I heard someone pray, recently, who seemed to say that, with respect to what’s happening in our country, we are helpless. Are we? Are people who follow and serve the God of Joshua, who led the Israelites in the conquest of Jericho by marching in circles and blowing trumpets, of Gideon, whose army God shrank down from 22,000 to 300 men, or of David, the slayer of Goliath, ever helpless? I would say that believers in the true and living God of the Bible are only helpless if we choose to be. Have Christians today been defeated by overwhelming odds or by their own attitudes? I fear the latter. After all, one faithful man plus God is irresistible.
Assuming we’re not helpless, let’s look at a contrasting issue. Since God can do anything, do we ever need to use violence, weapons, or war to deal with an earthly problem? That came up in a discussion at church, and it is an important question. Perhaps a bigger question pertains to both. We have an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God who is a God of love, mercy, justice, and truth. We, by comparison, are limited in all these capabilities and virtues. If God can take care of anything and everything, perfectly, why should we humans do anything at all?
Here we are. On the one hand, so many things appear to be going the wrong way. Our culture is moving away
from our heritage of faith and freedom toward socialism, secularism, immorality, and self-absorbed self-destruction. The votes seem to be against us. On the other hand, we are fighting a war, our soldiers are killing our enemies but also innocents, unavoidably, and violence seems to be the order of the day. Where is peace? Where is the love of God? Can’t we all just get along? After all, God can deal with any threat; he can defeat our enemies, and we can just be people of love.
Only Americans, who have enjoyed a largely safe and protected existence, could think these things. Christianity began as an illegal, minority faith. Many of those early believers died for their faith. God didn’t rescue them. The
Daniel stories are a rarity in the history of the faithful. Christians have had to work hard to create safe places, and the United States has been one of the safest. If we Christians stop working, I fear we already have, then we may well lose it. That’s not a foregone conclusion or the plan of God, as far as anyone knows, except if we stop striving, praying, working, and seeking to keep it safe; then it becomes the consequence of our passivity.
Of course, if we become the unfaithful, then God may not support our efforts. The relationship between what we do and what God does is symbiotic, in a sense. He works through his people. It’s like the story of the farmer, whose new pastor said, “God has made you a beautiful farm.” To which the farmer responded, “You should have seen it when only God was working it.” God can do amazing things without any contribution from humans whatever, but He has given us both skills and responsibility: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Scripture is filled with subsequent commands, such as “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
One area of confusion comes from the believer’s God-mandated relationship with governmental authority. I Peter 2:13-14 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” Government receives its authority and power from God, and we believers are to submit to it. It has a job and the power of the sword to carry it out. In this country, since we choose our representatives to govern, we have both duties, in a manner of speaking. Our Christian virtues should govern us; yet they are not necessarily to govern the government. I believe this is a key bit of confusion that needs careful discernment, for believers to understand.
Before I tackle that, I want to clarify something. Apart from certain eschatalogical viewpoints, it is clear that believers are not usually and may never be the majority. In the early history of the United States, we may have been; Christians certainly were a dominant influence. We clearly are neither, at this time. I believe we would have more influence if we were wiser, kinder, and less confrontational, in the wrong ways, more loving, in
the right way, and, frankly, not so worldly or self-serving. Regardless, we do not have the right to impose Biblical values, intended for each individual Christian, on our government. “Turn the other cheek,” for example, is not appropriate for either foreign policy or for criminal justice. That is not the way for those in authority to keep order and maintain safety.
I heard someone say—and I should give credit here but I forgot to whom I was listening—that we may only
make a Biblical principle the law of the land if we can make a case beyond the authority of Scripture. That’s what the founders did. They didn’t appeal to the Bible, though they were most definitely influenced by it; they cited and argued principles as ultimate truths. For example, we may oppose abortion, based on Biblical ideas; but, apart from them, we must make our case based on universal truths—human rights, scientific data, protecting the weak and innocent who have no voices of their own. I don’t know yet whether I agree with the Evangelical Manifesto, but I do believe that the mingling of Christians and politics has created genuine confusion that we must clear up.
I also believe that we dare not pursue any God-given agenda with any spirit but His, one of love. Anger, hatred, animosity, incivility, and disrespect have already corrupted every sort of dialog in our culture; we may not tolerate them from and among ourselves. This is not God’s way!! Jesus gave us a clear and abundantly obvious model. He only ever showed anger toward hypocrites among the community of faith. To sinners, he showed kindness, mercy, and patience; we should do the same.
