Ethnicity and the New Creation
This post is by Daniel Im (M.A., Fuller Theological Seminary). Daniel is the Church Multiplication Specialist for LifeWay in Nashville, TN, and leads New Churches, an online hub for the mission of church multiplication.
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In movies like Memento or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the story is told in reverse—we call this technique the reverse chronology method. As counter-intuitive as this method might seem, movies that start with the end can actually be quite compelling, if not more so, than the traditional method of going from start to finish. This is because you’re placed in the seat of an investigator when the first scene of the movie is the end or the climax. You know something that the actors don’t, and you are trying to piece together the actions that they will take, in order to get to that end.
In the same way, you and I are living in a reverse chronology story. We know what is going to happen in the end—Jesus will return and he will usher in his new creation. His kingdom will fully come and be fully realized here on earth as it is in heaven. However, today, we are living in a moment where the kingdom is here but not fully here. We see evidences of God’s fingerprint and his new creation taking shape, but we can’t fully experience it until Jesus returns. As a result, we are living in a time of tension – we are straddling between the now and the not yet. We know what the end will bear, but today we still need to bear through the trials and struggles of this world. We know that in the end, there will be no more tears, grief, crying, pain, and death (Rev 21:4), but today, we face those harsh realities even more so than ever before. The future vision of this new creation is most clearly outlined in Rev 7:9-10.
After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!
John is explaining the landscape of the new creation that awaits us—the future reality that will be ours. He is saying how, in that day, there will be a vast multitude from every nation, every tribe, every people, and every language, standing before the throne worshipping our God. If that’s what the future will bear, I have two questions: 1) Why is our current reality so far away from that? 2) What then is our responsibility?
My wife and I had our first child while we were pastoring in Korea. If you’ve ever eaten Korean food or visited Korea, you might’ve heard about this thing called Kimchi—for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s sort of like a spicy sauerkraut. The interesting thing that about pregnancy is that you become hyper-sensitive to the smells around you. As a result, anytime I ate Kimchi, my wife knew about it and it made her queasy in the stomach. She even told me that if I was going to eat Kimchi, that I should stay away from her for awhile. While I knew that, and while I love my wife dearly, there were just some days where I just couldn’t help myself. I would try to hide the smell by chewing gum, eating mints, and gargling with mouthwash, but there was really no way to mask the smell. I was Kimchi, Kimchi was me. It was “normal” for me to eat it, and I couldn’t ditch the habit.
In the same way, ethnic divides, for many, are just “normal.” It’s the way they grew up and they don’t know any different. For example, if someone grows up in rural Alabama, deep in the South, then their “normal,” is a mono-ethnic community. On the other hand, if someone grows up in multi-cultural Vancouver, then their “normal,” is a multi-ethnic community.
Although we all have “normals” in our lives, especially when it comes to ethnicity, it is every Christian’s responsibility to grow in awareness and then do something about it. A Christian cannot just read Rev 7:9-10 and sit still. Especially when other passages, like John 17:21-23 are clearly outlined in the Scriptures.
May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Jesus is addressing all believers here. He is saying that Christians need to cast aside all ethnic divides and be in unity with one another, in order for the the world to truly know him. Unity is a critical part of our witness to this unbelieving world. Now while that may be difficult for some, especially for those whose “normal” is a mono-ethnic culture, Jesus is saying that he is the meeting point for unity. In other words, while a surfer from Southern California may not have much in common with a farmer from Quebec, their unity point is not in their political views nor in their language—it’s found in Jesus.
The funny thing about these two passages is that they’re intricately related—one begets the other. So my prayer for you this week is that you would grow in awareness of your ethnic “quotient” and examine what your “normal” might be in relationship to other ethnicities. One of the best ways to do this is by visiting an ethnic restaurant and examining the language that you use to describe the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the experience. If you find yourself using words like “different,” “gross,” “weird,” or “why would they do it that way?” than you may not be further along than you might think.