'Tis the season: Whose side is God on?

September 12th, 2016

In America, we have what appears to be an ever-widening divide between conservatives and liberals. Which side is God on? Or is there one God’s a little more fond of?

Abraham Lincoln can help us. In his second inaugural address, he told the truth about those certain God is on their side:  

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; each invokes His aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered… The Almighty has His own purposes.” When it comes to how we are to arrange life in this world, even in our fallen, broken state, we know a good bit about God’s purposes.

But then people who have been at odds with one another, in ways that both are a little bit right and a good bit wrong, have to move forward. I love Jim Wallis’s idea: that instead of seeking “common ground,” we move together toward “higher ground.” It’s not some lowest common denominator that will bring vitality and wholeness to our world. We need something not yet realized, something better and richer, something transformative; not muddling along, but bold and soaring.  

When Jesus spoke those words Bibles highlight in red (for us who would be Red Letter Christians!), he was taking us way up higher.

The Church inevitably plays something of a “contrarian” role in politics. Like the lifeguard blowing the whistle when swimmers play too far from the shore, the Church issues warnings. When we look at things through the lens of God’s Word and God’s redemptive work in the world, we spot idolatry, we spot what is bogus, we spot what is narrow prejudice. We notice what feeds and grows the dark side of humanity. We veer away from whatever does not bring life and wholeness for God’s people.

When Christianity showed up in the Roman empire, no one said “Ah, so glad the Christians have come to cozy up to us and support our endeavors." No: the complaint filed against them was that “they are turning the world upside down” (Acts 17). In a world that does not love the Lord Jesus, we will expect to find ourselves at odds with business as usual; we shun a judgmental spirit, but we do not refrain from making judgments. And so, inevitably, like the prophets of Israel, like Jesus, maybe even like your psychoanalyst or cancer doctor, the church stands outside the system, and lovingly tells the truth: there’s something we see that will be fatal if left untreated. You’ve got to do something — and we’ll be part of the cure.

For beyond the critique Christianity can and must offer, our singular responsibility is to be constructive. The way we may enact positive change isn’t what it might have been in some bygone era. If there was ever such a thing as a “Christian America,” clearly those days are long gone. The Church cannot vaunt itself as the big fixer of the world. If we get anything done, it will be by sitting around the table with others we’ve befriended: different kinds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, other faiths, agnostics, atheists. We have to be humble and listen, even as we share. Mostly we have to live into our beliefs, and put into energetic practice what we know to be in God’s mind and heart. Then and only then can we be good, trusted, admired partners — and the world will be blessed.

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