Remember me raving a few weeks back about Humans of New York? Well, I want to share a picture and the quote that went with it which was recently posted on their Facebook page:
“I had forty acres and a new home out in California. I was working as a stone mason. I could bring in $6000 cash some weeks. Then I was walking home one night and someone tried to kill me. I got brain damage. I lost my sense of smell, my sense of taste, most of my hearing, and now I can barely stand without getting dizzy. I must have fallen and cracked my head open thirty times since then. Everything I knew has been washed out into the water. I’ve tried to commit suicide several times.”
The comments under this post were FILLED with various versions of people saying, “I always assume that the homeless people I see on the streets are there because they’re lazy drug users. I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.”
Now, this picture and this man’s story isn’t going to change the world all by itself. But there’s something powerful going on here nonetheless. Because it’s not just this one picture and one story. Right now, millions of stories that have never been told before are being told for the first time. And those stories are challenging long held assumptions about people who have long lived under the weight of humanity’s condemnation.
Consider the way we have seen a sea change in society’s perception of homosexuality over the last few years. Those who keep up with how this happened point to one main cause; LGBT people began coming out and telling their stories. No longer could society get away with vilifying homosexuals as deviant perverts when it turned out that they might a pastor’s kid or someone who volunteers with the homeless or some other respected member of the community. It gets harder and harder to view homosexuals as those who are in rebellion against God when you’ve heard hundreds of stories of young people who drove themselves to the point of death trying to change or resist their sexual orientation or accept a life of celibacy. Society hasn’t gotten more lax; it’s just that in the face of stories which had never been told or listened to before, our ideas about how things work had to change.
Some people see this as a bad thing. A lot of people think that we’ve taken a wrong turn by getting away from clear lines between right and wrong. In their view, we’ve gone soft on sin and just give everyone a free pass to do as they please. However, what has really been happening is that for the first time in human history, even the most maligned and most easily condemned have a voice that they have never had before. And what all these stories are teaching us is that while right and wrong may be easy enough to spot, the reasons people end up on the wrong side of that divide are far different than we presumed them to be.
It turns out that GK Chesterton’s warning was correct: “to understand all is to forgive all”. Only it’s not a warning so much as the answer to how it is that Jesus could say, “I came not to condemn the world but to save it.” Jesus understood all, and has already forgiven all.
What we fail to understand is that condemnation is not a tool for combating sin. Condemnation is the tool the Enemy uses to keep us tied to sin. And according to Revelation, we have two weapons for defeating the power of condemnation: the blood of the Lamb and the power of our testimony.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” ~ Revelation 12:10-11
What we are witnessing around the world, as those who previously lived under condemnation are finally able to tell their stories, is a fulfillment of this verse. All around the world today, people are throwing off the enemy’s accusations and condemnation of them in order to speak. They do so because they are confident of their own innocence, which is the power of the blood of the Lamb, whether they know it by name or not. Their stories are “the word of their testimony”. And they are doing so even when it might mean death – physical or spiritual – at the hands of the world.
Again, this is one of those things which is so obvious and so right in our face, that we rarely stop to consider how remarkable it is. For most of human history, your knowledge of what was going on around the world was far away. Your view of people outside of your own group was that of a skeptical outsider who assumed the worst about what you saw. And along comes modern media and journalism and even the odd reality show and all our assumptions about everyone else just keep getting popped.
For the first time, it is possible to have a decently clear picture of the world as it actually is and people as they actually are and . . . it’s a mess. We’re getting better, but good Lord, we’re a wreck, aren’t we? A man who was a crime victim winds up on the streets, begging passing strangers for change because of his injuries? And nearly everyone who passes him ignores or assumes the worst about him? Is this really the world we want?
The section of Revelation I quoted above goes on to say,
“For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
If you’ve been engaged in conversations with other humans lately, you’ve seen this happening. Along with all the people admitting their error in assuming every homeless person was just lazy and drug addled, there were sprinkled people pushing back. Why didn’t he just go on disability? (It’s very hard for a person with brain damage to manage the byzantine process of getting disability.) Maybe if he hadn’t been so focused on making money, he would have had people who cared enough about him to help him when his time of need came. (We don’t know what his previous relationships were like.) And so on and so forth. They enemy’s tool is condemnation and people who are still beholden to his kingdom will go looking for any excuse to continue wielding it.
As I have mentioned a time or two dozen before, we humans are really bad at being wrong. Generally we’d rather not listen to these stories. We want to poke holes in them, challenge every choice, argue in support of the status quo, vilify the story tellers, cover up and discredit them. But it’s not going to work for long. As the verse says, the enemy knows his time is short. The blood of the Lamb and our testimonies are more than powerful enough to defeat him. So long as people “do not love their lives unto death” and are willing to take hold of that power, the enemy’s days are quickly drawing to an end. It may be hard to see or imagine right now, seeing what a mess we are. But it’s happening right before our eyes.