Telling It All
One of the remarkable things about the Bible is how it tells the whole story of God’s people—good and bad, glorious and ugly:
- the second generation of humans engaged in murder
- occupying the Promised Land involved believing God demanded genocide against the Canaanites
- Israel’s first king, Saul, went mad; their best king, David, committed adultery and murder
- the Israelites understood their exile to be a result of their own idolatry.
They knew they were God’s people, but also that they were deeply flawed. Their story includes keeping commandments and loving God; it also includes violence and deceit. The point is they acknowledged their sinfulness; they faced up to the evils of their past. They told it all—good and bad.
The New Testament is similar. His disciples deserted Jesus at the cross. Jesus himself tried to exclude a foreign woman from God’s gifts (Mark 7:24-30). Early churches had problems with pride, sex, even basic kindness. They told it all—good and bad.
Our country has been tempted to tell our story a different way. We want to glory in the good but suppress the bad. We remember American ingenuity and generosity but overlook the cruelty and racism. For example, many people minimize the effects of slavery. After all, they say, that was a long time ago . . . maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. And how many of us were taught that before Europeans arrived, Native Americans probably numbered 112 million, that by 1650 there were fewer than six million, and today they are one-half of one percent of the US population?
The question is: are we willing to tell it all? So-called “cancel culture” gets criticized for “erasing” people from history. Actually, it seeks to tell more of their history: that Columbus dared to sail (close to) America and he enslaved people in the Caribbean. The US Constitution gave new rights to ordinary (white male) people and considered Africans 3/5 of a person. We “tell it all” not to induce guilt or shame--but to be honest, to see clearly, to take responsibility for shaping a different future.
Spiritual teacher Richard Rohr writes, “You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge.” The ghosts of our past will not stop haunting us until we face the pain and violence of our history. The Bible tells it all—good and bad, glorious and ugly. So can we.