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IS GOD ON AMERICA'S SIDE?
THE SURPRISING ANSWER AND HOW IT AFFECTS OUR FUTURE
By ERWIN W. LUTZER
Copyright © 2008
Erwin W. Lutzer
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE FIRST PRINCIPLE
God can both bless and curse a nation.
"GOD BLESS AMERICA!" is enthusiastically sung by the vast majority of Americans. We all want "God" to bless America, but truth be told, all who sing this song do not agree on the meaning of the phrase. The word "God" in the song cries out for definition.
All of us know that in recent decades, God has been banished from the so-called "public square" in American life. He has been evicted from education, from law, and from the workplace. In some schools, children are not allowed to draw a picture of the Nativity at Christmastime. Indeed, only a couple years ago one judge told a high school valedictorian, "If you mention Jesus in your valedictory address, you will wish you had never been born."
But when the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened, "God bless America" signs were everywhere, even on marquees on porn shops. Everyone thought that surely God could be trusted to come to our side in this war against terror. What could be more obvious than the fact that we have stood for democracy, financial opportunity, and freedom? Think of the good America has done around the world! Of course God is on our side, and if He isn't, He ought to be!
The Banished God, Retrieved
So after 9/11, to borrow a phrase from R. C. Sproul, God was "allowed off the reservation" for a few months to fulfill His responsibility to bless us. But once our nation felt secure again, God was safely tucked away, church attendance declined, and the so-called wall of separation of church and state was built a notch higher. God is even less welcome now in the affairs of our public life than He was before 9/11. Recently, I read about a girl who was wearing a chastity bracelet signifying her intention to be a virgin until she marries, but it was banned from the school because it was deemed religious.
God is consistently banished from science, economics, history, education, and government. The role of religion, we are told, is to bless the soul, but not to interfere with our lifestyle or public policy. When I was in China in 1986, I asked a tour guide about freedom of religion. She replied, "Of course we have freedom of religion here in China; people can be as religious as they want to be within their own minds!" So it is; many here in America would agree that religion can coexist with government as long as our beliefs are strictly private, as long as they are confined to our minds.
Clearly, the God who was briefly allowed to reenter American public life was not the God of the Bible but the God of our civil religion. This God is described by Sproul as a certain kind of being. "He is a deity without sovereignty, a god without wrath, a judge without judgment, and a force without power." Or, to say it differently, the God many people sang about was just "a bigger one of us."
Almost every State of the Union message delivered since 1984 has ended with the president declaring, "May God bless America." This phrase should reflect a desire for God's guidance and approval, but often it sounds like a special incantation to provide hope for the future and to obtain any extra help we can. And even during the election season, the 2008 presidential candidates continued to call upon God to bless our country.
During the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, God was expected to put His approval on the American way of life without expecting us to repent of our sins. He was briefly allowed into our public life only to give us benefits, not to judge us for our sins. The God who was allowed off the reservation was a God who was only allowed to bless us-not a God who could possibly have anything to do with evil people flying planes into New York's Twin Towers.
But listen to these words of God through Moses, when speaking to the nation of Israel:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known." (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)
So there it is: God gave Israel a choice of either being blessed or being cursed. And although America does not have a covenant with God, the principle applies: God does not merely bless people and nations, He judges and curses them as well.
Clearly, these words from God were not spoken by the God of American civil religion. The God of Moses is not like a book on a shelf that can be taken down when needed and then put back when we grow tired of it. So, when many people say "God bless America," they mean various things. They may simply mean, "Lord, I pray that You will protect us; especially I pray that my family might not die," or "May I live in good health, may I be able to pay my mortgage, and above all, Lord, may the stock market not fall so my retirement is secure." They implore the God who does not call upon us to forsake our cultural idols but rather invites us to indulge ourselves. This is the God of the American flag. In contrast, the God of Moses and of the Old Testament Scriptures is the God who invites us to choose: "Choose Me and receive blessing; disobey Me and be cursed."
God on a Leash
Several years have passed since the 9/11 attacks-a time of tragedy when God was used like cleaning fluid to mop up the spill and, when finished, put back into the cupboard. Today He is told to stay put on the other side of the wall of separation of church and state. There He is expected to wait patiently until we have another tragedy-and then we'll carefully bring Him out on a leash so that He can bless us once more. To quote Sproul again, "We allow for God's providence as long as it is a blessing, but we have no room for God's providence if that providence represents some kind of judgment."
But the God of the Bible does not limit Himself to blessing a nation.
Consider: Although the nation Israel was in covenant relationship with Yahweh and therefore could claim His blessing in ways that we cannot, even they were often severely judged. Twice God had other nations take His own covenant people from the land He gave them and had them transported to other nations as a judgment. The ten northern tribes were carried off to Assyria; the southern tribes of Judah and Simeon were taken to Babylon for seventy years, until almost all the older people died and only their children could return. All these judgments and others too numerous to count were brought on by God to judge His own covenant people!
Startling though it might seem, there are times when God actually is described as fighting against His own people, "But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them" (Isaiah 63:10, italics added). Imagine, God fighting against His own people! If Israel could not take His blessings for granted, neither can we.
If God so severely judged a nation that had a unique covenantal relationship with Him, think of how He might judge America, a nation that cannot claim such a relationship. The God of the Bible will not endlessly tolerate idolatry and benign neglect. He graciously endures rejection and insults, but at some point, He might choose to bring a nation to its knees with severe discipline. As we shall see, sometimes those nations never recover.
