Recently, the black lives matter movement came to the fore. Along with it came a desire to remove statues, plaques, memorials and other such things that appeared to some to be venerating those who were linked to the slave trade. Just yesterday, The Times reported that Jesus College, Cambridge – much to the chagrin of the man’s descendants – were planning on moving Tobias Rustadt’s funeral memorial from their chapel to a disused wine cellar.
I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of removing statues and memorials or whatnot here. Rather, I just want to land on one point: we all have a murky past. Few of us, if we delved back into our family trees – and could actually unearth all the details of our families and their lives – could get away scot free.
Just as all families have murky pasts, so do Evangelicals. Our so-called heroes – though they did a great deal of good – were often involved in some significantly less good things too. Jonathan Edwards was a slave owner as was George Whitefield. Though John Wesley denounced the slave trade, his marriage was a total mess. It is hard to overlook Martin Luther’s antisemitic rants. I’m not aware of any major issues with CH Spurgeon, but let’s be honest, if we looked hard enough we would surely find them. You get the point.
We only have to open the Bible to see a similar pattern. Jacob was a liar and deceiver. Moses was an angry murderer. David was an abusive predator and murderer. Judges is chocabloc full of the most nuts behaviour you can imagine. Heinous behaviour in the people of God abounds.
This is ultimately the problem with any sort of hero-worship or veneration of people. People are disappointing. Not only disappointing, but down right awful much of the time. It is part of our condition. The closer you look, even the best of our heroes have feet of clay. There is always the nagging feeling that some murky backstory will one day be uncovered. We fear it because, deep down, we know our own sinful nature and – though there are genuinely degrees of these things – none of us are really squeaky clean.
That is why I was grateful for these tweets:
We need to be realistic about the nature of sin. There is nothing wrong with looking at good examples, whether from the Bible, our history or around us today. But we always need to remember that nobody is perfect and the murky history that we all have because of our sin will exist even in those we tend to hold up as good examples. Even our brightest shining examples will be dulled by the presence of sin in their life.
Only one person can really withstand that sort of scrutiny. Only one person has absolutely no murky past which will make us embarrassed by association. In fact, he takes our own murky histories – he takes all the reasons why anybody should be ashamed of being associated with us – and he covers them with his own perfect righteousness. He takes our sin, associating himself with us despite knowing exactly what we are like, so that we have no need to be ashamed.
If we orient ourselves around Christ, erring away from venerating other people, we will do well. Let Jesus be our ultimate example. Let Christ be the one to whom we point people. Only his sinless, non-murky life and death will prove to be no embarrassment in the end.