I am writing this post to confess a sin in the hope that I might help some of my brothers and sisters who are struggling with the same issue. The sin is the sin of allowing a hopeless attitude to permeate my life, choke my joy and stifle my thanksgiving. The challenging circumstances that form the context and backdrop of this sin are, of course, common knowledge to all. Whenever I look at social media or read news coverage of any kind, I am struck by the level of hatred and division in the United States and it seems like this can only end in social collapse, economic collapse, persecution of the church and war.
At this point, the most likely sequence of events seems to start with the Electoral College refusing to endorse the election of Donald Trump. Shock and anger at the prospect of having someone as corrupt as Hillary Clinton claim the office of President of the United States despite an electoral defeat will lead to widespread civil unrest. After some trigger event, the government might then “roll out the tanks” and proclaim martial law in various areas. In the midst of such turmoil, the financial markets will collapse and this will result in an intensification of hostilities. However it starts and whatever the exact sequence of events, it doesn’t really make any difference. The anger and hatred in the country right now is a live hand grenade and it is going to go off in one way or another.
At this point, it seems imperative to emphasize the correct Biblical response to a tyrannical government.
For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (Romans 8:36)
You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (James 5:6)
Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:2)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)
As these verses make clear, the church is not to resist the government through armed insurrection. Some people might argue that God is commanding us to be obedient to a lawful authority and that resistance to the U.S. government would be legitimate if Hillary Clinton was named the next president. This is hair-splitting legalism of the worst kind. The most common cause for a transition of authority in the Roman world was the assassination of the previous emperor. If such a context provided a legitimate basis for resisting government authority surely Paul should have mentioned it? Resistance to a tyrannical government must be non-violent.
Let us be clear that obedience will not be cost free. The Bible tells us that there will come a time when we are hated by all men for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ (Mark 13:13). If that time is as near as it seems, then we must all be prepared for the best case scenario. How do we obey the Word of God and “rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say rejoice”? (Philippians 4:4) As I mentioned above, my failure to live a life of rejoicing is the sin that I am writing this post to address.
So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41)
First, foremost and most importantly, we have to recognize that it is a privilege to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. It may not seem like a great deal of fun in prospect, but if we remember all that He has done for us in the past and remember all that He is going to do for us in the future, then it is possible to maintain a joyful attitude in the most difficult circumstances and we have numerous historical examples of this kind of faith.
Remembering what God has done in the past would seem like the easier of the two, but we can sin in forgetting the things that God has done. Just a few days ago, in fact, I was thinking about these things and I thought (shamefully) “But Lord, it would be so much easier to have faith like David if you had delivered me from the lion or the bear like you delivered David.” Later on, I remembered a number of occasions when God miraculously delivered me from peril of various kinds and I was ashamed. The first key to maintaining a joyful attitude no matter what happens politically is to remember all the times when God has answered your prayers or protected you from harm.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke: 21:28)
The second thing we have to do in order to have joy as we see the wind and the waves rising is to look up at Jesus. Remember who He is and what He has done and the glory of the promises that we have in Him. This may sound easy, but it can be very difficult as Peter found when he attempted to walk on the water.
“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:29-31)
The Word of God never tells us why Peter doubted, only that his doubt started when he looked at the wind and the waves. My guess is that Peter was thinking of all the sins that he had committed against God and doubted because it seemed impossible that God could love him faithfully despite his many failures. The truth is that if we focus on who we are and what we deserve, we are in a hopeless state. If God’s blessing depends on me being worthy of his protection, then I have every reason to fear the waves that surround me. If it seems to you like false humility to believe that we are not worthy of God’s protection, then you should really consider what the Bible has to say.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'(Matthew 22:37)
How can we be good before God when that requires perfect love of God and neighbor? If we know God and we are honest, then when we examine ourselves we can always find reasons that God should leave us to our fate. That is why it is so important to focus on who He is and what He has done and His great faithfulness. These are the only sound foundation for peace and joy.
Of course, we must also ask forgiveness for what we have done and this means that our self-examination needs to be thorough. I think many Christians are going to be surprised at the course of events over the next few months because they have not been honest with themselves about their failures and their joy and peace is founded on a false confidence. Instead of relying on God and placing their faith and hope in Him, they have placed their faith in politicians and this can only lead to disaster and disappointment.
Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. (1 Samuel 12:23)
As I have wrestled with fear and doubt over the last few months, many of my own failures have become plain to me. Did I sin against God and fail to pray for my brothers and sisters? For my coworkers? For my friends and family? For the missionaries serving Christ in far off places? For the church persecuted in North Korea, Iran, Syria, Somalia and other places? Was I grateful enough for the privilege of being a member of God’s family? For the provision that God has graciously and faithfully given me for all these years?
At the root of the fear and doubt with which I have wrestled over the last few months, there turns out to be a great deal of sinful complacency. As I have corrected these attitudes through prayer, repentance, thanksgiving and worship, my peace has returned and I have been able to focus on the goodness and glory of our Lord.
As the purpose of this post is to share how I have been dealing with a despair born of fear and uncertainty, I thought I would mention one other thing that has really helped. A few days ago, I wrote down a list of all my concerns. In prayer before God, I gave them to him and I said “I believe these are yours? They are too big for me.” The Bible tells us “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) and I have been casting my cares upon the Lord in daily prayer and this has been an enormous blessing.