ON GOD'S SIDE
1. Describe the wall of separation between church and state. In what ways does a view of God as "the God of our civil religion" fall short of the God of the Bible? 2. Discuss some ways God has been banished from science, economics, history, education, and government. What impact has His banishment from those disciplines had on our culture, our families, and even the church?
3. What does Deuteronomy 11:26 teach us? Can we expect God to bless our nation, even if we do not repent of our sins? 4. The Bible tells us that God judged His people, Israel, by allowing their enemies to take them into captivity. In America, what are some obvious cultural idols or examples of neglect of God that could bring His judgment?
Chapter Two THE SECOND PRINCIPLE
God judges nations based on the amount of light and opportunity they are given.
AS YOU PROBABLY KNOW, the entire history of the Old Testament is the history of one nation, namely, Israel. Other nations enter the story only when they connect with Israel, either in battle or in the forming of alliances. And because of Israel's unique relationship with God, the nation is judged more strictly than its neighbors.
For example, consider how patient God was with the Canaanites, the people whom the Israelites would conquer. It took four hundred years before their "cup of iniquity" was full, and then judgment fell upon them when Joshua entered the land. God was similarly patient with Nineveh, particularly after her dramatic repentance as recorded in Jonah 3.
In the final analysis, God apportions judgment with the amount of spiritual light and truth given to any particular person or nation.
Paul pointed out that in the end time, God would individually judge Jews and Gentiles by the amount of light they had when they were alive. But the same principle, that responsibility' is based on knowledge, is found throughout Scripture. Read Paul's words:
For all who sinned without the law will also perish without the law and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. (Romans 2:12-15)
We must clarify several matters:
First, responsibility is based on knowledge. At the end of time, God will not judge all peoples with the same standard, because of varying degrees of opportunity and light. In Old Testament times, the Jews had the privilege of receiving direct instructions from God, and therefore they were judged more severely both individually and as a nation. Indeed, Jesus reiterated the same principle when He said that those who knew God's will and didn't do it will be judged more severely. Then He continues, "But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they' entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48). Again, responsibility, is based on knowledge.
Greater Light, Greater Responsibility
This same principle of apportioned judgment is stated in the book of Hebrews. Because the revelation of God under the new covenant is so much greater, the penalty for neglecting grace is so much more severe. "For since the message declared by angels [the Old Testament law] proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a .just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:2-3). Greater light means greater responsibility and a greater penalty for disobedience.
Now think of the United States. We have had more light than any nation of the past centuries. Although America never was a Christian nation in any strict sense of the term, we cannot deny its Christian influences. Go to Washington, D.C., and you'll notice almost every' government building has a verse of Scripture carved prominently on the façade or entrance. So much of a Christian influence on government is undeniable.
Many of our universities were begun with the intention of training men *hr Christian ministry, beginning with no less than Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher learning in America. History professor George M. Marsden chronicles how schools of higher education have largely abandoned their Christian roots, in his classic work The Soul of the American University. In America, opportunities to hear the Gospel can be found everywhere. We have Christian television and Christian radio, and the Internet features Web sites that explain the Gospel. A Bible can be bought in any bookstore, in contrast to many other countries where the Scriptures are either banned or difficult to obtain. No other nation on earth can claim such blessings with perhaps the exception of the ancient nation of Israel that enjoyed a direct relationship with God through its kings and prophets. Surely, we cannot endlessly dismiss God and disregard His law without incurring judgment.
National judgments are, of course, only temporary whereas the final judgment will be individual and eternal. Every one of us will be personally judged after we die. "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Even the judgment of the nations that Jesus referred to was individual and personal. It is really the judgment of the "Gentiles" (Matthew 25:31-36). This judgment separates the sheep (followers of Jesus) and the goats (unbelievers) and is the judgment of all who are alive at the time of Christ's glorious appearing. Then in the final judgment after death, the seemingly haphazard judgments of this life are rectified and in eternity all the scales will be meticulously balanced. All of us will be accountable for that we did with what we knew.
When a Nation's Sins Accumulate
Second, when we speak of God judging a nation, we often simply mean that the natural consequences of the sine of a nation accumulate and are intensified.
All sin, as we shall learn, has both immediate and long-term consequences. In fact, we as Christians also are judged for sin, for "the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). But sometimes God intensifies such regular judgments to get the attention of an entire nation. Then sometimes His blessing is removed and the nation is allowed to go its own way to reap the sad results. In the case of the nation Israel, there were times when it was even too late for the nation to repent (sec Hosea 5:6).
Some nations appear to have fewer consequences for their sins than others. We must admit that those temporal judgments we see today are often, from our standpoint, inconsistent and unpredictable. Some nations seem to prosper despite their obvious sins; other nations are judged more severely. But in the eternal and final judgments, all the scales are meticulously balanced.
But-and this is important-God does judge nations in this life and when that happens all of the inhabitants are collectively affected. Whatever judgments God sends to the United States will affect us all. Indeed, we are already being judged in ways that will be explained in a moment. For believers such judgments are only temporary, but for the unconverted these national judgments begin now and have their culmination in eternity.
The God of the Bible will not endlessly tolerate benign neglect. He graciously can endure insults, but at some point, He brings the nation to a halt; and the discipline is severe.
Excerpted from IS GOD ON AMERICA'S SIDE? by ERWIN W. LUTZER Copyright © 2008 by Erwin W. Lutzer. Excerpted by permission.
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