NPR’s All Thing’s Considered host Madeleine Brand recently did an interview with Forest Whitaker, the executive producer of a 5 part video documentary called “Brick City.” The series tells the story of Mayor Cory Booker’s attempt to restore safety and security to the streets of Newark, New Jersey.
Part of the interview includes an emotional speech by the principal of a local high school who is cooperating with Booker. In this sound bite from the series, School principal, Ras Baraka, is heard talking with his student body after a student is shot outside the school.
Giving great heartfelt emphasis to his repeated words, “but this is not normal,” the principal pleads, “You’re living this [violent] life like it’s normal. [but] It is abnormal to go to school to talk about your friends dying, to not be able to walk home safely from school, to be jumped every other day, to fail everything, to live in squalor, to have people’s parents coming outside fighting with them in the middle of the street.
This is not normal to be going to the hospital every other week, to be wearing t-shirts that say Rest in Peace, to be writing “rest in peace” on the wall. This is not normal. It’s not normal. And nobody else’s children do this.”
The reason I wanted to point to this interview is that it relates to what I’ve been thinking lately about how the Bible treats the sins of the fathers. Have been impressed by how many times the Bible talks about confessing the sins of our fathers while admitting our own wrongs.
Why this emphasis? Could it be an important part of recognizing normalcy when we see it? Before trying to answer that, there’s a prior question that may need to be asked first:
Doesn’t confessing the sins of the fathers seem to conflict with the Bible’s clear message that we are not held accountable for our parent’s wrongs, but for our own? The prophet Ezekiel makes an urgent plea for his people to stop blaming their parents for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:1-32).
Yet in spite of such a declaration, other prophets like Moses, Nehemiah, Ezra, and Daniel talk about confessing the sins of the fathers (i.e. Lev 26:39-40 ; Ezra 9:7; Nehemiah 1:6; 9:2; Dan 9:16; Psalm 106:6,7).
Here’s where I’m landing. See if this makes sense to you.
Am thinking that, in the case of Israel, some of their collective confessing might reflect the fact that they are looking at themselves not only as individuals but as a nation that has been testing the patience of God.
But– and this is what I want to really consider with you– could it also be that, to understand our own lives, we may need to see that life as we have lived it (maybe all we have ever known) is not “normal” (from God’s point of view) and that we can’t afford to go on– business as usual– regarding the way we think, talk, and relate to others as if that’s “just the way it is.”
Is it possible that to understand and confess our own sins we need to recognize with Isaiah, that “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips (Isa 6:5)?
We talk about generational sins as being repeated over and over from one generation to the other, so could this be one reason it is so important to think not only of life as we are living it (normal to a broken, lost rebel race)—but as Christ, our Savior, Lord, and Example, lived it for us—while offering to live that same life —in and through us?