Tuesday, May 18, 2010

God's Chosen People?

"...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

You no doubt have, for years, heard that we should be praying for this great country of ours. That we should be asking for God's blessing on America, because God wants to heal our land. We, as a country, have gone against God's law by taking prayer out of schools, and that we need to bring this country back to God.

And you've no doubt heard that verse up there at the top, thrown right into the middle of it all.

Can I just say that we're going about this all wrong? Is it okay for me to say that?

If we want to use a passage like 2 Chronicles 7 (or the whole book of Jeremiah, or Malachi 3, or whatever scripture we choose), I think it's worth our time to delve at least deep enough to see who was being spoken to, and what the words mean within the passage. In fact, let's get simple, and just look at the phrase "my people."

God was speaking to the Jews, the people of Israel, the people of his covenant. (Specifically in this case, he was speaking to King Solomon.) Most of us also agree that because of Jesus' life and death, his followers have been "grafted in," and we now fall under the category of "God's people." Christians. The ekklesia, the church.

However, I can find no scriptural basis -- literal, figurative, anything -- that could somehow bring "America" into the picture. "My people" is not referring to America. "Their land" is not referring to America. How can we use this scripture when talking about "taking America back for God"?

Extrapolating this scripture to the "us" of present-day could only make it refer to the CHURCH, not to America. Let's try it this way:

"...if my church, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their church."

God is more concerned about his own people than he is about earthly geographic empires and lines on a map. HIS kingdom is our kingdom. "Our land" is the kingdom we share with our brothers and sisters in Iran and China and France. We, the people of God, need to be humbling ourselves and seeking Him. Maybe we need to make sure the church is turned back to God?

Don't let your flags become fused together. Don't let your sword become intertwined with your cross. Remember whose kingdom you are a part of. A kingdom where we humble ourselves, and pray and seek God's face.





16 comments:

Craig said...

There is a definite tendency (I would say probably more prevalent among American Protestants, for perhaps obvious reasons) to more-or-less conflate 'God's People' with 'The United States'. And I suppose I understand why that would be so. Even when I was a child, there was a more-or-less shared 'cultural consensus' that 'we're all Christians here' (and Protestant Christians at that), and a kind of basic assumption that the US was 'a Christian nation'. And so the kind of uncritical thinking that you describe here was pretty easy to indulge.

That 'shared cultural consensus' collapsed before I finished high school (maybe even before I got there). But even so, a lot of 'conservative' Christians (read in the most basic sense of 'resistant to change') still can't quite bring themselves to accept that things aren't like they were (if, in fact, things ever were 'like they were').

Good point, tho - 'America' is not the same thing as 'God's People', and it's probably not justified to act as tho they were. . .

Of course, these days, it's easier, maybe, than it used to be, to look around and wonder if we American Christians aren't more like Abraham living in Sodom. . .

Joe B said...

Well said Caig. I might even up the ante by noting that even in the midst of the great 20th century cultural concensus, Scott's observation would be right. After all, cultural concensus is not the foundation of the scripture.

Craig said...

Oh, certainly so, Joe. I don't say that it was ever right; only that at an earlier time, it was more understandable. . .

Scott said...

Yeah, Christianity (or at least "church-going") was probably more of a "social norm" 50 years ago. But as you both said, I think that regardless of whether America's "Christian population" is 5% or 95%, it's neither Biblical nor even a good idea to claim us as a "Christian nation" or to box Jesus in, geographically and socio-politically.

Plus, I think "allegiance to the state" clashes with allegiance to Jesus a LOT more than we'd like to admit. I thought the picture of flags up there in the post is a perfect illustration, actually... Jesus never preached the need to put God back into government, rather, he urged his followers to live by a different set of rules altogether, being set apart as a peculiar people. Called out to be a radically different social order.

Larry said...

Scott - while you are correct in identifying the original context of this verse - and its application to the Church today, it isn't wrong for Christians in any land to see this as a general principle as to the way God blesses a repentant nation - for instance the Ninevites in the book of Jonah.

Scott said...

In similar news, I just came across this depressing statistic: 54% of Americans who go to church at least once a week said torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. I sure hope that's a flawed survey.

Larry: That's a good point, and I'm all for us being a repentant people! I sometimes wonder what a repentant nation of 300 million would look like, vs Nineveh, which had a population roughly equal to Tallahassee. :-) Either way, it's a good thing for us to be repentant and to pray for repentance in those around us.

Although I don't see God changing hearts through any government legal mandates. Plus, I have equal interest in the repentant hearts and lives of those around the world.

JulieR said...

Joe's God-loving, non-Christian friend here, and I can't tell you how pleased I am to see someone put context to a Bible verse. I get really tired of people who use the Bible to support a narrow agenda or to justify action or inaction, since it is always taken out of context and as far as I can tell, one could find a Biblical phrase to support or oppose just about anything they want and there are also contradicting passages found throughout. I'm also pretty tired of the righteousness of some U.S. citizen's to believe that they are any more or less worthy of God's love or forgiveness than anyone else. While I think that coming to America was in part about religious freedom, we cannot then begin to assume that the freedom is merely about practicing Christianity. For me, Bob Dylan's sums up the dilemma for me in his lyrics for God on Our Side.

Craig said...

Of course, RJ Neuhaus (who is one of my heroes, just for the sake of saying so) was always eager to say that we are, in fact a 'Christian nation', based on the fact that something like 80% of us self-identify as Christians (saying nothing about the 'quality' of their Christian commitment), and that our culture is undeniably built on a Christian foundation (however hard some of us are trying to undo that). Which, I think, is different than what a lot of folks mean when they call us a 'Christian nation', but it's another perspective. . .

