Picture from the Whitman Mission Site
Last weekend, my wife and I visited Walla Walla in Washington State. Walla Walla is a cool little town surrounded by rolling prairie, farmland, and hills. It is named for one of the Indian tribes that are native to the area.
During our stay, we visited the Whitman Mission. Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, answered a call to share Christ with the Cayuse tribe, another group of Indians. They came to the Walla Walla area in 1836, before settlers started coming west on the Oregon trail.
Our tour of the mission grounds started with a short film. The film told a grievous story. On November 29, 1947, a group of Cayuse attacked Whitman’s mission. The Cayuse killed 13 people, including the Whitmans, and held 53 other people hostage for a time.
The attack was sparked by a confluence of circumstances. Because of the Oregon trail, the number of white settlers coming to Cayuse land dramatically increased. Whites brought diseases like measles to which the Cayuse had no immunity. Whitman was a doctor. Although he treated whites and Indians, about half the Cayuse and nearly all of their children died. Mortality among white settlers was far less.
As a spiritual and medical practitioner, Whitman was viewed as something like a white medicine man. He was held responsible for the sickness and death ravaging the Cayuse people. They felt compelled to defend their way of life by stamping out the Whitmans and those with them.
After the film, I didn’t entirely know what to think so I asked the Lord what He thought. The Lord said, “It was tragic for everyone involved.” That is how I’ve decided to view the events of the Whitman mission: one of many sad acts in the theater of this fallen world.
Whenever human behavior leaves a trail of wreckage, we want to assign blame. This is a natural but mixed instinct. There is something of a desire for justice in it. We want to set things right by finding out who’s wrong. The other side is a desire to deflect blame, to make someone else the focus of all sinfulness, including our own. This is no surprise; after violating God’s command in the garden of Eden, the very next thing Adam and Eve did was play the blame game (Gen. 3:12-13). Blaming is as much a part of the fallen world as disease and murder.
The blame game is a favorite pastime of society today. Everyday some new grief saddens, shocks, or angers people. My wife and I talk about the lynch mob mentality that grips social media all to often. I’m glad the torches and pitchforks are virtual, but the indignation is all too real.
God is love and showed His love when Jesus laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16, 4:16). One reason Jesus died was to atone for or cover our sins (1 John 4:10). In other words, Jesus took the blame we deserved. What a contrast Christ is to everything we are.