“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Many Christians have heard these famous, beautiful words from C.S. Lewis. While meant in the context of worldly pleasures versus the highest, spiritual pleasures, the principle behind what Lewis is saying makes these words relevant in the sense in which I want to address my brothers and sisters in Christ concerning the 2008 presidential election, and in particular its outcome. Imagine if you will that someone came up to you and said “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I ruined your favorite shirt.” “Uhh, okay, the good news better be good.” “The good news is that you won the lottery.” “I really liked that shirt, you know.”
It’s a dumb example illustrating an absurd reaction by you, the recipient. Forget the shirt. It’s a sad loss sure, but the good news exponentially eclipses the bad news. The point is, joy and peace surround the heart who has received the best news in the world, and all the world throws at them can only hurt them for a moment, for they will rise again, and in darkness the Lord will be their light (Micah 7:8).
This is written in response to the cavalcade of smears I’ve seen directed at President Elect Barack Obama from my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. When it comes to government, many a Christian’s faith takes a backseat to his politics. He votes on certain issues because they are “constitutional” without taking into account whether or not they are “biblical.” Consequently, he becomes defined by his nationalism and not by his Christianity. Such verses then that command us to be subject to the governing authorities and honor the king are forgotten while he lobbies for his candidate of choice and ridicules the opponent. When this happens, the Christian is judged by the very Word to which he appeals.
The comments I address come mostly from the status bars of friends of mine on Facebook. Such statuses speak of the end being near, the coming failure of the nation, a critique of Obama’s acceptance speech, attacks on his character, the using of his middle name (give it a rest, we know what you’re trying to do), and one remark on the stupidity of a nation that would elect Obama. (For the love of God, please don’t declare war on your mission by calling those you’re called to serve “stupid.”) Every one of these came from Christians. And that’s just been from tonight, post-election. My friends, such words are out of place. They are not becoming of someone who professes the name of Christ.
Paul instructs us: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2). He tells us to pay our taxes (Romans 13:6-7). We may not like the tax rate, and that’s okay. Get someone in office who will fix that. But until then, obey. In 1 Timothy, he instructs us to pray for our leaders: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) Brothers, how long will it be, if ever, before you drop to your knees and pray to God for Barack Obama? And I don’t mean “God don’t let him screw up America” or “God get him out of office” but “Adonai, Lord, you are the Sovereign over the universe. Nations rise and fall by your hand. I believe your Word when it says that the king’s heart is a stream of water in your hands to be turned at your will. I pray that you would move in President Obama’s heart and direct it toward your purposes.”
Let us look to David who, after being anointed as king but before he took the throne, was fleeing the king Saul, who sought David’s life. David came upon him with Abishai while he was sleeping and Abishai wanted to take advantage of their fortuitous circumstances and kill Saul in his sleep. But David refused, saying “who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?” And he left Saul alive, his attempted murderer (1 Samuel 26:9-11). God will dethrone when he wills to dethrone.
Let us look Chinese Brother Yun who, in his biography “The Heavenly Man” writes: “Once I spoke in the West and a Christian told me, ‘I’ve been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.’ This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on them. Instead we have learned that God in in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, ‘The government will be on his shoulders.’ Isaiah 9:6.” He goes on to write “Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure!” This comes from a man who has suffered severe persecution at the hands of the communist Chinese government. This book is one I encourage everyone to read.
Let us consider the words of James. James has some of the most harsh words to say about misusing the tongue. In his epistle he states “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10) Quick reminder: people who are made in the likeness of God refers to ALL people (Genesis 1:27).
Finally, let us also look to the example of Paul. During Paul’s defense before a council, the high priest Ananias commanded him to be struck. In retaliation Paul said “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Paul did not realize that Ananias was high priest, so those around him, startled by his audacity said “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And I love what Paul does here. Every Christian should take note of it, especially those of you who speak against Barack Obama. He says “I did not know brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Acts 23:1-5) He showed respect to those who were clearly theologically misguided. He honored Ananias’s position.
