As I write this, the world rages with turmoil. This, of course, is nothing new. The latest horror we have witnessed is that of George Floyd, lying on the ground, neck being crushed by an officer’s knee. “I can’t breathe,” he said, and that statement has transformed into the mantra of activists who bravely step forward and say that we can not go on like this any longer. I was honored to be a part of such a march in the effort. An innocent man is now dead, crushed by the systems that have been allowed to endure, which snap the Divine Parent’s heart in two. Ironically, we just celebrated Pentecost Sunday a few weeks ago, where we highlighted the Spirit, the Holy Breath of God. We are aching for a deep, cleansing breath.
I fully acknowledge my position as a white woman who has benefited from privilege. I am working to learn and grow. I am overwhelmed by the amount of content I see on the news and on my social media feed, but I also affirm that what feels like inundation is good and important in the world’s journey to become better. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not supposed to be comfortable. Growth never is, but this means the Lord is bringing about a new thing (Is. 43:19).
While doing my devotions this week, it was impossible to keep our hurting society out of my reading. I am going through 1 Kings and just reached the section which describes Solomon’s unfaithfulness to YHWH as he builds altars to the forgein gods of the women with whom he is taken. He had promised to be faithful to the one, true God just as his father, David, had been, but Solomon went the way of humans everywhere and stepped off the straight and narrow.
Needless to say, YHWH was not happy. 1 Kings 11:9-13 reads:
“The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.’” (NIV)(Disclaimer: the thoughts I am about to share are devotional and not strictly exegetical. I fully understand that I am projecting my thoughts onto Scripture, but this passage is helping me make sense of some of my runaway trains of thought.)
Way back when, God had promised to establish David’s line over Israel. This lineage and leadership was tied to the covenant made with God: His people would remain faithful and the Lord will continue to be on their side. David was able to more or less keep this promise, but we see his son trying to remain in covenant with God while also providing space for false idols. He had found some beautiful women outside the covenant and wanted to make them happy. But, just as I cannot have both a healthy relationship with my husband and a slew of lesser men, Solomon could not maintain a true connection with YHWH while also entertaining wandering loyalties.
Down the road, Solomon’s disobedience resulted in the land splitting into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Judah remained with Solomon’s son for the sake of keeping the promise that was made to David, but the rest was taken away from this wise king’s progeny. So much fallout came from Solomon’s indiscretion and God’s subsequent, righteous action. Despite the fact that Solomon’s misdeeds were his own, the consequences echoed through the centuries. His people had to live with them. They were ingrained into their societies, their understandings of the world. People who may have never met Solomon lived in one or the other kingdom because of him. Long ago sins wove their way into the fabric of society.
Today, the sin of Solomon has led me toward reflection upon how the sins of our fathers haunt us, shape us, and can very easily cause us to grind to a halt so that we might rest in the status quo.
Though it might not be a perfect parallel, this passage has me thinking about how the brokenness of those who have gone before us still sticks with us today. How has the fact that the horrors of slavery were allowed to persist for so long affected our collective consciousness? What does it mean for us that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, or that Ruby Bridges had to walk to class through a gauntlet of screaming adults? How in the world can we function apart from this darkness when Confederate flags are still widely marketed and systemic poverty and racism pervades?
What will it do to our children to know that videos of innocent people dying have gone viral and that only some of us have done something to change the circumstances that brought it about? How has our collective, continuous consciousness led to George Floyd, prone on the street?
You may never have purposely done or said anything racist in your life, but whether you are safe at home or on the front lines of a protest, you have been affected by the sins that were perpetuated before you. You have either benefited or been pushed down by the decisions society has made. You may not have ever meant to be harmful, but unfortunately the harms done way back when can be normalized in different ways without our realizing it.
There were thousands of innocent people who might have been completely faithful to YHWH, but because Solomon was not, they felt it because disunity set in. You may not have been alive during the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement, but communal sin has a way of persisting through our attempts at civility. This is not to say that you are responsible for sins that took place before your time, but it does mean that the scars left from our forebear’s decisions are alive and real today. We must acknowledge them. We must work to change them.
Now, those wounds are expressing themselves in the form of protests and even rioting. These are the manifestations of years and years of aching and, white friends, we must acknowledge the fact that hurts inflicted by white folks before us still exist today. We must ask ourselves two questions:
Where have these sins written themselves on my own mind and heart without my knowledge or active participation?
How can I be a part of changing the narrative?
Really seek the Holy Spirit and trust that God will reveal some answers to these questions. Apply them to your lives, your communities, and I trust that you will begin to see the slow growth of redemptive fruit. It is also important to note that this does not just apply to racism, but also to such things as cycles of abuse, addiction, hatred, and poverty. We feel the choices of others and the systems they create.
There have been a lot of Solomons in our history who have not acted righteously, thereby hurting a lot of people and sending a tidal wave of brokenness from which none of us are safe. The good news, though, is that God is so faithful and He desires to bring about healing on all sides of the picket line. Solomon may have sinned, but the Lord remained faithful to His promise to David. He remains faithful to us as well. It is true that brokenness exists in our world, but it is also true that God’s Kingdom is marked by miraculous healing. Repent of what you have done, renounce that which was done before you, and trust the Lord to bring us all into something better. These cycles can be broken, in Jesus’ name.
May future generations look back at us and see not Solomon, but a God that moved in us and through us so that they might have a better tomorrow.
Cross-posted from Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today