It used to be a question that only plagued television producers, but in today’s world it is legitimately on the minds of many. In the past year the term “cancel culture” has accurately described a growing trend: the removal of support from public figures due to objectionable behavior or unpopular opinions. Just as a show with low ratings could be easily yanked off the airways, now entire brands, companies, views, and individuals are being silenced from society altogether. Tweet something offensive? Goodbye. Did something stupid back when you were in high school. So long. Hold to an unpopular, misunderstood opinion? Canceled.
It’s that last one in particular that I want to focus on in this post. Let’s be honest: practically everything about us is unpopular and misunderstood. We hold to a worldview that unbelievers find absurd. Our doctrine of sin is deemed unloving and harmful. Our views of sex and gender are considered antiquated and bigoted. Now, most of us do not have the platform of a Hollywood celebrity (which is a good thing), and so we don’t have the eyes of the public upon everything we say and do and tweet. If we are to be canceled, it won’t make any headlines. But that doesn’t mean within our own spheres of influence we are less at risk of being silenced. Is your Christian ethic compatible with the ever-changing American workplace? What about the university? What happens when you stand up for biblical values in the face of a family member or close friend who strongly disagrees? In these areas and more, cancellation is a very legitimate threat to the Christian.
But that shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus said we should fully expect this kind of backlash. It’s part of what it means to be a disciple and follow Him. A paraphrase of Jesus’s teaching in the Upper Room draws this out: “If the world cancels you, know that it has canceled me before it canceled you. If you were of the world, the world would love you, champion you, and keep listening to everything you have to say; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore you have been canceled” (see John 15:18-19). We take comfort from these words, as we are reminded that to follow Christ means we never are called to go anywhere where He hasn’t already gone. He paves the way and ensures our safety pilgrimage through an otherwise volatile and violent world. We take up our cross just as Jesus did, but whereas he was called to crucifixion we are called only to carry.
It should be noted, that in this recent trend the world is getting some things right. Certain people who have been canceled are those who in a real sense were deserving of such condemnation: sexual abusers and unabashed racists, for example. In the past years we have seen a growing outcry against injustice and violence and abuse. These are good things. But here’s the real tragedy: while our culture has a robust understanding of the need for judgment, it offers absolutely no salvation from that judgment. Once someone is cast to the gutters of society, that’s the end. On occasion, maybe someone climbs back up into the spotlight after years of a purgatory-like exile in the shadows. But by and large, for the offender there is no offer of forgiveness or redemption or reconciliation—because our world has no conception of these things.
But why should they? They are unnatural to us. Judgment, justice, and guilt (the law) are hardwired into us from creation. But forgiveness and restoration (the gospel) are external to us, they come from another world, and can only be apprehended through faith in the Good News of God’s Gift from heaven. This is the hope a Christian can cling to in a so-called cancel culture: the world can do what it will, but God in Jesus Christ will never cancel us. “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
Actually, even this idea has been mocked by the world recently. On Twitter a meme circulated where one user posted: “I hate cancel culture. Imagine God cancelling you because you did or said the wrong thing.” Underneath the reply from another account reads: “The very first bible story is God cancelling two people over an apple. Lol what.” This same idea was pushed by a 2019 Washington Post article entitled “Yes, God cancels people, and we can, too.” The author writes: “As for the claim that God doesn’t cancel? Adam and Eve, canceled for eating some fruit, would like a word.”
What a sad misconception of the God of the Bible. For one thing, even the judgment He brings never comes in the cold, capricious, haughty manner that we see from society. But more than that, in the story of Adam and Eve we find essentially the exact opposite of cancel culture tactics. God’s response to the first rebellion is a response of love and mercy. What did our first parents deserve for eating that forbidden fruit? “The day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). That’s what they deserved, but that’s not what they got. They did not die the day they ate; God stayed their execution. Even more amazingly, to Adam and Eve He promised that He would send a Savior to come and rescue them from their sin by dying the very death that they had been spared (Gen. 3:15). This was the grand promise of the gospel, and as we read the unfolding redemption narrative in Scripture, we see how again and again God maintains that promise. He never cancels it, but continues it until it’s fulfillment in the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.
If you are resting in Jesus, then that promise is for you, too. God’s judgment never comes apart from His offer of salvation, something that the world cannot give. As our culture grows increasingly hostile to our faith, the prospect of being silenced and sidelined is a very real possibility—one we are told to expect, but also one to never fear. Because even though the world rejects us, God will hold us in Christ forever move. No matter what foolish thing you might have said, no matter what awful sin you may have committed, if you are in Christ God’s promise is to keep you, never cancel you. Yes, in the world you will have cancellation. “But take heart,” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jonathan Landry Cruse is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the author of The Christian’s True Identity and What Happens When We Worship (RHB, forthcoming). He is also a hymn writer whose works can be found at www.HymnsOfDevotion.com.