The 2012 presidential campaign has begun, which is just another way of saying that the 2008 presidential election is over. Barack Hussein Obama is President-elect of the United States and Senator John McCain is exactly that – senator. And oh the hand-wringing has begun. How many times have I heard evangelical Christians wondering (worrying) if the election of Obama is God’s judgment on our country? (More than once I’ve heard that the “choice” between Obama and McCain was evidence enough of God’s wrath.)
To their credit, I’ve heard many Christians committing to pray for President Obama and his incoming administration. In many cases this is a sincere desire to heed the New Testament admonition to pray for our government leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). However, in some cases it is said with a sanctimonious attitude of certain knowledge that the Almighty is a Republican and any populace electing a Democratic administration needs prayers for mercy in the face of the inevitable divine wrath it has brought upon itself. It strikes me as a condescending (self-righteous) protest movement: “We’re morally superior, but we’ll be big about our loss and ‘pray’ for you.” I’d rather leave my McCain/Palin bumper sticker on the car and keep my prayers in my closet (Matthew 6:6).
Is the election of President Obama indeed a judgment of God on a wayward nation?
The very question frames the issue wrongly. The question itself betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the timeline of history. It assumes an Old Testament worldview. Behind this question of judgment are images of the great prophets of ancient Israel – Jeremiah weeping over the fate of Jerusalem, Isaiah imploring repentance, Elijah manically alternating from humiliating the prophets of Baal to frightened for his life fleeing from a mad queen. This Old Testament assumption is often made quite explicit as we quote from 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.) The problem is this assumption ignores historical context.
Israel was a theocratic nation in covenant with Yahweh. Without going too far afield into redemptive history, Israel was chosen by God – not for anything special about Israel, but because God wanted to use a people to demonstrate who he was and bless all the peoples of the world. Israel did this – finding its fulfillment in its Messiah, Jesus Christ. Prior to his incarnation, Israel was identified and governed by its covenant with its God. In that covenant God stipulated his law for Israel’s governance. He promised to bless them if they followed the covenant, but he also promised severe consequences if they broke covenant. The judgments, destruction, and exile that followed were in the context of this covenant.
John Winthrop not withstanding, America has no such covenant with God! The United States of America was founded on an amazing blend of Judeo-Christian presuppositions, Calvinist-inspired Puritanism, and Enlightenment Liberalism. It was and remains a grand experiment mixing a God-fearing people with a suspicion of human depravity but hope for the highest aspiring ideals of human nature and liberty. The creativity, pragmatism, resilience, energy, and progress created by this mix have produced an absolutely phenomenal 300 years or so. However, the United States is not God’s chosen nation; it is not the new “Israel”; and it is not a nation in covenant with Yahweh.
This is not America’s fault. God no longer makes covenants with nations in the way he did with Israel. The purpose of the covenant with Israel was to bless the whole world through the ultimate Israelite. That purpose was fulfilled in the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the seed of Abraham. Christ inaugurated a new covenant – one that has nothing to do with ethnicity. As God sees it, there are two nations on this earth – those in Christ and those not in Christ. There is a covenant with the in-Christ nation. It is a covenant in which the conditions have been completely and finally met by Christ himself. Those in Christ have nothing to fear from judgment. Judgment was once-and-for-all meted out on Christ at the cross for those who are in him. Those who are not in Christ will experience the wrath of God, but it has nothing to do with their geographical residence or electoral choices.
President-elect Obama is not a judgment of God on America. The financial crisis is not a judgment of God on America – not in the way that God enforced his covenant on Israel by summoning the Assyrians and Babylonians to sack the land and capture the people. The financial crisis does reveal in whom and what our trust is. The powerful gods of greed and materialism are looking pretty impotent at the moment. Crises like this one are used by God to remind us where to put our trust.
There is only one nation in covenant with God and its citizens are scattered over the face of the earth. As those citizens walk with their God and carry out their assignments of subduing the earth and making disciples, the geo-political states in which they reside will be blessed with righteousness and justice as these citizens gain influence by serving and blessing. However, regardless of the form of government or the head of state, these citizens must maintain their primary loyalty not to the state in which they reside, but to the kingdom in which they live!