“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Arrogant. Evildoer. Wicked. This whole chapter is a warning to “those people.” But who are these people, exactly? I thought that perhaps knowing the original Hebrew words might help me gain a fuller understanding of what these undesirable traits might actually be, and how to avoid them. I don’t know a lick of Hebrew, fortunately, I have Google and a plethora of results came back when I searched “Classical Hebrew Arrogant” and so forth. My favorite new reference is a Hebrew word study site. The layout is a little dated, but it had some great information on it. If you’re reading the Bible and wonder about a word, it’s a great place to check.
I’ll sum up my half hour of internet digging in a few sentences. Arrogant pretty much means what we think of as arrogant. Wicked most directly refers to cheating, as in, a merchant who uses false balances. “Evil” has many translations in the Bible, and many of them mean “harm” more so than “bad.” The example I liked best comes from a particularly long essay on the subject. It talked at length about the giving and receiving of “evil” names. Basically it refers to slander, or a person trying to harm another’s reputation, not cast a spell upon them that would turn them evil. Likewise an evil report can just mean bad tidings, not malicious misinformation. So what it boils down to is the arrogant, the wicked, and the evildoer are those who bring harm to others, either through false dealings, slander, or just plain bad behavior.
I started writing about how the evildoer and the wicked of the Bible are those who harm others, and how it is important to truly consider if someone is actually hurting others before condemning them (gay marriage critics, anyone? Sorry, couldn’t resist that jab). But then I realized I need to take one more step back and examine how my actions might be harming someone, turning me into the arrogant, wicked evildoer. One of the best, and hardest, pieces of Jesus’ teachings to follow is found in Matthew 7:5. You’ve probably heard it: “You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” In other words, study your own actions before you start seeing the fault in others.
Being in an interracial marriage with a husband vocal in social justice, I have a lot of conversations about white privilege, institutional racism, and implicit bias – all of which can be harmful phenomena. They are uncomfortable topics for a lot of white people, including some of those closest to me. I get it. We all want to believe that we are “good people;” and living in a society that is invisibly structured to exclude certain members of that society makes us complicit to a crime we didn’t even know we were committing. It’s jarring to realize this, and can make people defensive. I like to think I’m pretty sensitive to these things, again, being married to someone who is both Black and Native and now being a mother to two mixed-race children. But even from that close-up vantage point I have had to step back from time to time and reevaluate how I was reacting to things, how I was being part of the problem and not the solution.
Verse 4:6 tells us a prophet will come to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents.” This means we’ll be truly thinking of others, in tune with each other’s needs. This is empathy! We already know what that is, we don’t need a prophet to start doing that, we can start now. Sometimes that is easy – comforting a friend through sorrow feels natural, and doesn’t require a lot of self-examination. Sometimes, though, we need to recognize when what we are doing (or not doing), may be harmful to others, even by proxy, and then see what we can do to change that.
My plea today is for you to join me in identifying your positions of privilege. I don’t want you to feel guilty about it, but I do want you to identify it. Perhaps you are white. Perhaps you are wealthy. Hell, perhaps you’re just middle class, that’s a privilege. Perhaps you are able-bodied, and have health insurance through work, and don’t deal with mental illness. You get the idea. Again, don’t feel guilty about any privileges you may have, but do see where they may make you blind to those that don’t have them. Let’s use an example from recent headlines. There were two men, both fathers, accused of murder in separate incidents. The white man was humanized, with news sources using his name, calling him a father in the headlines, and showing pictures of him with his family. The black man was simply called an “Arizona man,” and his mugshot instead of any photos of him with his family were used. Just through subtle differences in reporting, the white man was made to seem sympathetic while the black man was made to look criminal. Now, I hope you are never accused of murder, but there are many small instances of our society all working in similar ways against people of color, and just like a dripping faucet, those instances add up.
If you feel yourself getting angry, flustered, or defensive right now, try to examine why. If there’s anything marriage has taught me, it is that often the most important time to reach out a hand for understanding is when you are angry: don’t fight the person, fight the problem. One time I read a post on Pantsuit Nation one time after the Women’s March. A black woman had been belittled on the metro on her way to the rally. Not by any counter-protesters, but by her fellow marchers. She was angry, and hurt, and the pain came through very raw in her writing. My immediate reaction was to jump in and say “not all white people are like that” and basically defend myself, separate myself from the others, listing off all my shining non-racist characteristics. Many others had already done that. But that would only make me feel better, and wasn’t what this woman needed to hear. She needed the space to tell her story and be heard. Some others commented as much, I decided just to “love” the post. Just holding space for her was the best I could do, even if it was hard. So I did it, and vowed to keep examining my own actions, learning where I can make changes so as to not contribute to racism, institutional or overt, and help shine light on where it still exists.
We’re going to mess up, we’re going to make new, sometimes painful, discoveries. But the important thing is to keep going, keep searching, and keep “turning your heart” to those around you, and you will see God turn his heart to you in return.
Yay! A whole book down and Advent isn’t even over! I’ll read Psalm 126 next and then find some passages on John the Baptist, since he was also sent to prepare the way for Jesus and seems like a fitting Advent figure. I’m not sure which yet, I’ll let you know on Friday.