The Curse Between Us
Why Racial Healing Begins at Calvary
Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org
“Has it ever occurred to you,” A.W. Tozer once asked, “that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow” (The Pursuit of God, 79–80).
Tozer’s illustration applies to a number of pressing issues today, including the church’s pursuit of ethnic diversity. Some today, longing for our churches to look more like the coming kingdom (Revelation 5:9), pursue diversity in a head-on manner — talking, teaching, and posting about it more than anything else. To be sure, we must talk and teach (and perhaps sometimes post). Nevertheless, focusing on diversity itself will not tune the pianos of one hundred hearts; for that, we need a stronger tuning fork.
That stronger tuning fork is nothing less than the cross of Christ. Some may wonder about the relevance of the cross to our modern pursuit of ethnic diversity. Others may acknowledge the centrality of the cross, yet in practice devote themselves to matters that feel more practical. But ethnic discord dies, and ethnic harmony rises, only when our hearts resonate with Calvary, where Christ became a curse for us.
No More Blessing
In one of his more scandalous sentences, the apostle Paul draws together the cross of Christ, the curse of the law, and the reconciliation of the nations:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” — so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13–14)
The word curse draws us into an unfamiliar world. Blessing we are accustomed to, but curse? It is a dark word, a jagged word, a word that interrupts and unnerves. Yet it is a biblical word — and one that speaks a seldom-heard message into ethnic animosity.
To fall under the curse of God is to fall under his judgment (Deuteronomy 28:15–68). The cursed are cut off from God’s presence (Psalm 37:22), covered with shame (Jeremiah 42:18), and cast into fire and darkness (Matthew 25:41). To feel the weight of the curse, R.C. Sproul suggests that you simply reverse the benediction of Numbers 6:24–26 into the “supreme malediction”:
May the Lord curse you and abandon you.
May the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment without grace.
May the Lord turn his back upon you and remove his peace from you forever.
Such is the curse of the law. And according to Paul, it falls on everyone: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26). The Book of the Law, of course, belonged to the Jews. But here Paul writes to Gentiles, suggesting that the curse comes not only to all in Israel, but to all in Adam — not only to those who had the law in a book, but to those who had the law in their conscience (Romans 2:14–16). Outside of Christ, every people group, every ethnicity, falls under God’s curse.
Life Under the Curse
What does life under the curse look like? Consider the chaos that ensues after the first curse leaves God’s mouth (Genesis 3:14–15, 17–19). Cherubim and a flaming sword guarded the entrance of Eden, sending humanity out into a thorn-covered earth. Once there, we could not help but spread the curse far as the earth is found.
Outside the blessing of the garden (Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3), unity gives way to division, fellowship to enmity, harmony to discord. Cain kills Abel out of envy, violence roams the land unchecked, and the one humanity fractures into a thousand warring tribes (Genesis 4:8; 6:11; 10:1–32). Born under a curse, we cannot help but multiply the curse’s myriad effects. Born into severed fellowship with God, we cannot help but break fellowship with one another.
Ethnic division and animosity, then, find their explanation here. Despite how sophisticated we’ve become, we are still born with cursed hearts on a cursed earth. We still dwell on the scorched land outside Eden, a land where lynching and looting, mob violence and unheard protest, vicious slavery and refined segregation grow like thorns from the soil of our souls.
And unless someone comes to lift the curse from our shoulders, we simply try to heave it onto another’s. The Moabite king of old solicited a prophet to curse his enemies: “Come now, curse this people for me” (Numbers 22:6). Israel’s Pharisees threw their own brothers under the curse: “This crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (John 7:49). Closer to our own day, some slaveowners justified brutality against Africans on the grounds that they bore the curse of Ham (Genesis 9:24–25). And in our own day, though curse may be absent from our vocabulary, much of our speech amounts to little less than cursing our adversaries.
Under the curse, every mouth is filled with accusations and recriminations, “curses and bitterness” (Romans 3:14). Until the coming of the curse-bearer.
Christ Became a Curse
God had spoken in Israel’s ancient law, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23). So when the fullness of time had come, and man-made trees scarred the hills of the Roman Empire, God sent forth his Son to hang on Calvary’s cross. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
Upon Christ fell every sin of God’s people, including every ethnic sin: Every injustice, every slur, every apathetic turn of the eyes, every hateful thought hidden in the caverns of the mind. Every stab of superiority, every fantasy of another’s downfall, every fuming lust for revenge. There, at the Place of the Skull, with thorns piercing his head, cut off and condemned, the blessed Son became a curse — our curse.
John Murray writes,
He became so identified with the curse resting upon his people that the whole of it in all its unrelieved intensity became his. That curse he bore and that curse he exhausted. That was the price paid for this redemption and the liberty secured for the beneficiaries is that there is no more curse. (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 41)
No more curse. Christ took our curse upon the cross and carried it with him into the grave. Then, three days later, he walked out with a blessing.
Life Under the Blessing
Christ redeemed us from the curse, Paul tells us, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). Through Christ, blessing invades the land of the curse, ripping out thorns of division and planting oaks of peace. Here under the blessing, people from all peoples find themselves united by a threefold cord: “in Christ Jesus,” “the promised Spirit,” “through faith.”
‘IN CHRIST JESUS’
Under the curse, each sees himself in his tribe, his culture, his family, his color. But under the blessing, each sees himself fundamentally “in Christ Jesus,” and therefore bound to one another by the strongest blood there is. By faith, we each “put on Christ,” in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–28). Unity among all mankind rests on union with the one Man, Jesus Christ. Only then do those of different colors see themselves less as I and you and more as we.
Along with this union comes “the promised Spirit,” the great unifier and beautifier of the church. Where ethnic animosity once led us into “enmity, strife, . . . rivalries, dissensions, divisions,” now the Spirit bears “love, joy, peace, patience,” and his other manifold fruits (Galatians 5:19–23).
Our newfound unity in the Spirit does not remove the need for painful conversations about the ethnic sins in our past or the personal prejudice in our flesh, but it does ensure that such conversations proceed along the Spirit’s lines, filled with the Spirit’s fruit. Such unity also keeps us from loading a curse onto the head of any brother — no matter how wrong we may think he is — either by excluding him from our fellowship or by destroying him with our tongue. We instead say to ourselves, “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8).
Finally, the blessing comes to us only “through faith,” which leaves no room for ethnic advantage. Faith brings the entrance to God’s kingdom low — so low that anyone can enter. Yet too low for anyone unwilling to stoop alongside others from every culture and color. Together, we gather on the ground below the cross, gazing up at the one who became the curse for every nation. There, surrounded by a world fragmented into thousands of peoples with their ten thousand boasts, the church proclaims by faith our only praise: Christ and him crucified.
No More Curse
Without loving the cross, preaching the cross, singing of the cross, and living near the cross, our attempts at diversity — even so-called Christian diversity — will succumb to the splintering effects of the curse. Such attempts will try to unite around something, but that something will fail to bring our hearts in tune. The only tuning fork for ethnic harmony is the one that rings from Calvary.
There, Christ lifts the curse from every repentant person, without distinction or division. There, he humbles the proud and heals the humble. There, he wins the blessing that reunites the nations. And there, he assures us that the day is coming when no inch of the earth will harbor “anything accursed” (Revelation 22:3), and the pursuit of ethnic diversity will be done.