Recently at The Federalist, Nathan Stone wrote of some of the unfortunate consequences of the fall of Roe v. Wade, noting that the adage “Be careful what you wish for” seems to be in play, as the pushback from proponents of abortion has been dismayingly robust.
Stone cites reports of rising abortion rates in many states and recent defeats of pro-life legislation, concluding that the root problem is a lukewarm Christianity: “The core reason the right cannot, in many cases, compete with the left’s energy is because many on the right do not believe. … This situation is not helped by the fact that many American churches are spineless at best and conquered provinces at worst.”
Stone goes on to call for a “reimagined Christianity” in which “the symbol of Christ as good shepherd … [is] replaced with the Christ Knight, the Christ Warlord. … People — but especially men — need a strong figure to follow, to rally around, especially if the venture is dangerous. A Son of God going forth to war can do that.”
Stone is spot on in observing that many people who call themselves Christians don’t actually understand or believe in the real Jesus. But his call for a repackaged Jesus that people can more readily get behind is not the solution.
A Blight on the Hill
Meanwhile, writing for Salvo, Daniel Witt similarly mourns the current state of the American experiment, lamenting the lost ideal of John Winthrop’s “city on a hill,” which Witt describes as a virtuous civilization providing an example for the rest of the world to emulate.
Witt says America is indeed a city on a hill, but rather than providing a positive example, it is having a corrupting influence: “The United States of America displays a mockery of Christ. … The world, by and large, likes what it sees. … My conclusion from the experience of living abroad is that Christian leaders in America need to take a hard look at our place in the nation, and the nation’s place in the world.”
Witt, like Stone, correctly observes that America’s Christian roots shriveled long ago. Politicians may still appeal to faith, family, and country, but the words ring hollow these days. Americans don’t go to church, don’t uphold traditional family values, and don’t love their country.
But the problem is not an American illness in need of an American cure. It’s clear that America long ago strayed from its Christian founding. But at its core, America’s decline into depravity is not a national problem, but an individual one — not a political problem, but a spiritual one.
Spiritual problems are not solved by marketing campaigns or national movements but by encounters with the one true God, who defies any attempt to categorize or use Him for human purposes. And those encounters don’t happen on a national level, with America repenting for its collective failure, but on an individual level, with the sinner coming face to face with the reality of his sinfulness and his need for a Savior.
Land, Heal Thyself
In 1993, Michael Card wrote the now-classic, contemporary Christian song “Heal Our Land” for the National Day of Prayer. It’s a beautiful song, and I admit to getting a lump in my throat when I hear it. The lyrics draw on 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with praying for a change in the direction of this country. I don’t know that I have ever, in my lifetime, felt so discouraged about America’s future. Prayer is in order.
But God’s words in 2 Chronicles are not about America. They are about the ancient Israelites, God’s people chosen for the purpose of sending His Son into the world to redeem it. The land to be healed in 2 Chronicles is not the American nation but the Hebrew one, and the goal is not ultimately to save the Israelites for their own sake but so that God’s eternal purposes might be carried out.
Lutheran scholar Rev. Joel Biermann has written extensively on what Lutherans refer to as the two realms or kingdoms, the two spheres in which Christians live and operate. Biermann describes it this way:
Simply put, the teaching of the two realms helps us see that God is directly involved in caring for His creation in two different but complementary ways. In the spiritual realm, He answers our need for a right relationship with Him and through His church gives us forgiveness and grace in Christ. In the temporal realm, He enables us to live in right relationships with one another as He provides for all that we need to live in this world and through His appointed government extends His justice in the world (Rom. 13:1–7). The realms are not in opposition or competition, but together work to accomplish God’s purpose of claiming, preserving, saving and finally restoring the whole creation.
Christian Americans would do well to understand and embrace the distinction. America is not going to save the world. America may, in fact, be lost. But those who trust not in princes need not fear. An old Latin phrase is helpful here: Ora et labora, or “Pray and work.”
Ora et Labora
If you want to help America, pray and work. First, go to church — not a church that makes sweeping promises about what America can accomplish if only we put God back in our schools and institutions, but a church that says to you, individually, “You are a poor, miserable sinner. You are helpless to address that problem on your own. The only answer is Jesus and His death on a cross to pay the price for your sins. Look to Him, trust in His promises, and be saved.”
Second, go to work. Work to care for your family. Work to serve your neighbor. Obey the law. Vote.
Jesus made it abundantly clear: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. … For this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:36-37).
The truth to which Jesus came to bear witness is not primarily about our temporal problems (although He certainly cares about those things) but about who He is: the Son of God who came to earth to provide a solution to the problem at the root of all other problems — namely, sin.
That sin rests deep in the heart of each of us, and we can’t fix it. Jesus came to answer our need for a Savior, to fix what we cannot. He did so by taking the sin of the entire world upon Himself and carrying it to the grave. He then went down to hell itself, where He proclaimed victory over sin, death, and Satan before rising from the dead and ascending to His Father in heaven.
Now all who live in Jesus have the promise of following the path He walked. The path is not all glory. It is likely a lot of pain and suffering. It may even include the failure of a once-great nation. But its ultimate destination is an eternity with Jesus and an end to the maladies of this world.