Certainly, it is better to have just laws and good government than unjust laws and wicked government. And, insofar as we are bearers of the rights of citizens, we should exercise our rights toward those ends. And it would be a very good thing if every US citizen were a disciple of Christ. But I don't think any of those things, or all of them taken together, adds up to the United States standing in relation to God as did Israel.

And of course, geopolitics being what it is, it would be interesting to see how such a state would relate to other states, whether similarly 'Christian' or not. . .

Joe B said...

Cool, Julie. Just yesterday at lunch, the writer (Scott) mentioned the parallel of Dylan's "God is on Our Side" to the YouTubey song he embedded in the article.

Mary Bradford Barranti said...

(I clipped my brilliant cousin's comment from Facebook and pasted them here, as though she wrote it)

I'm sticking with "Uprightness and right standing with God (moral and spiritual rectitude in every area and relation) elevate a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." Proverbs 14:34. To say, "Don't let your sword become intertwined with your cross" doesn't mean to neglect the material world around us, does it? It doesn't mean that the ... See Morenation where God has placed us to be salt and light should be ignored while we go about the work of living in the Kingdom of God, does it? There is no way that as God's people we can go through life and NOT have an intentional impact on the world around us. That would be sin, indeed.

Garry said...

From the original:
Extrapolating this scripture to the "us" of present-day could only make it refer to the CHURCH, not to America. Let's try it this way:

"...if my church, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their church."

Scott, why not take it even one step further:
"...if I, who have taken the name of Christ, will become humble and seek His face in all I do and turn away from the 'sin that so easily entangles', only then will God hear from Heaven and forgive my sin and heal my mind, home ... my life."
I consider myself to be a patriotic person neither to the building up of or to the detrement of my faith. I don't see Christianinty and patriotism as exclusive ideas. Neither do I see them as requisite of each other.
I am thankful that under the new covenent of the Cross, God is dealing with me (and others) on an individual basis, not as a church body, political affiliation or nation.
I am sure that there will be "blessings by association" in some cases, and I have seen where one individual's sin has caused damage to the whole body.
I think we probably are very close in our thinking here. I am growing more and more weary of the ones who are too willing to drag God and our 'spiritually bankrupt nation' into the discussion of 'why things are so bad.' If we became a nation whose population were Christian, we would be blessed because we are living according to the teachings of Christ among ourselves. We would also have influence in the rest of the world because of the light that is in us.

Scott said...

Joe had such a well-written response to one of these comments on Facebook... I think he needs to copy-and-paste that one here too!

Joe B said...

(Now, Scott is posting Joe B's comment to Mary, since Joe is traveling)

You make the case well that we should make our world a better place, one that reflects our creator and his will. But Scott does not argue against that at all. He argues that our citizenship is not based on shared turf, tongue, and treasure under any flag. Our citizenship is heavenly, and our nation is comprised of those called and redeemed by God, born of His spirit. Prov 14:34 states an obvious fact, but it does not expound the idea of "who IS God's nation." Look at Exodus 19 (which is referenced again in Heb 12), and 1 Peter 2. Indeed, the theme of the entire New Testament and the gospel itself is the Kingdom of God. God's kingdom is NOT divided among competing nations under various flags. Our citizenship is based on the what king we serve, not on our passport issuer. And our reading and enactment of scripture must demonstrate that. The cross is not a pole which we may hoist the flag of our country, no matter what land we call home.

Scott said...

A couple of other things in response:

If someone really wanted to measure "Christian nation" by the percentage that self-identify as Christians statistically (which isn't the point here, of course), there are many, many nations with a higher percentage than the U.S., and we *never* refer to them as "Christian nations." Guatemala, Romania, Greece, Venezuela, Peru, Angola, Mexico, Croatia, Zambia, and about 80 more. (On top of that, would a culture that was undeniably built on a Christian foundation practice genocide of the original landowners [American Indians] as well as the same of mass numbers of Africans by kidnapping and slavery?)

Yes, I'm being just a BIT of a devil's advocate here. :-) All of this is really beside the point of "who is GOD'S nation."

You make good points, Garry. I do believe God is dealing with us on an individual basis, but he is also dealing with us as "his people." Not as a nation or political body, but as a church body (in the broad, "ekklesia" sense of the word). We are the bride, collectively. And my adopted brothers and sisters are global -- the lines on a map don't apply to us.

Should we want to make the world a better place? Are moral and just laws a good thing? Yes, of course. We should love justice and mercy of all people, and we should desire (and pray) that all people would "come into the kingdom." Christians are ALL adopted immigrants, after all. :-)

Craig said...

Of course, I quote Neuhaus mostly as a 'talking point', an alternative perspective. A nation even 'mostly' made up of Christians is still not the same thing as 'God's People'. . . And not what many 'Light and Glory' Evangelical-types mean when they say we're 'a Christian nation', either. . .

Actually, Scott, I think you touch on part of the 'problem' when you distinguish between our relationship to God as individuals, and as a people. Frankly, modern American Christianity is, like the culture in which it swims, extremely individualistic. Modern Americans just don't get 'people-hood'. And when they try to conceive of what 'people-hood' might look like, patriotism and national identity might be the closest things at hand. Or maybe ethnic identity, or somesuch. The old idea of 'Church-As-People' (in the sense of 'the Church is my people'; not the trite 'the Church is people') has really been lost, to a large degree. . .

Joe B said...

Very smart thoughts, Craig. And well put