The eighth commandment reads, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther asked his usual question, “What does this mean?” And then provides the answer: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
We live in a rapidly polarizing world in thought, politics, and religion. It used to be that if we were interested in intelligently discussing a topic, we would articulate all sides of the issue.
But it has become commonplace to vilify, dismiss and “cancel” anyone with a differing opinion.
Yet, it doesn’t seem to be the majority’s position from any party or denomination that advocates for violence or silencing those with whom we disagree. No matter what the talking heads on the news and political leaders might say, the vast majority of Democrats do not agree with the violence of ANTIFA. Likewise, the vast majority of Republicans are horrified by the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Yet when we paint either differing side with a broad brush, it does nothing but encourage more discord and drives a wedge down the center of our world.
While the phrase “Cancel Culture” is new, nothing about it is new. History is full of attempts to silence the opposition.
Take, for instance, the 18th century French Revolution leader, Maximillian Robespierre.
Robespierre was involved with establishing “The Committee for Public Safety.” That name probably sounds pretty good to most people on its own. After all, who would endorse “The Committee for Public Danger?” Unfortunately for many people, this “Public Safety” involved the imprisonment and/or execution of more than 26,000 fellow French men and women, which became known as “The Reign of Terror.” Robespierre and his committee found many excuses to behead those accused by their fellow “citizens” for disloyalty to the revolution. Disloyalty became an excuse for neighbors who wanted to eliminate any competition for a business, land, spouse, or most any reason to turn on each other. All that was required was a small donation to the right people, and a whispered accusation was enough to eliminate them or cancel them, for good.
In the end, Robespierre was also condemned for disloyalty and ruining the “glorious revolution.” He too was forced to visit Madam Guillotine (there is an exciting story in that episode alone).
Some 1750 years earlier, another man took on a “Cancel Culture” of his own. Saul of Tarsus was quite active in trying to cancel Christianity. We all know the story about Stephen’s martyrdom from Acts 7 and how Saul was there supervising the event.
Yet one day, not too long after the stoning of Stephen, just like Robespierre, Saul the canceler found himself canceled.
This time, the opposition was the resurrected Jesus. He set about his work by briefly blinding Saul and then raising him to a new life with the new name of Paul.
You see, when God cancels us, he cancels us to our benefit, not to our detriment. In the waters of baptism, the old sinful you was canceled.
Psalm 103:10-13 reads:
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
All of your sins, past, present, and future, even while sinning – canceled.
Your sentence of eternal death, which is rightly yours through your sin and rebellion – canceled.
Your enmity with God – canceled.
Through our sin, hate, and rebellion, we often don’t assume our neighbor’s best. When we categorize each other too quickly, dismiss them outright, or even worse, try to silence their voices, we are violating the eighth commandment. We quickly devolve into hate, which simultaneously makes us guilty of the fifth commandment, “Do not commit murder” (in our hearts or with our hands).
God cancels all of your canceling and being cancelled by keeping the eighth commandment. Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross where he exchanged your sin for his righteousness, God canceled the sinful you so that the saint might rise and live a new life.
When God cancels you, it is an occasion for all of the canceled who are in heaven and earth to rejoice in that one more is added to our number.
Let us together pray for our world in these difficult days:
Gracious Lord, we ask that as you have been so kind to us, we would desire to be kind to others. When we were in opposition to you, you suffered on our behalf.
May we who have been forgiven so much be willing to suffer for and be ready to forgive others so that together we might live peacefully with God and our neighbors.
In Jesus’ name, amen.