Sometimes it seems to me that the Church, broadly defined, has inverted its obligations. We seem to “fight” among ourselves and with our fellow Americans, while we advocate passivity and pacifism toward our enemies. “Blessed are the peacemakers” is a significant and powerful tool, but it must first be practiced with those close at hand before it can be used effectively in the “big picture,” kind of a “think globally, act locally” sort of concept. Those who invert this show that they can’t do among those they know what they idealize among those they don’t.
This creates a different kind of helplessness. It suggests that person to person disagreement is inevitable and without remedy; we are therefore helpless to solve those problems except by the most drastic methods—bitterness and alienation, litigation, and murder. Then we seek to make our government helpless in dealing with our legitimate enemies by forcing it to attempt globally and diplomatically what we can’t even do locally and personally.
Is it any wonder that many of us feel helpless. We have become powerless in dealing with problems in our homes and neighborhoods, accepting the notion that incompatibility rules. We are powerless in the world community, failing to accomplish among nations and peoples what we have never learned to do with the person next door. The world seems to be escalating toward domination by the Antichrist, however real we may perceive him, and the greatest citadel of freedom and protector of religious liberty, the United States, appears to be moving toward a different kind of community, one many of us fear.
Where is the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise god? If things are so dire, should He not be doing something? Perhaps we need perspective. Where was God when Pharaoh began killing Jewish babies? How many died during the 80 years or so between Moses in the bulrushes and Moses, the plagues, and the Passover? Where was He when the 10 northern tribes were driven off and then Babylon conquered, pillaged, and kidnapped Israel, and how desperate were those days till Cyrus allowed some to return and rebuild? The Holy Land was devastated during what we call the Intertestamental Period, again under the Romans, and then finally at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. Why didn’t God do something then? During the Christian Era, there have also been long periods of suffering and loss; today is not the first. Can we make any sense of what God has done in the past, or not done, and what He may have in mind today?
During the Biblical periods which we can review and study, God used the dark times to refine and correct
His people, even as He raised up men and women of God to serve, prophesy, and face the challenges in His name. Is today any different? The Church as become lazy, worldly, and some places even unbelieving. He may seek less their rescue than their repentance. After the so-called Dark Ages, God used men like Luther and Calvin to lead the Church into the Reformation; He may be looking for the next such men to lead into another revival or renewal. In the early days of this land, God used others to speak wisdom so that a nation, not of one denomination or sect, might grow to defend the faithful and the free. Could he be waiting for others to do the same for this era?
One things seems clear. While we may not be helpless, we dare not be passive. Too much of American
Christianity has been simplistic, shallow, and anti-intellectual. The Church may not need “eggheads,” but it certainly needs well-educated, well-grounded, thoughtful leaders, who can make their case against the opposing spirits of this age, despite the mistakes done in Jesus’ name, and definitely in a spirit of love rather than rudeness. Such leaders not only have to retake the ground we have lost but they must do it while others continue to bring shame to His name, people like Westboro Baptist Church and their pastor Fred Phelps (Don’t click on these unless you have a strong stomach). Indeed, our biggest problem may not be helplessness, it may be foolishness, or in their case, arrogance.
Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents but gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). He meant for us to insinuate ourselves into the opposing culture around us, (In this millennium, we can no longer afford to imagine it friendly to us), and to do so not just without trauma or drama but with a peaceable intent (doves long representing
peace). Our job isn’t merely to protect ourselves, personally or collectively; it is to bring the love, grace, and peace of Jesus Christ (as I posted recently), thereby delivering us all. Jesus said “Wherever you go*, make disciples,” and that remains in effect, even here where once it may have seemed accomplished. It is also the key to overcoming our sense of helplessness. Our “deliverance” most likely hinges on our securing the deliverance of our lost neighbors; they may seem our enemies, at times, but they are, nevertheless, those whom we are to love, reach, and lead to Christ, wherever possible.
*The phrase usually translated “Go into all the world” is a gerund, “going.” The implication is not a command but a given, that then and now Christians are in motion. The idea isn’t to choose to go someplace to make disciples but to make disciples wherever we go…JRW
I haven’t started it yet, but John Taylor Gatto’s book is high on my list. You don’t have to buy it; you can read it on his website. There’s lots of other good stuff there, too, that reveals the answers to many questions I have had about why public schools function as they do. If you’re a parent, you really need to check this out.