“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
- Deuteronomy 30:15, 19-20
This post begins with an admission of wimpery. In my last post, after pointing out the contradiction in the founding of our nation, I concluded with the simplistic admonition that everyone should vote and go home, leaving political disagreements and outcomes to others. In other words, I suggested the thing I oppose: being so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. Mea culpa.
God entered into human history in Jesus, changing its course of human history and revealing its eventual conclusion. Because God is involved in history, that is to say, in human affairs, we also ought to be active and engaged in our moment in time as followers of Jesus. To be fair, I think a great many Christians work for good in the world, but we avoid too much action in the political arena because politics deals with worldly matters. If we cede political life to secularism, then we’ve ceded all the issues of human life to secularism because politics is about the ordering of human life and society.
Politics defines the good for human life and order. An authoritarian despot defines the good for human beings as serving his/her purposes. Communism defines the good of human life as usefulness to the party. Islam defines good for human life in obeying Allah according to the Quran. Do American Christians have any similar vision of good for human life? Not so much as I can tell… Doesn't that strike you as a bit odd given that God gave us specific instructions about how to live and what is good?
Am I suggesting Christian nationalism? I don’t know, certainly not Christian nationalism as it is construed in popular culture today. But I do think we need a more unified and coherent voice in public affairs because the ordering of human life matters enormously to our Creator. One of the great fallacies of our time is that we can build and live in an areligious society. We cannot. Human beings are religious by nature, and we regularly see religious devotion for a variety of popular and often misguided causes.
God revealed His love for human beings in His actions, and it seems only logical to conclude that we should do the same if we are His disciples. If we act for the good of our neighbor in the small circumference of our influence, then we ought also to speak and to act for the good of people in state and national affairs. Following the legalization of Christianity, the Early Church had a doctrine of just war that required Christians to defend against threats and to advance against armies that invaded and destroyed. Frankly, that's how the international practice of human slavery was ended.
Part of the challenge for me in thinking about the American political environment is that I do not think politics or politicians are the answer to anything. All human beings are flawed which means that every political system is necessarily flawed as well. This side of Christ’s return, there is no philosophy or ideology that will rightly order human affairs because flawed people conceive and implement order. Even theologically, we cannot enact a fully Christian civilization – as history has revealed – because our understanding is finite and our morality imperfect at best. Only when Christ reigns will justice and peace prevail fully. Thus, our choices are between lesser and greater goods and evils. If politics defines good as expressed in the ordering of human life and affairs, then while it may not be the answer to anything, it is an area in which Christians have a vested interest. What has God revealed about human life and good?
Christians in America are divided by what constitutes a faithful and obedient life, and that, I think, is a result of the contradiction in our American founding discussed in my last post. We are caught between modernity’s progress toward an undisclosed utopian chimera, with the incumbent reshaping of humanity and destiny, and the inherited faith received over the continuum of the last two millennia. Some Christians are for progress, and some Christians do not see the redirection and redefinition of humanity as good, much less as progress. I am unapologetically in the latter camp. I do not think we are progressing. Rather, I think the evidence repeatedly indicates that we are using our advanced technology to become less human.
The manner in which we are to decide what God considers good and bad was revealed very early on in the Scripture. Once we see it in the passage above, we cannot miss the distinction. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” That which gives life is good, and that which brings death is evil. (I am indebted to Fr. Stephen De Young, who I think may be the most knowledgeable biblical scholar alive today, for pointing this out in a lecture he was giving on the goodness of God.) When we recognize this, the parameters for choosing how to live – and therefore, how to vote – become much clearer.
That which gives life and human flourishing is good, and that which diminishes life and leads to death is evil. God is the Author of all life, sustaining the universe with His Spirit, upholding the cycles of flora and fauna, and creating human beings for life in Him and for care of His creation. Because we possess the Image of God within us, we are the ones who think we can be equals of God, and by grasping for equality, we choose death. That is the essence of Genesis 3 – the choice between abundance of life in paradise and the goodness of human flourishing in the presence of God, or taking control of what we did not create and striving to be our own gods, which leads to death. Jesus said that He came to give life. Paul wrote that the last enemy is death. Christ revealed and defined authentic life when He passed through death and destroyed it. Thus, the highest good is not found in any nation or government or political cause, but in Christ alone.
When we make decisions as Christians, such as decisions about voting, we are weighing what can realistically be accomplished in this world for aiding the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth. Eric Metaxas’ documentary “Letter to the American Church” was released a few days ago, and I have not seen it, although I intend to do so. Promotional materials suggest he is calling Christians to action against the rising tide of Marxism in our nation. I cannot argue with him on that because, as history has shown in horrifying detail, Marxism destroys everything in its path while proclaiming the destruction is for the good of the people. Metaxas is also correct to make clear that we must name evil for what it is. Marxism is evil. In every instance in every society in which Marxism has reigned, the dignity of human life has been denied and death ensued on a massive scale.
During the American Revolution, the “Black Robe Regiment” provided indispensable support for the revolutionary cause against England by preaching liberty from pulpits, and they did so without suggesting the imposition of a national church. In that same spirit, we must – must – speak honestly about the evil that pervades our society and moves across our globe. We can do so in terms of life and good versus death and evil. The one thing about Christianity that we fail to recognize in our thought is that it is true in all matters, including matters around the ordering of society for human life and human good. We have allowed the privatization of our faith, and as a result, destruction and evil run rampant across our nation and around the globe. Most of us believe there is nothing we can do, and though it feels that way, that is not true. We who pray have the most influence, especially when we accept that prayer opens us to our Lord’s call to do and to act in the world.
The Lenten season begins on Wednesday, and I urge you to observe Lent as both the battle against worldliness and sin in your own life and the battle against death and evil in our world. We sense the looming chaos and the increasing threat to a life lived with God-given rights. But we cannot despair and, as is my own inclination, complain about our own impotence before the powers at work in the world. Of all people, Christians have the most power – repentance, forgiveness, life, and joy – because we are given access to the throne of God, and our petitions are heard by the Savior of the whole of creation.
De Young made mention of The Didache in his lecture, and if you’re interested, it’s widely available and easy to read. The Didache is attributed to the Apostles, and its title literally means “the teaching,” although no one knows for certain who wrote it. The Didache was written sometime in the latter half of the first century or very early in the second century and reads like Scripture with several near-verbatim quotes from the New Testament. One of the instructions given for Christian life is to “fast for those who persecute you.” Fast for those who persecute you.
Let that be one of your Lenten disciplines – fasting for the powerful people who destroy life and good and persecute those who wish to uphold life and the good of flourishing humanity. If you are not experiencing persecution, others are, and you may be next. Jesus Christ calls us to a higher allegiance and in so doing, not only denies the ultimacy of the powers in the world but reveals them for what they are. So, pick some public figure you believe is destroying life and good, and fast and pray for that person for at least one meal each week during Lent.
In all things, let humility prevail in your heart and mind. We do not know everything, and none of us is assigned the task of judging others – actions, yes, but not human beings. Much is at stake in the world now, and we’ll think more specifically in the weeks ahead about what we face. However, the most powerful thing you can do is humble yourself before God in prayer. Counterintuitive though it sounds, this is the pathway to the good life.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau