Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Reflection on the Election

It’s probably safe to say that more Christians have collectively spent more hours in prayer about this presidential election than just about anything else in our lifetimes. While no one—Christian or otherwise—doubts the gargantuan importance of this election or the magnitude of its consequences, it is mystifying how much disagreement there is in the church about who the right candidate is.

For many reasons beyond the scope of this essay, it is extremely difficult for me to understand how anyone who names the Name of Christ could overlook so much ranging from questionable to disturbing to vote for Barack Obama (and I welcome comments to the contrary). Yet many devoted Christians who love God and pray earnestly favor Obama. I have a dear friend, a true lover of God and a brilliant woman, who enthusiastically supports Obama and believes there is sinister, perhaps even demonic, activity on the Republican side intended to derail her candidate. With the ACORN mess and other suspicious reports, I have felt the same about the Democratic side trying to undermine McCain. We both believe the other’s candidate lies or hides the truth about his record, policies, or associations. We both pray for truth to prevail. We pretend to view that as a point of agreement, yet we have different ideas of what truth probably is in this case. It is very sad that this should be.

One pundit perhaps summed it up well by suggesting that Obama supporters support whom they hope he will be, not who he is. In my humble judgment, that’s a dangerous gamble. Thank God, at least, that we do have the freedom to choose, and make our choice before God.

Two things are certain. First, we are all praying for God’s Perfect Will to be done in the election, while hoping and believing that his Will includes our candidate. Second, because God is sovereign and because the Church has prayed diligently, God will certainly have his way in the selection of our president, regardless of who wins. We will receive the Lord’s mercy or his long-withheld judgment.

Like many Christians, I have prayed for mercy to triumph over judgment, even though I know we deserve judgment. I have for years asked God to be as harsh as he needs to be, but as gentle as he can be, to get our attention and deal with the sins of this nation, beginning with the Church. As our parents used to tell us, we can choose to learn our lessons the easy way or the hard way.

No matter what happens, however, our response as believers should be the same, knowing that God’s ways are always redemptive and that judgment is really simply severe mercy. Those who don’t yet know the Lord often think God judges to punish or be mean. We who know his loving nature, though, understand that when he allows judgment, it is always to draw his people back to himself, for their eternal good and his own glory. This we can all agree on.

We still have five days to pray earnestly and honestly for God’s choice for President of the United States. On Wednesday morning some of us will be elated and some grief-stricken. Whatever happens on Tuesday, however, we should each fall on our knees on Wednesday in humility and gratitude, either for his amazing grace and mercy, or because he loves us enough to discipline us. And let’s also respond with renewed commitment to Jesus’ two great commandments, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and so be salt and light to our ever-darkening culture. God is in control, regardless of who inhabits the White House. If we’ll do this, the Lord may yet grant us grace to turn this ship of state around.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Who Will Be Our Messiah?

This election has brought into focus two things positively mystifying, and ominous, about Americans’ attitude toward the presidency of the United States. One is how much blame they foist onto the President for things that are, constitutionally, the responsibility of Congress, or, worse, that are beyond the control of any human being, such as bad weather. The other is how much they look to a president to be a savior from every sort of corporate or even personal ill and discomfort, exemplified by Barack Obama’s “messiah” status with many voters. These phenomena are ominous because they indicate an elevation of the presidency that borders on idolatry. They signal a return of the age-old tendency—once anathema in this country—to look not to ourselves under God for our governance and solutions to national problems, but to a single strong leader to save us.

The same thing happened in Israel millennia ago. Since their arrival in the Promised Land, the Jews essentially had a theocracy led by judges and prophets, who administered justice, taught them the law of God, and led them in battle. Under this system, they did just fine without benefit of a king or a huge bureaucracy. That was until they asked their leader, Samuel the prophet, to, “appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (I Samuel 8:6) Samuel knew this was a bad plan, but the Lord told him to grant their request, saying, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (I Samuel 8:7)

In the rest of I Samuel 8, Samuel warns the Israelites about what would happen once they had a king to rule over them. Please read it yourself, but the gist is that he would tax them silly for his own projects and make slaves of them. Samuel warned, “When that day comes, you will cry out to the Lord for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (I Samuel 8:18) But they didn’t heed the warning, and suffered the consequences, as the rest of the Old Testament records.

Of course, America is not a theocracy and there are many other differences between ancient Israel and the United States today. Yet there are parallels, and we would be wise to learn from Israel’s example. What happens in a nation’s spiritual life eventually works itself out in its political life. Israel rejected God. With that rejection, they lost their will and ability for self-government. They demanded an all-powerful king to rule over them and fight their battles for them.

Are we not doing exactly the same thing in America today? We have rejected God in our personal lives and in our public institutions. The resulting moral decline has left us slaves of our lusts, unable to govern ourselves, an ability that is the very foundation of a free society. Since nature abhors a vacuum, to the degree that we will not govern ourselves, we will be governed, by an increasingly stronger and more centralized authority. Another way to say it is that if the Messiah is not King internally, in our hearts, we will need an external king to control us. Like Israel in Samuel’s time, we clamor for such a savior-king to remove the effects of our sin, but not our sin.

We will either worship God or the state. We cannot be a godless nation and a free one. It’s time for us to humble ourselves for some national soul searching to decide whom we will serve, and so determine the future of our nation.