Perhaps the most damning indictments of such cynical and hostile sentiments towards an elected official come from Titus, Philippians, and 1 Peter. Paul writes to Titus and addresses slaves in his letter saying “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” (Titus 2:9-10) How much more should the Christian submit to the governing bodies? To the Philippians he writes “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). Peter tells us to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people…Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-15, 17)
There’s a very significant pattern in those three references. Not only are they commands to obey the governing authorities, but they give us the reason for doing so: “they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior,” “that you may be blameless and innocent…in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” “Be subject for the Lord’s sake…” We are to obey for the sake of the glory of Christ. The brilliance of the Gospel is to be magnified and adorned, and this CAN’T happen through argumentative, non-submissive subjects, for then the world sees us as politicians above all. When we slander any leader, we drag the name of Christ through the mud, not because they are Christ but because they have been appointed by him. They are our leaders and we are commanded to honor them.
Only those who appear to be hoping in something otherwordly get asked about the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15). And when we resort to smearing, lying, and belittling, our hope is shown to be in a politician and not the reigning King Jesus whom we call on as Lord. Such slander is often the result of desperation, yet “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). What have we to be desperate about? Jesus is King. And he has commissioned us to tell about him. But that message does not come unadorned. If we are not honoring the President, it is because we are not honoring God most. If we will not accept the best news that Jesus reigns, then we will become dependent on our leaders to fill that gap, which turns the Oval Office into an idol. And for those of you who have become distraught at Obama’s victory, I fear that your heart is in dangerous waters. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the fruit of lips that acknowledge Jesus is praise for him (Hebrews 13:15). And if we love him, we will obey his commandments (John 14:15), which includes rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s (Matthew 22:21). It includes “Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
It is always a desirous thing when the state cooperates with the Church’s mission. For that we need only to look at William Wilberforce in how he helped outlaw the African Slave Trade in England. But the lack of such support does not cancel the Church’s obligations. Don’t expect the state to do what God has called the Church to do. The honoring of leaders is most explicitly stated in the Bible by those who were living under the Roman Empire. We live in a land in which we are able to worship freely despite who is in office. And even IF that were to change, we would still be the Church, and we would still worship. The early church exploded and grew from such small numbers in a non-sympathetic government. Henry and Mel Blackaby write “For such a monumental task, they seemed to possess such inadquate resources- no seminaries, no beautiful church facilities or sound systems or multimedia tools, no such thing as a Bible in every member’s hand. They had no celebrities to endorse their cause, and very little freedom to promote their belief in Jesus Christ.” What’s our excuse?
In summary, you don’t have to be happy that Obama is taking office. That’s not the point. Feel free to be saddened by it. But honor him as leader. Don’t make crude jokes about him, don’t beat him down with criticism, and don’t slander him. Many of you have. I see it in your statuses and in your profile pictures. You drag the name of Christ through the mud with such venom. Take them down, repent, worship God, and honor who he has brought to the White House. And above all, BE THE CHURCH. For example, having a President who supports abortion does not mean we are powerless to stop it. No that doesn’t mean bombing abortion clinics. It means that if you truly care about the issue, start volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center. Love these women. After all, who we elect is a reflection of the current heart of the nation. We don’t need laws to engage the hearts of those around us. Only when we lovingly preach, live, and adorn the beautiful news of Jesus we will see changed hearts, and thus changed laws.
I close with two quotes. The first comes from Psalm 63:3: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Can we say that as Christians? Is Christ so beautiful to us that all other desires are eclipsed by the furious passion we have for him? For you who despair of an Obama presidency, I challenge you with these questions. Unhappiness about his victory is one thing. Despair is another.
Quote two is a transcript from “The Office.” I love you all, and it is with love that I grieve the actions that inspired me to write this. Let us look toward Jesus above all, and support whoever he allows to ascend to the office of President.
Michael: [starts to cry] I don’t understand why you keep picking on me.
Stanley: Oh, for the love of God.
Michael: You just, do, and I don’t know why, so… please help me understand.
Stanley: Fine. Here it is: you are a person I do not respect. The things you say, your actions, your methods, and style. Everything you would do, I would do it the opposite way.
Michael: Well Stanley, maybe you’re feeling that you don’t respect me because you don’t know me very well.
Stanley: Michael I have known you a very long time, and the more I’ve gotten to know you, the less I’ve come to respect you. Any other theories?
Michael: All right, you don’t respect me. I accept that. But listen to me, you can’t talk to me that way in this office, you just can’t. I am your boss. Can’t allow it.
Stanley: Fair enough.
Related: Can Christians Vote for Obama?