapter 15).

Moses writes, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman” (Num. 12:1). And Piper writes,

“Cushite” means a woman from Cush, a region south of Egypt, and a people known for their black skin. We know this because of Jeremiah 13:23: “Can the Ethiopian [the very same Hebrew word translated Cushite in Num. 12:1] change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Piper continues, “J. Daniel Hays writes in his book From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race that Cush is used regularly to refer to the area south of Egypt, and above the cataracts on the Nile, where a Black African civilization flourished for over two thousand years. Thus it is quite clear that Moses marries a Black African woman” (pg. 211).

Back to the biblical text.

It is true that Miriam and Aaron were jealous of Moses’s authority and were attempting to undermine what God had established. It is also true that most commentators remark that the back-handed slander against Moses’s wife was only a ruse for their real aim – Moses’s authority. Of which Piper quips, “Perhaps. But what you use for a smoke screen reveals your heart. And God was not pleased” (pg. 212). I agree. But I will say more than what Piper said.

What is one of the most successful ways to undermine someone’s authority so that you may assume it? Expose their lack of sound judgment! If you can demonstrate the ineptness or lack of reasoning skills of a superior, then the big boss may take notice of your “sound judgment” and may promote you to the coveted leadership position of your rival. What did God think about the implied accusation that Moses’s decision-making skills may be skewed, given that he “married a Cushite woman”, a Black African woman?

Concerning Moses, God said to Miriam and Aaron, “he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed. When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous (Num. 12:7-10).

Piper comments further:

“Is there more here than mere punishment? Is there symbolism in the punishment? Consider this possibility: in God’s anger at Miriam, Moses’s sister, God says in effect, “Do you like being light-skinned, Miriam? Do you belittle the Cushite because she is dark-skinned and foreign? All right, I’ll make you light-skinned.” Verse 10: “Behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow.” God says not a critical word against Moses for marrying a black Cushite woman. But when Miriam criticizes God’s chosen leader for this marriage, God strikes her skin with white leprosy. If you ever thought black was a biblical symbol for uncleanness, be careful how you use such an idea; a white uncleanness could come upon you” (pg. 212).

For me and all my white friends: Let us Be careful how and why we like being white!

The Gospel is not Right Wing or Left Wing

“The Gospel is not Right Wing or Left Wing.” That’s John Piper’s tag-line on page 84 of his eye-opening book, “Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.” I have read nearly every book that Piper has written but this one truly breaks the mold. If you think that you do not have racist tendencies in your heart, think again; more than you might realize. And if you think that you have a grasp on racism in this country, well . . . he took me to school. His point: any area in your heart and life that you and I are a racist, is an area of sin that has yet to be conquered and changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Piper tells the story of his childhood in a racist baptist church in South Carolina and racism’s effect upon his heart. What follows is a kind of reading that I have not read anywhere in anything. I cannot recommend this book too strongly. Subjects and topics: Bill Cosby, Juan Williams, Civil Rights, Affirmative Action, Anti-Intellectualism, The Audacity of Hope, Martin Luther King, Jr.,Personal Responsibility and Structural Change, Inter-racial marriage, racial diversity, racial harmony, racial prejudice, and the fact that we all came from one man and one woman – the same parents, and the fact that Jesus Christ married a bride who was not of his race, and the fact that the gospel does not take sides in the controversy of racism, and the glorious truth that the gospel accomplishes what is needed, these and many more points of discussion is what makes this book one of Piper’s best.

In his chapter, “Personal Responsibility [advocate Bill Cosby] and Systemic Intervention [advocate Juan Williams],” Piper comes to the conclusion that both sides have merit to be put into action but neither is the full solution to the astounding racism in our hearts, in our churches, in our world, and especially here in America. So what is the solution and how do we apply it? I leave you with a trailer for the book and some of his hope-filled remarks as he glories in the gospel. But buy the book!

“The gospel is not an ideology. It does not come in as one idea alongside some others and make its contribution. The good news that God sent his Son Jesus into the world to die in the place of sinners, and bear their punishment, and become their prefect righteousness, and absorb the wrath of God, and set us right with him through faith alone, and rise from the dead triumphant over every foe – that gospel does not come as an ideology but as supernatural power . . . that creates new people.”                                       pg. 83

“The gospel is not a heavenly demand of what we must do to be saved; it is a heavenly declaration of what God has done to save us. The added good news is that we cannot earn what he has done for us but only receive it as a gift. And even this receiving – this trust – is a gift of God. It is God’s grace and God’s power from start to finish. This is why it is in a class by itself. It does not fit alongside any politics or ideology or philosophy or culture.” pg. 84

“Jesus did not come into the world to endorse anybody’s platform. He doesn’t fit in. He created the world. He holds it in being by his powerful word. He will return someday to judge the living and the dead. And he came the first time to die so that left-wing activists and right-wing talk-show hosts would be broken in pieces for their sin and put back together by the power of grace. He came so that from that day on Jesus himself would be the supreme treasure and authority in our lives. He came so that we would become radically devoted to the glory of God. He came so that the only kind of racial diversity and racial harmony we would pursue is Jesus-exalting, God-glorifying, and gospel-formed.”  pg. 85