The term Gordian Knot is used today to describe a difficult, intractable and unsolvable problem. Legend has it that Midas, the king of Phrygia, dedicated his ox-cart to Zeus in the city of Gordium and it was tied to Zeus’ shrine by a complex knot that had no exposed ends. An oracle foretold that whoever could untie the Gordian Knot would rule Asia. Though many men tried, its puzzle evaded even the wisest of men.

KnotIn his recent post, The Rabbit Hole Revisited, Paul Louis Metzger talks about the rabbit hole of race relations. Like Alice plunging into the hole unaware of what she was getting herself into, those who would work to address the racial inequities in America will find themselves overwhelmed by its course. There will seemingly be no end in sight. Race relations is the Gordian Knot that our secular society cannot untie. The church has not fared much better.

Given that in our cohort we are discussing unity within the body of Christ, I have to ask, “Why is race relations a rabbit hole?” Paul says he feels overwhelmed with the complexity of it, particularly with respect to “power dynamics of majority and minority cultures” and “the privileged status of white men in the United States.” Put in those secular sociological terms, I understand why it seems intractable. These are not relational words and I continue to see them as pejorative. They do violence to the history of so many white people in America, themselves the progeny of people who fled persecution and prejudice.

I think I am out of step with my doctoral cohort when I respond that I am deeply troubled by the problem being presented in terms of white privilege and white power. No one can deny that there are significant racial inequities in America. No one can deny that they are the result of the national sin of slavery and the historical abuse of power by a white majority. The damage it has done to our nation is being felt today – in fact is is being exacerbated in the polarized multi-cultural standoff that is secular black-white relations.

But among Christians, it should be anything but a rabbit hole. It should be marked by a desire to win the visible reconciliation for which our Savior died. Reconciliation takes hard and brutal honesty in order to expose the flawed, sinful thinking that has gotten us here – on both sides of the racial divide. I relish the opportunities to have the kind of frank discussions that lead to greater understanding. Iron sharpens iron, especially when my own sinful thinking is revealed. But can we say we are really having honest discussions? Would my minority brothers ask me to walk on eggshells because politically correct rules have been established that keep us from getting real? Every white person knows the unwritten rules regarding what you can and cannot say regarding race. Would my minority brother really desire my “privileged demise?” I am not sure I can even comprehend that without seeing the sin in it. I have yet to find the verse in the Bible that addresses the sin of being born white.

Recently, I was discussing this with a young African-American friend of mine. We talk about about the challenges we face as we intentionally build bridges of understanding. He texted me a note of encouragement after our discussion that said,

A Christian culture where the Spirit of the Lord is permitted to lead men of diverse cultures to serve one another in love is an even greater minority than any ethnic group! Be encouraged.

But it should not be a minority! Christianity is all about inclusivity. The Holy Spirit is at work removing ethnic and racial barriers. The Spirit forces us out of our comfort zones and turns our hearts towards each other. There is a need for bridge-builders; cultural pioneers from all “nations” who will forge ahead into the challenge created by our polarized American culture; to enter in with a loving desire to know and be known.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:16-22)

The Gospel belongs to all; not to one culture more than another. It binds us into a common culture and yet makes room for all of our distinctions to be celebrated. As Christians, we cannot follow in the footsteps of those who would stoke the fires of racial tension.

Alexander the Great, aware of the oracle regarding the ruler of the known world, arrived in Gordium to take his turn at the knot. After attempting to untie it, he took out his sword and with a single stroke sliced the knot in half. His solution was completely outside the box. Within his lifetime, Alexander the Great became the ruler of Asia.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:17-22)

Relational problems call for relational solutions. Jesus, the great reconciler, is the sword that will slice the Gordian Knot of racial relations. He set the course we are to follow. The solution to what we see in our balkanized nation should begin in earnest in the church by intentional bridge-builders who learn about His kind of love through our serving of one another.


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2 responses to “Knot

  1. I agree with your sentiment Mark. The solution should be relational…but what isn’t addressed is whether the solution should also be structural. Is this a issue to be addressed only as individuals or one that must also be addressed corporately? I agree that the reality is that we are one in Christ but too often we aren’t too keen on reality but choose to live within the Matrix of our own [mis-]perceptions.


    • Thanks, Greg. Yes, it absolutely needs to be structural! But I am convinced that it will be led relationally apart from structure. It happens when lives are shared together – so that our individual identities cannot exist outside of our larger collective identity. The country, and the church, are polarized in this uniquely American race stalemate. Thank God we have a common culture in the church. We may not be living by it, but it is there in Jesus, nonetheless. The structures that variably rise and fall as we institutionalize the church can and should be challenged. But the power that matters is not among men, but by the Holy Spirit.


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