The Standard July 2, 2020
There currently is a national discussion about who should and should not be honored on public property and what kind of legacy should and should not be memorialized. There seems to be consensus that we should not elevate leaders whose behaviors were almost consistently unjust or abusive or positively commemorate specific events that sought to inflict injustice. History and people are incredibly complex so there is disagreement about leaders who did or said some really bad things but also some very commendable things. What about those who completely changed course midstream after previously adhering to harmful beliefs or engaging in hurtful practices? Is there room for redemption in the public sphere? We all regret certain things we have done and said. No human could live up to our ideals. Who is worthy of honor? Even Mother Teresa and Gandhi, almost universally hailed as selfless peacemakers, have their share of staunch critics.
From a Christian perspective, there is not a person alive not in need of redemption. The Bible emphasizes this again and again. God uses deeply flawed individuals, forgiven and restored, to have a positive impact on the world.
In the Old Testament David is called a man after God’s own heart, yet at one point he has Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, put on the front lines of battle to be killed in the midst of fierce fighting. The prophet Nathan confronts David about this sin and the king sincerely repents for his grievous action.
The prostitute Rahab hides two spies sent by Joshua because she hears about what the Lord has done for Israel and realizes that God will give Jericho to the Israelites. She says, “The Lord your God is the God of heaven and earth.” (Joshua 2:11) Because Rahab hides the spies and puts her faith in the Lord, she and her family are spared when Jericho falls. She is one of the few women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and is listed as the mother of Boaz.
Peter is perhaps the most enthusiastic and impulsive of the twelve disciples and is hurt when Jesus predicts he will deny him three times before the rooster crows. Sure enough, after Jesus’ arrest, this prediction comes true. Peter is devastated by his failure but goes on to become one of the most effective preachers in history.
Saul of Tarsus, a young Pharisee with top notch credentials, is determined to do his part to stop the early Christians. He is present when Stephen is stoned and approves of the killing this disciple. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2) On the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to Saul. Saul is transformed by the grace of God, eventually preaching boldly and writing much of the New Testament. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:12-17)