Digging in Deeper: Revelation 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 clothed in white robes 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!'” (CSB – Read the chapter)

In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school I got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend three weeks in Higashimurayama, Tokyo, Japan. It was an absolutely fantastic trip. It was made even better that I made the trip with a group of some of my closest friends at the time. Rather than staying in hotels, though, we all were assigned to a different family with whom we spent the bulk of our time. The total cultural immersion was a transformative experience. Our hosts were gracious far beyond what we could have imagined. They went out of their way to both make us comfortable, but also introduce us to the best their culture had to offer so that we could appreciate it more fully. It worked wonderfully. Traditional Japanese culture is beautiful. I got back home even more convinced of that than I was before I left. But during our time there, it was really nice to get together with our group members. There’s just something about relaxing in a culture with which you are familiar when you’ve been immersed in one with which you aren’t. I was reminded of this by a recent episode of Mixed-ish. Let’s talk about it.

About a month ago I shared some thoughts on the popular ABC sitcom, Mixed-ish. My conclusion then was that while the show’s secularly pluralistic worldview isn’t something we can support as followers of Jesus, the picture of family it offers is most definitely praiseworthy. To perhaps put that another way, the worldview providing the foundation for the show’s pluralistic worldview outlook is worth supporting. The creators simply don’t understand or aren’t willing to give credit to the real source of the positive values they affirm.

My goal here is not to add to any of that analysis. I simply want to offer some observations on this week’s episode. Normally I wouldn’t come back to a show I’ve already reviewed, but this episode so caught my attention I couldn’t leave it alone. This week’s episode, “Just the Two of Us,” held three separate plotlines. The minor plotline was an odd affirmation of the value of couples sticking together in marriage that somehow simultaneously cynically glorified divorce. The final point was pro-marriage, but it was awkward. Of the two major plotlines, one was about the sometimes quiet, sometimes not-so-quiet racism black women experience in the workplace and how they need to stick together to push through it in order to hopefully create something better for their children. The other plotline is the one that so caught my attention.

The sisters, Alicia and Denise, are excited because the other black couple in the neighborhood along with some other black friends are going to get together with them to play the card game Spades. Paul, Alicia’s white husband, is interested in being a part of the fun. The problem is, according to the sisters, playing Spades is a black culture thing and his trying to be a part of the fun would just ruin it. Undeterred, Paul makes some efforts to learn how to play and Alicia finally gives in and teaches him. She explains to her most skeptical sister that since he’s her person, she can’t in good conscience leave him out of the affair. The night of the event finally arrives and Paul demonstrates himself to have learned well from his wife and mastered the game. The two of them dominate the competition.

But.

His efforts to fit in with the all black crowd are awkward to say the least. While all the guests go out of their way to be gracious to him and receive his efforts to enter into their world in a way most white people wouldn’t even bother trying, it is painfully obvious that he just doesn’t fit. What’s more, his oblivious efforts are just serving to make everyone else uncomfortable. This reality becomes more and more apparent to Alicia who finally snaps, tells everyone to go home, and fusses at Paul in front of all the company for pushing himself in where he really wasn’t wanted in the first place. At first offended, Paul assumes the best, thinks graciously, and invites the neighbors back over to play one more game with just the two of them and Alicia and Denise – the all-black game they wanted in the first place.

I’ll admit: my first reaction to the episode was frustration and a little bit of offense. Why couldn’t they just include him? If Alicia was willing to marry a white man, why couldn’t she bring him fully into every part of her world? Isn’t that marriage is supposed to be? A total and complete sharing of every part of yourself with your spouse? They get that right in so many other parts of the show, why would they drop the ball on this point?

