Thursday, December 03, 2015
Government Nativity and Christian Naïveté: Law and Life in Conflict
I’ve seen pictures of a lifeless little boy, lying in the surf of a distant beach, with a seemingly finger-pointed quote from Jesus, "I was a stranger and you did not let me in. I was naked and you did not clothe me." Ouch. Did I drown that little boy? It feels like I did. I must be uncaring. I’ve also seen pictures of lots of able-bodied young men behind fences, who were awaiting refugee status and permission so they could continue their trek, with the accompanying question, “Do these look like refugee widows and children to you?” Well, no. They sure don’t. Wow. I’d be a fool to let them migrate to the USA, wouldn’t I?
One of my favorite finger pointing posts uses the ancient story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as a means of “shame on you.” It’s right on time for Christmas.
It belittles Christians who will have on display a nativity scene depicting the holy family and holy moment of Jesus’ birth to “Middle Eastern refugees”, because those same Christians will at the same time be demanding that the contemporary equivalent refugees (Syrians) be denied a place here in the USA. With ridicule-laden words, they write, “There’s still no room at the inn.” Beautiful, isn’t it? I think that’s unfair and unwise.
Not only were Joseph, Mary and Jesus not refugees in the beautiful nativity scene moment (their angel-directed flight to Egypt had not yet happened), but also a single family migrating is nothing like the hundreds of thousands now moving across Europe and heading for our shores. To employ the ancient story as a means of belittling and shaming those Christians who are advocating caution in the mass migration is not fair because it’s not the contemporary equivalent. Further, it’s not wise because those administering the scolding have accepted the dangerous position of prosecutor for the government. That won’t work out well for anybody, scolder or scold-ee, liberal or conservative.
In my view, most people do not believe that the government is listening to them and serving them anymore. You know, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” kind of thing. Instead, they believe that the government is perishing because the system has reversed: people must do what the government dictates. To many of us, life increasingly feels like it’s about “a people of the government, by the government, for the government,” but we know that won’t work. That will perish. History proves it in an ugly way. That people are raising cautionary Stop signs over it is, I think, a symptom of a larger issue: Government nativity and Christian naïveté. I’ll explain.
Our government was not meant to be the birthplace, the nativity scene of anything, only the channel of the will of the people, and the provider and protector of those same people. That’s what it’s for. The preamble to the Constitution reads:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
What follows is how the will of the people shall and shall not be carried out. To be sure, there is and always has been a hairy fight going on as to who will represent us and our will as our government. But the government must not give birth to a will and direction of its own. We call that tyranny. When and if it does, the people have become its unwilling servant, the people have no voice and no choice, and the hearts of the people no longer matter. That’s going to cause a struggle, which I think we’re seeing now.
Here’s my point: We must not use the same methods of struggle against an increasingly unresponsive and non-representative government as we do in our relationship with Christian brothers and sisters.
For example, if our government, without a vote of the people, decides to bring in thousands of foreigners for whom there can be no real vetting, no determination if they are for us or against us, and you take the government’s side AND use scripture to prosecute against Christians who disagree, you will be in a mixed up world of trouble, even if you’re simply naïve. You will be confusing government with church, and the distinction is vital. Christians are going to love and care for people, whether they are across the street or across the globe, but that is not the role of government.
Christians gladly give many millions of dollars every year to World Vision and Compassion International, make life-changing use of international adoption agencies, and look magnificent and godly in the process. Why? Because their hearts are engaged by God for people. That’s the church, God’s body, working well. We expect great love, kindness and compassion to come from the church, and when it does not, we take a close look in order to assist it to the grace and outflow we expect. “Since God is in there,” I might say, “there ought to be some evidence. Let me help you to find Him so He can produce it.” That’s a lot of what I do.
The purpose of the government is one thing, the purpose of the church another. Get that confused and the tangle will do nasty things to you, maybe even induce you to do nasty things to Christians. You’ve seen that before, right?
Life in the heart is what Jesus is all about, and I want to encourage you to find, experience and enjoy His life. What comes from there is the evidence of God, and that’s a big deal—the biggest! In that display of God’s grace in a person, laws and decrees are not needed, but are contradictory. God’s life is not created by law, neither should law come from God’s life. They don’t go together.
Romans 6:14 “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” What grace? The grace of life—the life of Christ in you! He does not come by law or decree, neither does He make them. He, Himself, supersedes law. He is the way, the truth and the life for you, on the inside.
Finally, I want to caution everyone against badly using scripture to manipulate emotion and behavior. When we resort to using the Bible as a cudgel, a weapon, whether it’s wielded by a liberal-leaning or a conservative-leaning person, we’ll stop letting the verses touch us and reveal life in us—the evidence of God at work. Instead, we’ll begin barricading ourselves behind our positions, using verses as bullets to do harm rather than offerings to assist and make well.
I hope this helps.
(This is a transcript of yesterday’s video, “Government Nativity and Christian Naïveté: Law and Life in Conflict,” and is for those who might rather read than watch. To see the video, click https://youtu.be/lPlvFM0E9dw, or scroll down this blog page. Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spbpda/. Title added.)