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Blog Deep Thoughts

The Voice of God

There is a long-standing argument among thinkers, scholars, and know-it-alls online about whether or not the US was founded as a republic or a democracy. I go back and forth, and I think the best answer is that it was neither. It’s always been its own thing, a mutt government crafted from diverse and sometimes incongruous sources.

But all of that aside, the founders were clear in at least one aspect of this new government: the rejection of monarchy. The internecine system of checks and balances they created was intended to protect against the accumulation of power in one position, person, or party. (Sadly, they could not have foreseen the combined assault of increased partisanship and a diminished sense of personal shame.) Having left a society that was dominated by a distant legislature and a detached monarch, they wanted to build a government that was stable yet responsive to the people, impervious to mob-aucracy and autocracy.

We were free of kings, and we were supposed to remain that way, with a government made up of three co-equal branches of government. And yet, there is something in human nature that desires a singular authority, someone to look to for leadership and reassurance in a crisis, along with someone to blame when that crisis gets worse. When you combine that aspect of our nature with the history of the past century of major crises—world war, depression, war, nuclear power, etc.—it is no wonder that the presidency has been transformed and expanded, becoming “imperial” in the estimation of many.

Both sides of the political divide have contributed to this shift and benefited from it, so this isn’t about bad guys and good guys, your team or my team. This is about examining a growing problem in our system of governance, in which we continue to give more power and authority—governmental and moral—to a single person, returning ourselves to a time of monarchs and a potential loss of freedom for all citizens.

Which is why I am distressed by how we have turned politics into a cult of personality and elections into apocalyptic popularity contests. We campaign for our candidate with such ferocity and conviction, as if we actually believe that one single person can fix everything.

We’ve had forty-six presidents since we’ve started: if one of them was going to save us, we’d have been saved by now.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
Psalm 146:3-5

Politics is all about promises; governance is all about solutions. I really mean that. I don’t get too worked up about the potential of a politician to come through on their campaign promises—though I do worry about campaign threats—but I still do expect the government to at least attempt to solve real problems. And yet, I don’t put my faith in either princes or presidents. Our world is broken, and no person can put it back together. Sure, one or the other might make things worse, but none of them can save us.

So why do we act as if they will? Why do we so quickly turn to worship leaders who are just as frail and mortal as we are?

19 Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Acts 12:19-23

I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, but that passage in Acts sounds like too many political rallies I’ve watched over the past two decades. I don’t blame people for getting swept up in the excitement of the moment and feeling excited about a charismatic leader, but I do worry about a trend in which we treat the selection of a national leader as a popularity contest, as a rock concert, as if a god were walking among us.

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Blog Deep Thoughts

Blessed Is the Nation

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
Psalm 33:12

I’ve seen this verse tossed around a lot over the past few years, usually in the context of “This is why God blessed us in the past” or “This is what we need for God to bless us now.”

And while I don’t think this is a terrible way to read this verse, I do think it’s too simplistic. God doesn’t give us formulas, magic spells, or spiritual leverage that we can use to force Him to do our bidding. So, rather than a “if-then” statement—”If we worship God, then He will bless us—I think this verse is saying something far more powerful. In part, the confusion comes from only reading the first half of the verse, which is how the verse is often disseminated. Thus, we can ascertain the truest meaning by carefully reading the whole verse. (We could even go deeper by reading the whole chapter, but this post will already be too long.)

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD…”
In the first half of the verse, we read that the nation who worships the LORD is blessed. Pretty straightforward. But what does it mean for this nation to be blessed? Does it mean they’ll be safe and prosperous, blessed by God with favorable conditions in this world? Or does it mean something even more simple: that to know and worship the LORD is a blessing in and of itself?

Could both readings be true? Absolutely! But of the two, it is the second interpretation of blessing that carries over into eternity. The blessing of a relationship with God is an everlasting blessing. Prosperity is temporal and so, ultimately, unimportant because only the eternal things truly matter.

“Nation” and “People”
Now, let’s talk about the word “nation” in the first half. In Hebrew, it’s the word gôy, which could translate as either “nation” or “people. “ The English word “people” in the second half is ʿǎm, which could also be translated as either “nation” or “people.” Why point this out? Because today we use the word “nation” as a stand-in for “country,” which adds a centralized, political connotation to the word that is almost entirely modern and Western. In the ancient, Eastern world, a “nation” and a “people” were the same thing. Thus, there is a more decentralized, organic, familial connotation. Essentially, we can think of “nation” in terms of “nationality,” which has more to do with family ties, culture, and history than politics.

“the people he chose for his inheritance”
Given all of that, since the words used to represent humanity in both halves of the verse are essentially synonymous, then it is highly likely that the second half of the verse isn’t conveying a separate message but is rather echoing and clarifying the message of the first half.

It’s not that the nation is blessed because it has chosen to worship God, but rather, it is blessed because the LORD chose it as His inheritance. He is the active party in this verse. The people/nation are the objects of His choosing and blessing.

Application
If it is God who chooses and thereby blesses the people, then, we can stop stressing over how to make our country into a “Christian nation” so that God will bless it. That’s not where His focus lies, and so neither should ours.

God has chosen a new people, a people of His creation. The nation that is blessed to have the LORD as their God is the Church, the people of God chosen through Jesus to be blessed with eternal life. We are His inheritance now, just as the children of Israel held that place under the Old Covenant. And what a blessing it is to be chosen by God! To be loved and highly esteemed by the King!

We need to be careful to not read the Bible with a modern mindset, trying to fit the Scripture into our worldview and altering its meaning in the process. It’s a dangerous thing to do, and so very easy to do! I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than a few times—and I’m sure I’ve missed elements of that even in this piece.

In fact, you might think I’ve missed a very obvious element: “God did choose America! So we are blessed.” Where did God say He chose America? I think you’ll find that the only source you’ll find for this claim are in the writings and speeches of people trying to defend the conquest of the continent.

I’m not saying I’m not happy to be living in this country, but I’m also not going to ignore the fact that the “land of the free and the home of the brave” was purchased at the expense of others deemed unfit to be considered either “free” or “brave.” Verses like Psalm 33:12 have been used in the past to justify sins like this by pointing to the effect of the hegemonic power of a Christianized majority, which isn’t the same as being a “Christian nation.”

But more on that later. For now, I just want to remind you of the grace of God: He chooses, He blesses. He has made us his inheritance. Our chasing after some mythical national holiness doesn’t factor in.

Original American flag image from Unsplash