Racism and the Echoes of Eden
There’s a new world commin'
And it’s just around the bend
There’s a brand new mornin'
That belongs to you and me
A new world commin'
The one we had vision of
And its commin’ in peace
It’s commin' in joy
and commin’ in love
- “New World Coming” by Nina Simone
These lyrics were written and performed in response to the racial prejudices faced by African Americans in the United States during the 1960’s. The meaning of the song is obvious: there is a new and better world that is ahead of us that we long for, and it is full of peace, joy, and love. Nina Simone, a black R&B artist and civil rights activist, made this song and many others popular as she sought to both bring attention to the hardships of African Americans and give hope in a world of hatred and pain. Simone wrote songs in response to the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers as well as the infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, where four young African American girls tragically died. Neither of the trials for these events resulted in a guilty verdict. Hatred had won the battle; justice was not served.
This type of world was nothing new for African Americans, nor was this type of song. From the first moment a west-African set foot on the shores of this land, hatred waged a racial war upon the souls of its people. Nina Simone and others of her day were just continuing what slaves had done centuries earlier—singing about their longings for a new world of love, joy, and peace.
Oh come and go with me, yes
To my Father’s house
Everything is free
In my Father’s house
Well, well in my father’s house
Food enough to spare
People have no fear
I tell you, in my Father’s house
I tell you there ain’t no signs of hate
In my Father’s house
Folks all integrate
In my Father’s house
- "To My Father’s House” Negro Spiritual
Black slaves sang songs like “To My Father’s House" while they endured lifetimes of brutality. They longed for the day when they would see their children again; they longed for the day when they would awaken without shackles around their feet; they longed for the day when they would be treated not as slaves, but as heirs of their “Father’s house."
Most of us will say that racism is wrong, that it is not the way the world is supposed to be. Nearly all of us intuitively know that people should not be treated as lesser simply because of the color of their skin, and we long for justice and equality. But we must ask "Why do we care about racism?" If Nietzschean philosophy is correct, then those who are self-proclaimed “higher men” need not consider the injustice of exploiting what he called the “herd.” If Darwinism is true, then we are a high form of animal with no intrinsic value and life is simply about the “survival of the fittest.” Neither of these philosophies, which undergird the current reigning ideologies of naturalism and relativism, give us an answer to why we long for the end of racism; in fact, they point to quite the opposite outcome.
The answer to our question is simple: we are all longing for the original state in which we were created. The words sung by Nina Simone in the 1960’s and black slaves in the 1800’s are proclamations to the world that this life is not as it should be. These songs are longing for Paradise; they are “echoes of Eden”. We all want the “good” creation described in Genesis 1 & 2, when humans were united as “one flesh". As Jerram Barrs writes, “It seems that among every people on the face of this earth there is recollection of the original good creation; there is awareness that the world we now live in is broken and fallen, and there is recall of the promise and hope of the restoration of what is good.”
After we understand our longings, it’s natural to start searching for their fulfillment, trying to figure out how to not let the echoes slip away from us into the utter darkness of time and space where we hear them no longer. That is where Jesus meets us. Jesus offers to us unconditional love, no matter the color of our skin; he offers us joy that cannot be taken away, even by slavery; and he offers us peace that ends all of our racist battles. In Revelation 21, at the very end of the Bible, it says that Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” and then He promises the restoration of creation: “I am making all things new.” Jesus is indeed bringing a new world that is “commin’ in peace...commin’ in joy…commin’ in love” where “everything is free” and “there ain’t no signs of hate”. Jesus is the rock that the echoes of Eden finally hit; the rock from which they return back to us.