Then I thought back to my trip to Japan. Alicia had been raised in a particular culture. There was a set of customs and expectations and traditions and behaviors that were normal to her. Her norms are not necessarily or inherently superior to Paul’s cultural norms – a fact the show is good and wise to not proclaim – but they are what she’s comfortable with. They are familiar. They are like a warm fire and a comfortable chair when you’ve been out working in the cold all day. This came out a few episodes back when Rainbow wanted to go to church and her parents who had been doing their best to raise her in an entirely secular environment relented and let her go to Alicia’s family’s black Baptist church. Alicia hadn’t been in years and had ostensibly embraced the progressive, liberal secularism of her husband, Paul, but going back sparked memories of the faith of her youth and the church culture she’d grown up loving and she wanted to recommit herself to it.

Alicia and Paul are a wonderful couple, but in coming from two very different home cultures, their life together is one extended exercise in cross-cultural communication and learning. That’s a very good thing that far too many people get far too little exposure to over the course of their lives. But it takes effort. Living and moving in a culture that is not familiar is tiring. Speaking in a language other than your heart language wears you out after a while. Just like getting back with our group in Japan was a chance to relax and stop trying so hard to show honor and respect to our incredibly accommodating and gracious hosts, playing that game of Spades with a group of all black people was a chance for Alicia to relax and just breathe. She needed that time and her husband was kind and gracious enough to give it without a fight.

In a way, even couples who both share the same skin color and attendant broad cultural traditions bring a different set of norms into the relationship. Marriage is a giant exercise in adjusting to the norms of someone who was raised in a different environment than you were. It feels good to go home sometimes for precisely the same reasons it was so good for our tour group in Japan to get back together. You can speak your heart language with other people who speak it equally well and don’t have to translate or run the risk of mistranslating and offending or being offended. But when you marry someone who comes out of an entirely different culture because they come out of an entirely different race these challenges are magnified, sometimes exponentially. Such unions are a good and positive thing, but they are challenging in ways same-race marriages are not.

This is simply how things are.

But it’s not how they should be. And it’s not how they always will be.

Such cultural divisions are a fine thing. It’s normal and even healthy that they exist. People form culture when they get together in groups over a sustained period of time. Different groups form different cultures. And while all cultures are equally broken by sin and reflect that brokenness in ways as unique as they themselves are, no one culture is inherently superior to another. Some have given more into the brokenness of sin because of a culture-wide rejection of the righteousness of God, but none are inherently without worth. None are unworthy of our efforts to appreciate and to redeem what’s broken with the power of the Gospel. Indeed, all cultures can be redeemed by the power of the Gospel. What’s more, in the end, all of them will be.

That’s what John saw in this vision of the end. He saw an enormous group of people representing every nation, tribe, people, and language. Imagine the breadth of cultures represented by this incredible gathering! And all of them were gathered before the throne of God and giving praise to Jesus as one. Their individual distinctives were not lost, but all were comfortable with one another. They were gathered as one church together worshiping the Lamb.

Doesn’t that sound better than the divisions and prejudices that currently separate us? This is what the Christian worldview offers that no other worldview can copy. The wokeist worldview quickly gaining dominance in our culture with its foundations in critical race theory has no vision of this kind of harmony and cooperation. It forces everyone into groups and allows no appreciation or embrace of one group to another. There is only power and struggle. Perhaps that leaves some traditionally oppressed groups feeling a superiority they have not before known, but it will not satisfy the souls of those who walk such a path. And it will not ultimately bring people together.

John’s vision was entirely different from this and superior in every way. We look forward to a day when every culture will be gathered under the banner of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. They will not lose their distinctive aspects, but will be fully redeemed. Each will appreciate and celebrate the others, glorifying God for such incredible diversity while being perfectly united under the authority of Christ. What a day that will be! It’s not here yet, but when we get it right, this is what the church offers the world. It’s why being a part of the church is so important.

This week’s Mixed-ish episode may have accurately, positively, and graciously reflected where things are, but in Christ, we hope for a day when things will be even better. Distinctions won’t be erased. Cultures won’t be eliminated. We will all be redeemed. Christ will be all in all. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

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