Before I'm burned at the stake, perhaps now would be a good time for me to make a confession. One of the reasons I’ve personally wrestled with these questions involves my own struggle with the concept of God’s sovereignty.
Maybe it’s the Colonial patriot in me that bristles at references to the British monarchy as “sovereigns.” Perhaps we Americans generally have a fuzzy misconception about sovereignty because it’s been so misused throughout world history. Even our own history as a "sovereign nation."
I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve always been a car nut. When I was a kid visiting family in Brooklyn, I loved seeing all of the foreign luxury cars there that we didn’t have in Upstate New York. I remember seeing the dealership nameplate on them - Sovereign Motorcars, a dealership in Brooklyn - which to my recollection was the first time I’d heard the word “sovereign,” so I immediately associated the term with things that are elusive, exclusive, and not necessarily… well, necessary.
Kind of like British royalty, I’ll admit, but not at all appropriate when considering the sovereignty of our Creator God.
Praying in Acknowledgement of God's Sovereignty
God’s sovereignty exists as part of His character which describes the interaction between His omniscience and omnipotence. He rules over all things because He has the power to do so, and He has the knowledge to do so. He controls all things not to manipulate us, but to express His Lordship over all of His creation for His glory. To the extent that He invites us to participate with Him in the establishment of His kingdom as His redeemed, we can expect that whatever happens to us is for our good and His good pleasure.
How, then, does God’s sovereignty extrapolate to what we pray for regarding our country? That is part of what I’ve been struggling with as I hear preachers drag misguided conservative sentimentality about our Founding Fathers into our present-day desire for change in America.
Dr. Stanley and others have an obligation to challenge us to prayer and remind us of our responsibility as believers and citizens to beseech God’s favor upon our country and our leaders. Have you prayed for our nation, our president, and our other elected officials today?
But how effective are our supplications when we clutter them with what we think are biblical standards, but in reality only serve our own relatively narrow interests?
Praying for Wants Instead of Needs
For example, one of the items Dr. Stanley suggests we pray about involves increasing taxation (Week 8). Can we interpret that wording to be a guise for socialism? After all, a lot of conservative political pundits are using the "s" word lately in their analysis of current events. And even I can agree that though capitalism is not a perfect economic system, it's far superior to socialism. However, are taxation and socialism literally unbiblical?
First of all, I hate to break the bubble of Americans who fear big government, but we’ve passed that demarcation line long ago. The United States already has a massive, yet subversive, entitlement culture. And I'm not talking about the pet evils conservatives like to blast Democrats with: food stamps, public housing, and Social Security.
Do you realize that farming, fossil fuels, and other national industries benefit from whopping government handouts, rigged bid-letting, and other subsidies? And although I agree that such ideas as nationalizing healthcare will do far more harm than good to remedy what ails our healthcare system, if you specifically fear nationalized healthcare, perhaps the real problem is that we believers haven't been actively looking out for the welfare of others. You might recall that hospitals were invented by churches, but as healthcare costs and logistics increased, people of faith let governments take over paying for the care of the sick and dying. Maybe that seemed like a good deal at the time, but we’re sure paying for it now.
Even if America still boasted pure capitalism, do we have a Biblical mandate to implore God to save us from an economic system we don't like? Somewhere in this plea, isn't there a love of money rooting around? Isn't part of the problem we've had here in America our betrothal to the profit motive? Again, I'm not advocating socialism. I'm just wondering that if, as we're presenting our requests to God, we should expect much action on the quality-of-life stuff? Especially taxes, which Christ bluntly told His followers to pay? Especially when we've spent so much of our expendable income on ourselves instead of Christ's Kingdom? Especially when we're lumping it in with far graver issues like abortion (Week 16) and people denying the deity of Christ (Week 12)?
And maybe I'm missing something, but what freedoms have we believers lost lately (Week 10)? I'm aware that a lot of business people like to howl whenever they fail to police themselves and the government has to step in. I know some people think having a nativity set on the village green equates to telling unbelievers they're doomed to Hell unless they repent of their sins. And some people extrapolate the anecdotal stories of parents fighting school prayers as meaning kids need to leave their faith at home.
But would any of us want Muslims forcing Ramadan down our kids' throats in school? Do you want chubby Buddhist statues flanking the doors to city hall? With democracy comes pluralism, and the proverbial your-right-to-swing-your-fist-stops-at-my-nose.
As a nation, we're having to make some adjustments regarding how different faiths get expressed in the public arena, but nobody is losing their rights, are they? Maybe we're being forced to accept people who are different from us, and yes, people feel wickedly comfortable vilifying Christ in public (Week 12). Indeed, for believers in America, we're entering new territory when it comes to our being socially ostracized by heathens, but the Bible tells us that up until now, the American church has been the exception to the rule. The world - including unsaved America - is going to hate Christ and His followers. That's saddening, but not surprising. Should we be asking God to remove that enmity after He's already told us to expect it?
Let Real Faith Shine
What does any of this have to do with the sovereignty of God? Well, allow me to draw some correlations between some of what we say we want America to be and what God expects of us.
First, we want our fellow Americans to let us flaunt religious Christian symbolism to the exclusion of other religions. If you were of any other faith, wouldn't that sound suspiciously like a state religion? Doesn't it also fail to address the truth from the popularized expression that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship? Nativity scenes and Ten Commandments plaques don’t save people. Nor does their absence from the public square deny believers their right to practice their faith in daily life. However, maybe if we churchgoers faithfully practice all 10 of the commandments ourselves, then we might have credibility when it comes to posting them down at the courthouse.
Second, the money you earn isn’t yours to begin with, is it? So aside from our ability as citizens to vote down tax increases (at least in theory), should we be as concerned about rising taxes as we are with abortion? Are the two in the same league when it comes to things that God abhors? I understand that higher taxes will probably cripple the economy, and we need to pray that the Lord will give our leaders wisdom when it comes to making decisions, but believers across the globe manage to survive on far less than we do, and God loves them just as much as He loves you and me.
Third, whose sovereignty are we talking about when we complain about things like taxes, universal healthcare, and nativity scenes? To what extent are we grieving the loss of comforts and expectations rather than challenges to issues intrinsic to our faith? God's sovereignty extends over every matter concerning us here in the United States. After all, that's the reason people like Dr. Stanley have called for this 140 days of prayer. But until we relinquish all of our perceived rights to everything with which God has blessed America, only then can we truly appreciate His authority, His love, and His provision.
We haven't exactly been good stewards of the social, political, environmental, economic, industrial, educational, artistic, and cultural bounty God secured for America through - and even despite - the actions of our Founding Fathers. Have we? Come on now; if you have kids, and they don't appreciate things you've given to them in the past, how likely are you to give them something new and shiny they see online?
Aren't there plenty of things that God can change in us and provide for us that can revolutionize the United States for His glory that have little to do with what Rush Limbaugh wants for America?
I don't want nationalized healthcare, higher taxes, or more government. I do want to protect the institution of marriage. But with divorce rates in the church running neck-and-neck with the unchurched, with faiths like Islam pushing for greater civic recognition, and with spiraling healthcare costs making employers think twice about providing coverage, the answers seem far more complex than many believers want to acknowledge.
I'm praying that God will be our Sovereign.
Thy love divine has led us in the past; in this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide, and Stay; Thy Word our law,
Thy paths our chosen way.
- God of Our Fathers, "National Hymn," words by Daniel C. Roberts in 1876