As Donald Trump was becoming President-elect yesterday, I found myself singing a familiar song from my childhood: Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.
A well-known African-American spiritual, it tells the story of when God destroyed the walls of Jericho, and led his people safely into the Promised Land of Canaan (c.f. Joshua 6:1-27). Most likely composed by slaves, it’s a song that both declares God’s mighty deliverance, and gives comfort to those that wait for it.
Those that know me know that I have never been in favour of a Trump Presidency. As a woman, as a person of colour, and as the daughter of an immigrant, I have found it almost impossible to move past both his careless rhetoric and divisive policies. Trump’s pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico strikes me not only as politically foolish, but socially disastrous.
This article however, is not about Donald Trump.
It’s about us.
It’s about the compulsion of the human heart to divide and exclude. About our inevitable unwillingness to extend the hand of grace, and our repulsion towards difference. It’s about the fear that incites us to build walls, and about what happens when we forget the God who destroys them.
It’s about how even now we can hope, because not only do all walls come down eventually, the greatest ones already have.
The Great Wall-Builders
It seems more than ironic that yesterday was November 9. While the world watched as America elected a man who promised to build a great wall, many of us paused to reflect on when humanity celebrated the fall of another. When 27 years ago, people from East Germany embraced people from the West. And when, for the first time since the end of World War II, a wall that divided a country came crashing down.
And though the world watched in joyful awe when the Berlin Wall fell nearly three decades ago, we remain to this day, the builders of great walls.
Our desire to run from what we do not like, to separate ourselves from what we do not understand, and to hide from what is different, is not a problem of politics. It isn’t a problem of economics, nor is it a problem of ideology. It’s a problem of the human heart. The human heart which, in its fear and suspicion, seeks to alienate and reject. The human heart whose compulsion to divide and exclude is both sad and to be expected.
Indeed, the problem is not Trump; it’s the devastating predictability of humankind.
Although much of the world responded in shock yesterday at the will of the American people, what we are seeing now is nothing that the world has not seen before. Trump’s campaign used a tactic that is as old as politics itself: it gave shape and character to the fears of the people. The fear of terrorism became the fear of migrants and asylum seekers. The fear of urban crime became the fear of African-Americans. The fear of job insecurity became the fear of undocumented migrants. Trump tapped into the fear that America’s borders have failed. ‘The wall’ was his chosen solution to a problem that, in actual fact, is the symptom of a much greater problem indeed: the problem of the human heart.
To be clear, there may never have been a wall between the United States and Mexico, and there hopefully never will be. But there has always been fear, there has always been division, and there have always been walls.
And yet if history has taught us anything, it’s that all walls come down eventually.
This problem of the human heart’s fear and suspicion isn’t just seen in the construction of walls. It’s seen in running from those who are intent on doing so. Yesterday, the Canadian Immigration website crashed due to the sheer volume of internet traffic. Terrified at the prospect of a Trump Presidency, people sought ways to run. They sought ways to run from a man they did not agree with. They too succumbed to fear and they too chose rejection.
And so we see the same beast in a different form, a different brand of the same poison. After all, a great wall is but a physical manifestation of the spiritual wall that lurks in every human heart, without exception. A wall made of fear; that excludes what is different, and is suspicious of the other.
A wall that it would take God himself to conquer.
The Great Wall-Destroyer
God is the great wall-destroyer, a King whose Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). A Kingdom where walls are demolished: where the wall of rejection and hostility have been removed (Ephesians 2:14), and where the curtain between God and humans has been torn in two (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:28).
God has broken the chains that bind and has conquered the most dangerous walls of all: the walls of sin, death, and fear. In fact, it has been over 2000 years since those walls fell, on a hill in ancient Palestine.
Just like Joshua, who saw God destroy the walls of Jericho in an act of deliverance, we look to the cross and see when God destroyed the wall of sin. And when, three days later, he destroyed the wall of death.
The cross is our Jericho, and we live on the other side.
And yet, we still wait for the time when the Lord will deliver us from fear. When not only will all walls come down, they will cease to be built. When swords used for division and exclusion will be beat into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4), when the lion will live with the lamb, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6,9). When God’s people will no longer know what it is to be afraid. When they will no more be tempted to fall behind men who exploit their fear, but will rejoice at the King who has delivered them.
Whatever happens in world politics – whatever walls built, distances created, or fears incited – we can rest assured that God is in control. He has dealt with the greatest wall of hostility, and he has consecrated the day when his Son will return and destroy every wall that remains. For even if it has to wait until the old order of things passes away (Revelation 21:4), we can be certain that every wall will indeed fall.
Despite this certainty, I am fearful. I am afraid for a world that is so preoccupied with walls that it has forgotten to build bridges. A world, that is so desperately seeking to create distance, it has forgotten about grace and friendship.
And so my prayer today is that God will bid my anxious fears subside, and that he will grant me hope. I pray that as his people look to him for comfort and direction, he will give them hope too.
Hope, that as walls go up around us, we’ll remember that Jesus has destroyed the walls of sin and death. That we’ll remember that the time is coming when he will return again, and destroy every wall that remains. That we’ll remember that old spiritual that gave hope to those that waited for deliverance.
And as we wait for the Lord here, on the other side of Jericho, we will sing:
“And the walls came tumblin’ down.”