I’ve mentioned to you before that when we read the Old Testament, we very often identify with Israel. I remember that Steven Angell taught a class called “American Religious History”, where he pointed out that this was very true when the United States was settled. White Christians saw themselves as having entered the promised land while Black Christians, who were largely enslaved at the time, saw themselves as Israel in Egypt.
I understand that there is quite a difference between the groups, and both of them at times were likely convinced the other group didn’t read the same Bible. I really think the same thing is true today; it is still common to identify with different parts of the story, and what we identify with changes how we see ourselves and our role in the nation. Some people think we are in the promised land, many think we are in Judah with a evil king, hoping that a king who follows after God will be the next on the throne, other will think that the good king is currently on the throne and still others surely think that we are in Babylon.
As you can guess, just like the divide between black and white Christians before the civil war, there is a sense that we don’t all read the same Bibles. The lessons we get out of it change remarkably based on what we judge our situation to be, both as the church and as a nation. What I do know is that applying what the prophets say about Israel can be politically dangerous; many people want to be God’s special nation, but don’t want God to hold this nation accountable.
It might be my holiness influence growing up, but I really cannot see the United States as Israel, no matter where in their history. I don’t see the United States as a particularly Godly nation, nor a Christian nation. I recognize that no matter what politics people follow, trying to harmonize it with scripture and Christian principles results in choosing which verses to read, and which verses to pass over without consideration. To me, the United States seems firmly planted as part of “the world”. Whatever the values of the nation might be, they seem different from the values I’ve learned from such religious influences as “The Sermon on the mount.”
Really, the best way to describe how my religion and my politics interact is Psalm 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” I notice that sometimes people talk about presidential candidates as if they have the power to save the nation, and very often the same one who is praised as if he were the messiah is also cursed as if he were the Antichrist. Political commentators talked like this a few years ago, and we are having it again. I know that whoever is elected does not have the power to “save” us — and, when people suggest that an American president might be the `anti-Christ’, I think they over-estimate the power of a single person in our system of government.
Actually, Psalm 146:3 is a verse I keep close at heart every time there is an election cycle. The rhetoric from various sources calls us to put our faith in a party or a candidate, though as Christians, our faith should be in God. We need to believe that God will be there with us, no matter who wins the elections — and, we must also remember that even if your favorite candidate wins, politicians are often a disappointment. The promises made to win an election are often either ignored, or prove beyond the politicians power to keep.
Jeremiah 29 is another passage that I really connect with when there are elections. You see, when politicians talk, very often my response, mentally, is that they don’t represent me, or my people. Its one thing when they quote scripture in a way that seems different from almost every Christian church that I am aware of — it is a terrifying thing when they seem to read a different constitution than I the copy I have. Even though this is my home country, there are times that political rhetoric makes it sound so very far from what I grew up with.
The reason that I connect with it is that it gives me some advice for those times when I feel the most afraid, or just angry with politics. Its tempting to fall into the trap that seems common these days — to wish my country to fail, so everybody can see how wrong the people I disagree with are. I have, unfortunately, seen smug satisfaction when economic markers go down, or a “see I told you so” attitude when there is a time of tragedy and mourning. Unfortunately, too many people would rather be proved right than to see their own community succeed — I guess wanting to be right is very human, but sometimes it costs to much.
Jeremiah 29 tells me two very important things. Even when Israel was in captivity, God had good plans for them. I like to think that the same is true for us — but one thing that I do know: God’s grace is not dependent upon whether or not our nation or city is doing the right thing. God can have good plans for us, even in a situation where the government is not friendly.
What I found more remarkable was that the advice was to make a home in Babylon, and pray that Babylon enjoys a period of peace and prosperity. I found it remarkable that they were asked to pray that their Babylonian neighbors — their enemies who took them away from their homes, would prosper, though the reason makes sense when you think about it: “As they prosper, you also shall prosper.”
I admit, if I hear about prosperity in a sermon — I tend to tune it out. It really does not ring true to hear that if I have faith, God will reward me with wealth beyond the imagination of — well, anybody who I personally associate with having a strong faith in God. Somehow, though, this idea of prosperity really appeals to me: Pray for your neighbors, as they prosper, you will prosper. It is so easy to forget that we are a community, and focus only on ourselves, but really it is true, what helps my neighbor helps me; what harms my neighbor harms me.
When I realize this, I recognize that I need to pray that when my president is misguided, he is also lucky, but no-matter how clueless he seems, I need to pray that somehow God grants him wisdom to govern well — the same with my governor and congressmen. I need to pray for the whole community that does the work of governing our nation — that it does so for the benefit of the people — so that my neighbor might prosper.
When I read this, I also realize that it is a call for the people of Judah to live out their lives in Babylon, and make a home. The more I identify with the kingdom of heaven, the more I realize that this is a message for me. This world doesn’t really get it right — Yes, I’m only spending a lifetime in this world, and eternity elsewhere; but I’m spending a lifetime here as are my family and friends — I make a life here, and pray that everybody who has to do the same can make it a good life.
We need to pray for our leaders, our communities and our neighbors. As the world gets smaller, I feel the need to pray for other nations as well, more and more — as violence in Mexico disrupts the peace in California, and as we learned this week, what happens in Asia touches even Western Europe. Let us pray that our neighbors, no matter how far away can enjoy peace and prosperity — because as they prosper, we also can prosper.