Found on the new lutheran blog, Ad Crucem (to the Cross):
Last night, President Barack Obama was re-elected for another four years of service to our country. Emotions will be running high on both sides of the aisle today, and I’m sure you will see that spilling over into your Facebook news feed or favorite blog (such as this one!). I know I already have. I’ve seen all sorts of reactions to the news. I’ve seen statements of rejoicing and ones of anger. A couple friends posted their desire to move to a new country and others said they will now stay. I’ve also seen a few post about how now we can come together and be a “purple” country.
But I’m not writing about any of that. I want to deal with a different set of remarks entirely. Many of them were made before the election and I’ve seen some made since it. They go like this:
“America will never prosper if it doesn’t turn back to God.”
“America was a Christian nation once. God won’t bless us until we follow Him again.”
“If we re-elect Obama (or, now that we’ve re-elected Obama), God will judge us.” A very small minority also say this about Romney, to be fair.
Or they’ll even quote Scripture. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” I googled it. That reference is the first half of Psalm 33:12. So at least it is in the Bible.
And usually what people mean by these statements is that we need to get the 10 Commandments back into courtrooms. We need prayer back in our schools. We need a president who is a “real” Christian (however the person defines “real”). We need to elect leaders and officials who will make new laws or enforce old ones that will stop all sorts of sinful behavior. We need to “turn back to God.” And if we do these things, God will bless us and make us prosperous once again.
In our country today, we have an odd version of Christianity. I call it American Evangelicalism or Pop Christianity. In this odd version of Christianity, everything is about us and what we do to make God happy with us. Your initiation into this new faith comes by asking Jesus into your heart or deciding to follow Jesus. Your decision, your action, determines your status before God. Later in life, depending on the age at which you made your decision, you make another decision to be baptized, demonstrating your continued commitment and fidelity to God. You take communion once a month or maybe a few times a year to remind yourself of your commitment. And you follow God’s Laws to prove to yourself and everyone around you that you really are “in”. This is also how you know if God is pleased with you and if you can expect blessings from him– by your actions towards him. Remember, you are showing everyone that God is your Lord by what you do, so you have every right to expect to be blessed, as Psalm 33:12 states.
Now, if you talk to an American Evangelical, they will be very quick to say (rightly) that all of the above comes only by faith, not of works. So we agree at least on that much. But notice who is the subject of the verb in each sentence. You are. Intentional or not, this false version of Christianity makes everything about you. I don’t think people do this on purpose. For the most part, it is what we have grown up with and we don’t know any better. And we live in a country that does the same thing with faith.
As it goes in our personal faith, so it goes in our national faith. From the very beginning of our nation, we have had this habit of nationalizing our faith. The earliest colonists would often refer to themselves as “the new Israel” and to America as “the promised land”. They would then take references about Israel, such Genesis 12:1-3, and apply it to themselves, claiming God’s blessing for themselves and others if they are treated right or behave right. We continue this habit today. God’s blessing is dependent on what we do, because we are the new Israel and God only blessed Israel with material blessings when she followed his commands. Or, if you read someone like Joel Rosenberg, you are told that God will only bless you if you bless and support in every way the new nation of Israel located on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea in Palestine.
This is wrong. And every time Pat Robertson says something silly about how some major disaster is God’s judgment on our nation for not obeying God’s laws or not supporting Israel, we know it is wrong. We are at least momentarily shaken out of this false view by the utter ridiculousness of Robertson’s claims. Or at least I hope we are…
Here’s the truth: We cannot judge how God feels toward us based on our experience or situation. Consider Job. We have an entire book in the Bible about this man who had done no wrong and committed no grievous sin that he could think of, and yet he may have suffered the most of any man ever, except Jesus. His friends even tried to convince him that he must have committed some horrible sin or God would not have allowed these afflictions. They looked at his situation and determined that God was angry with him. But God himself rebukes these friends and calls them false. God’s cursing us does not depend on our actions, and neither does God’s blessing. For individuals and nations.
I do not receive God’s material blessings because I follow God’s commands. Our nation is not materially blessed by God more than other nations because it follows God’s commands or supports Israel, nor is it cursed by God when it doesn’t. (John 9) And yet I am blessed, and the nation in which I live also has an abundance of material blessing. So how do I reconcile this?
The answer, of course, is found in Scripture. But we need to make sure we are asking the right questions of Scripture if we hope to get the right answers. Since Psalm 33:12 is the one I hear quoted most often, I’ll work with that one. Usually, when we read that text, our tendency is to ask, “How do I show that God is my Lord so that I can be blessed?” It’s a very natural question. And by natural, I mean that it comes from our sinful nature, our flesh, which is only interested in itself and its own comfort. Since our flesh is the one asking the question, our flesh will usually come up with a fleshly answer. In this case, “I have to work for it. I have to demonstrate my allegiance through action. Then God will be pleased with me and bless me.” We get that answer for two reasons: 1. We asked the wrong question, 2. Our flesh gave the answer.
A better question would be to ask, “How does God become someone’s Lord?” By grace through faith! God chooses you. God gives you the gift of faith and belief. God reconciles you to himself, adopts you, justifies you and saves you from your sin! Faith asks this question, and so faith receives the answer. And with this answer we can now ask the second question. “What blessing does faith receive when God is my Lord?” Salvation in Christ! Faith receives Christ, his life, death and resurrection for your sins, giving you the most wonderful blessing of all – reconciliation with God and life everlasting! These passages in Scripture are not first and foremost about material blessings in this life. Even Israel’s blessing and the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. From before creation, God’s greatest blessing has always been Christ. Christ crucified for the sin of the world. Here at Ad Crucem, our entire focus is on this very theme. Ad Crucem – Latin for “to the Cross”, the cross of Christ, where God reconciled Himself to us and where we continually need to be focused.
This is what I shared with my wife and children last night before we went to bed. God is our Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. That faith is received as a gift, given to us by God when He chose us. The blessing that we now receive from Him is salvation and an assurance of an eternity spent in His loving presence. We do not need to worry about how to obtain that blessing, because it was given to us as a free gift. We do not need to worry about ourselves or our nation being judged or cursed for not following God’s commands because Scripture does not teach that God’s blessing is a response to our actions. Nor does it teach that God’s blessing is primarily found in material things, but is instead found in His Son, Jesus Christ.
And so my family and I went to bed at peace last night, knowing our future is secure in Christ and that nations will rise and fall, but the Church will stand firm and our faith will remain firm because it is anchored in the Rock that cannot be moved – Christ crucified for sinners like us.
But…but…wait! Why is it then that there does seem to be some sort of connection between material prosperity and nations that follow God’s commandments??? I’ll save that answer for another post later this week. This one is already way too long!!
For more on early American Christianity, I highly recommend the series of lectures by Dr. Daniel Van Voorhis. Here are the links to them as broadcast on Fighting for the Faith.
- Christianity in America, part 1: Christianity in America, part 1
- Christianity in America, part 2: 19th Century Romantics and Radicals
- Christianity in America, part 3: The Rise of Fundamentalism
- Christianity in America, part 4: Fundamentalism and Modernism in the early 20th Century
- Christianity in America, part 5: West Coast Christianity