Nearly 155 years ago, the sixteenth President of the United States was presented with the more than enviable and staggering task of bringing healing and unity to a country that was torn apart by a violent and bloody four-year Civil War that cost the young nation more than 615,000 lives.
That war was between the geographic sections of north and south sporting colors of grey and blue, in a struggle over liberty rooted in slavery, between a rebellious confederacy and a union fighting to survive. Yet Abraham Lincoln remarked in front of a Capitol building still under construction in Washington D.C. in his second inaugural address, that, “Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained.”
That refrain rings true for us in this nation’s current state of division, disunity and strife in the midst of our great culture war of red and blue, that is more than a generation old and was exacerbated over the last four years. Though our societal battles do not equal the gravity of the Civil War era, our nation’s democratic republic again remains fragile.
Acknowledging the professed faith of both parties in God and his providence after his 1865 re-election, Lincoln added that, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Which makes me wonder how such a division of such great proportion could have existed?
But the President wisely said, “The prayers of both (for victory) could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” Indeed, our Lord and God, the one who “changes times and seasons…removes kings and sets up kings” is sovereign and purposeful in what he is directing and tolerating in our history at present.
There is good news though, in that this week’s inauguration of the nation’s 46th President, Joe Biden was carried out without incident at a Capitol building under reconstruction in the wake of an insurgent type riot two weeks ago, delivering a much needed demonstration of the ‘peaceful transfer of power’ that uniquely occurs every four years in this country.
President Biden correctly diagnosed our national ills, when he said in his inaugural speech that corporately there is, “Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”
In light of the U.S. having passed the milestone of a reported 400,000 lives lost to the pandemic, Biden added that this was a “Once in a century virus that silently stalks the country.” Unfortunately for Biden and the other powers that be, the prescription for what ails the U.S. will be as hard to distribute as the COVID vaccine.
The great challenge and issue before Americans and the church of Jesus Christ, will be to determine how we best begin to heal and unify this nation, since it is unlikely that the current state of partisan politics and policies that impact the culture war, will be able to contribute much to the cure.
A glue – however weakened by future hatred and atheism, once held this nation together for nearly two centuries, forming a bridge between political and religious or denominational factions. There was a common value and understanding that God existed and his providence or outworking of his sovereign will and purposes, ultimately ruled over a nation that he had seemingly, uniquely blessed in its birth; from the arrival of its Protestant and Puritan forefathers with their gospel goals in hand, to the formation of a constitutional government informed if not inspired by the holy scriptures as a means of providing a foundation for self-government.
Most Americans once shared the common values of faith, family and properly regulated freedom that would be dependent upon shared moral and ethical principles – among both believers and unbelievers of Christ.
The United States united itself largely under mottos like, “One Nation Under God” and “In God We Trust,” even when we didn’t, which made sense in living by the ideal that one of the founding fathers, John Adams expounded upon when he wrote, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Religion was the glue that held America together for so long even in the midst of a growing movement of diversity and pluralism.
However, that glue like ideal, has been broken to the point of being almost indistinguishable in a national culture that has turned its back on the knowledge of God and embraced a wicked sexual revolution which perverts his ordered institutions of marriage, family and government – the very bedrock of a civilized society.
Although government can legislate morality to some degree with every law it enacts, it cannot change or move hearts. This presidential administration and congress cannot take the place of the Holy Spirit and revive and restore America anymore than the Trump administration with its many accomplishments could.
The Church Must Lead
Christians must reject the sin of what one writer has called, “patriotolatry,” where American patriotism- ‘making America great again’, becomes an idol and an agenda as important to the church as the proclamation of the gospel and the advance of the kingdom and cause of Christ.
Mitt Romney, a U.S. Senator and former presidential nominee, once referred to the United States as “the greatest hope in the world.” That slogan might gain a favorable like or emoji, but is patently false. Jesus Christ is the world’s only and “greatest” hope in the world.
I don’t believe that Jesus is necessarily interested in America becoming a more ‘religious’ or moral country though God could bring that about by virtue of his common grace, as the sun rises on the just and unjust.
However, large-scale efforts by another version of the ‘religious right’ to do just that, would do little more than produce a nation of Pharisees who like in the days of Christ, lived right and religiously ritualistic lives while dying eternally in unredeemed flesh.
America’s greatest hope may be that God would providentially use this president and our current circumstances to drive this church to prayerfully seek, show and share Christ as a means of grace which could bring revival and another awakening to our land. What does that look like?
- Seek Christ
This exhortation is for Christians who have been seeking revival and comfort from moralizing the U.S.
Some of us have so embraced a politician and a party, as to risk idolizing them in cult like fashion and then have grown to so despise the other side as to demonize them as enemies, forgetting that while the policies and views of political opponents may reflect that they are enemies of God, they still remain the mission field that we are to minister in.
We also must remind ourselves as I posted last month that God is sovereign over elections and governments. To quote no less a theologian than Tears for Fears, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, but only God actually does (Dan. 4:17). Our decisions and will matters. God demands that we make wise, prudent and biblically sound decisions all the while remembering that he is the primary force and agent behind what will happen in this crazy world.
Though we are tempted to cry out to God and question his ways and means with what’s happening in this country as the prophet Habakkuk did, when God sovereignly brought Babylon to bring judgment on Judah by destroying the holy city and taking the people captive (Hab. 1:2-4), the prophet was reminded that the Lord promised to one day deliver and restore his people and chosen nation after their necessary time of discipline (Hab. 3:17-19).
This is who God is and what he does and that should bring us peace and joy, as another blogger recently posted:
How often have we prayed that our land might see a revival of Biblical Christianity? What if, in God’s plan, it meant that we had to endure political, social, and cultural unrest? What if the church had to face a pandemic that forced us from our comfortable routine? What if the church had to be torn from political attachment involving self-appointed saviors or the socially woke who each in their own power promise to make America great?
“Once awakened from our comfortable slumber and free from these political attachments, we can return to God. Is this not the common starting point of most revivals in history? Is this not where the church turns from its apathy and misplaced commitment and returns to Christ and His Word? Revival starts with the church. It begins with Christians. It starts with us coming back to the basics of the Gospel and the Bible.”
Which brings us to..
- Show Christ
We Christians have the truth and know it, but we undermine its message when we don’t show it as we should, with our tone and rhetoric on social media or in interpersonal dialogue.
Not only must America do better, but the church should know better. Whether were talking racial tensions, COVID restrictions, the Capitol incident, media censorship or the just concluded election cycle, we can as the President said in his address, “.. see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”
Whether the new president has proven to have done such in the campaign or will is quite another thing, but those words still ring as right. He unknowingly added a bit of biblical wisdom when he added, “Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war (see Eph. 4:29; 2 Tim. 2:23-26).”
- Share Christ
As we show Christ or walk the walk, we have earned the credibility to talk the talk with an ethical or political adversary. So, how do we respond to speech that is intolerant and spiteful? With true, uncompromising tolerance and grace. We want to relationally earn the opportunity to turn conversations from the political and secular to the spiritual. Our lives should give opportunity to open our lips.
Although we don’t have to become political moderates, we must find ways to wisely share the truth that we have as Christians with others in the hopes of persuading them to consider Christ (Col. 4:5). We are to reason with people, humbly as Jesus modeled in his earthly ministry with meekness, or self-control and kindness.
Finally, if President Biden is truly interested in unity and bringing healing to this nation divided by cultural war, I would prayerfully encourage and exhort him to heed God and the words of President Lincoln who sought to heal a nation divided by civil war when he said:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with the all nations.