I’m writing from the Heartland of America, Laurie and I having made a “reverse Snowbird” journey from the warmth of California to the cold and getting colder plains of Iowa.
For those who follow politics, Iowa is a fascinating place due to its distinction of having the first presidential “caucus” in America where the parties choose their candidates. Also, Iowa is important due to it being a “swing state,” meaning the presidential vote is up for grabs, unlike some states that are safely in the camp of either the Democrat Party or Republican Party, where no amount of campaigning will change things.
Five years ago Laurie and I went to the Iowa State Fair with our friends Wall and Jan Posey (Walt is also a Rolling Stone Ministries board member) and noticed a small group of about ten or fifteen people crowding around a slender man who was shaking hands with the crowd. We recognized the man, and walked right up and took a picture. It was Senator Barack Obama, campaigning for the Democrat Party nomination for President of the United States. How things have changed in five years!
It is ironic that living nearly my entire life in California, the most populous state in the United States, it is rare to have presidential candidates visit. Yet here in Iowa, with 1/12 the population of California, all the serious candidates spend time here, crisscrossing the state in efforts to get momentum for their presidential campaigns.
Now that the elections are over (didn’t it seem like the presidential race went on forever?) some people are elated, others depressed. Those who embrace biblical values are rightly concerned about the erosion of our religious liberties, and the abandonment of biblical morality in America. Whether it is the battle for marriage, the fight to protect the unborn, or the attempts by a pervasive secularism to intimidate churches from speaking out on the issues, the spiritual war rages on. Some of us might think, “if only _____ (fill in the blank) had won, America would be a better place.” Perhaps. But regardless of who occupies the White House, who controls Congress, and who controls our state legislatures, government is not the means to usher in the millennium. And we are to pray for those in positions of authority, regardless of party affiliation. The Apostle Paul, writing to Christians in Rome at a time when the Emperor, Nero, was one of the cruelest, most deranged leaders of antiquity, told the Romans “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. [Not “just when you like them or agree with them”] For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).
Putting things in perspective, for Christians, our ultimate purpose is not to elect the “right” candidates, although some candidates may, indeed, be vastly superior to others, and are worthy of our support. Our battle is for the hearts and minds of people. It is generally easier to reach people’s hearts when the government is sympathetic to maintaining Christian values in America and not an impediment. But what happens, as seems to now be true here in the United States, when there is a growing hostility toward Christianity influencing the direction of the country?
If we take a lesson from history, the Early Church grew despite the hostility and persecution visited upon them by Emperor Nero and his successors. In fact, as early Christian apologist Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The Church has historically grown stronger in the face of adversity, as is now true in many parts of the world (a former student of mine was killed two weeks ago in Kenya when Muslim terrorists lobbed grenades into his church). Whether physical persecution or antagonism by the government, Jesus said, “The gates of Hades shall not overpower [the Church]” (Matthew 16:19).
By analogy, when I discuss the issue of abortion, I would like laws protecting the unborn, and think the Roe v. Wade decision (40 years and nearly 60 million babies ago) that permitted abortion on demand should be overturned. I’ve debated the Roe case on the radio and at law schools. However, the ultimate solution is not making elective abortions illegal, although I would like to see that happen. No. The ultimate solution is to change the hearts and minds of people about the unborn. If there were abortion clinics on every corner of every town, but people in their hearts believed abortion was wrong and sought out alternatives, abortions would virtually cease. Yet if abortion was outlawed, but people believed that abortion was a necessary solution to an unwanted pregnancy, women would find a way to obtain illegal abortions. The battle is ultimately for hearts and minds, with the law and government leaders playing a minor role. Therefore, regardless of who is in office, the work continues for people of faith to persuade others that the ultimate answer to the problems we face starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once the heart changes, behavioral change can happen. There are no political solutions to spiritual problems.
To summarize, our task is to see life through God’s perspective (Psalm 36:9), put our trust in Jesus of Nazareth Who claimed to be the Way, Truth and Life (John 14:6) and Who said He was coming again to Earth (John 14:2). We are in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) that cannot be fought successfully with carnal weapons such as politics or the law. We cannot legislate that people follow Jesus. Instead, we are to love people and care enough for them that we make sure they know that Jesus died for their sins, and that He invites them to believe in Him so that they might have eternal life (John 3:16).
The only thing certain about what will happen in the next four years is that in four more years it will be 2016, and time for a new president. Whether you supported Governor Romney, President Obama, or someone else in the 2012 presidential election, our purpose for being here has not changed. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to love God and to enjoy Him forever.” We are able to fulfill our purpose in life irrespective of who the leaders of our country are. If want to love and enjoy God, we show our love by believing His words, and living a life that reflects that we are His children. The calling of the Christian does not exclude politics, but it transcends politics. Therefore, in light of the recent elections, consider the perspective of the Apostle Paul to Christians in Corinth:
“Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”
(II Corinthians 4:16-18).