It is surprisingly hard to explain the concept of the “Indian community” to someone who is not in it. Think of the information flow in a small town. Everyone knows each other, and if you stay out too late, your parents’ friends may find out before they do. So imagine that you take the members of that small town, disperse them in a large city, but find a way to keep all the connections. That is the Indian community. You end up with a group of people who may not know the names of the children of their neighbors or coworkers, but get invited to the wedding of someone on the other side of the country who they only see once a year. Of course, that last example was cheating a little, just because Indian weddings are so massive.
This creates a really interesting dynamic, with the group knowing everyone else in the group at least casually. This has the potential to look beautiful, like when one member of the community passes away and hundreds of people come to the funeral to comfort, mourn, pray, and help in any way possible. However, it can also sour quickly, like when someone commits a sin, repents, and finds an entire network of Indian churches unwilling to take the congregant in. Or when parents raise their children with the constant refrain of “don’t be like him,” knowing full well that their child might be the next “him.”
Unsurprisingly, in a community like this, guilt often doesn’t sting as bad as shame. There is a difference. Guilt says what you did was wrong, you have broken an objective moral code. Shame says that because of what you did, there is something deeply wrong with you. If the consequence of guilt is a punishment, the consequence of shame is a stain. Even if you are forgiven by God, the community’s record of your wrongs can still haunt you. Guilt is what caused Adam to die, shame is what caused Adam to hide.
This is why expiation should be so sweet to Indians. Hang with me for a second and I’ll tell you what I mean. Expiation is the washing away or removal of sin. This stands in contrast to propitiation, which is the appeasement of God by the death of Jesus. Think of it this way. When you sin against God, you have two major interconnected problems. The first is that your sin has stained you, the second is that the sin offends God. If God is righteous, he has to punish those who have sinned. Propitiation solves the second problem. God’s justice mandates a punishment for sin. When Jesus died on the cross, he was punished with the punishment you deserved and now God’s wrath does not have to come against you. God’s justice was satisfied, your penalty was paid.
Expiation deals with the first part. If we have done what is wrong and shameful, then we need to be cleansed of our guilt and shame. Expiation is that. Our sin is removed from us. Where the object of propitiation is God, the object of expiation is us. Expiation does not simply say that we are accepted, it says we are clean.
Somebody from an individualistic culture may say that propitiation is enough. If God is pleased with me, isn’t that enough? It should be. But there is always this lingering feeling of guilt, this thought of how you are looked at through the eyes of everyone else. Your guilt hangs on you like a wet long-sleeved shirt in the summer.
Imagine a boy who is covered in mud. He walks into a beautiful house with white carpets and walls that almost gleam white. The owner of the house says “don’t even worry about the dirt, I love you as you are.” That would be a glorious act of love. But imagine how the boy would feel. Although he knows that there is no consequence for getting everything dirty, he still feels bad. He wishes he didn’t make everything dirty everywhere he goes. But if the owner of the house gives the boy a bath and a fresh set of clothes, that is expiation. At that point the boy is not only accepted, but actually clean.
I am convinced expiation is what Indians need. We walk around forgiven, but often with a low-grade sense of guilt, often rightfully earned. But the good news of Jesus is that we are not only saved from the eternal consequences of our sin, but we stand before God washed and clothed in the white robes of Jesus. People’s opinions and stares can do very little once Jesus’s verdict of “clean” has been pronounced.