America's propensity to see
ourselves as God's new chosen nation has often led us to claim scripture
directed at Israel (or Judah) as promises for ourselves. While such
thinking generally makes me squirm, I can re-apply such interpretations
to see how they apply to the modern world. Granted, such direct
application is woefully historically inaccurate and the nationalistic
(and narcissistic) assumption that the good ole US of A has magically
replaced Israel as God's chosen people seemingly ignores the
sacrificial act of Jesus on behalf of all nations – but I can still see
how it works. I trust in the words of the prophets, and can believe
that the principle of their commandments transcends culture even as
they were original situated in particular cultures themselves. So while
I have trouble reading passages that talk about requirements of or
blessings for God-s people as applying to the citizens of the USA, I
have no problem applying such commands to the church as the new
representations of God-s people.
That said, I do find it curious which passages those who see the USA
as God-s new chosen nation see fit to claim as applying directly to us.
For many years the theme verse for the National Day of Prayer was 2
Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name humble
themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I
will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
In context, the passage refers to God helping heal the land from
drought and swarms of locusts, but it more often these days is a
request for God to rid our land of abortion and liberals. But whatever
the context, I find it most intriguing that this verse suggests only
personal piety (prayer and repentance) as the required acts that God
will reward. This promise of "If we pray, God will heal" fits nicely
into the modern Evangelical culture that stresses piety as the
necessary work of the people. Many churches shy away from acts of
charity or justice due to the fear that they might become acts of
"works righteousness" or distract us from personal habits like prayer
and worship (as if such things are an either/or).
Choosing such passages of promise involves direct acts of selection
and interpretation. The Bible is full of other such promises to Israel
– telling them what is required of them in order for God to bless them
– but those aren't often selected. For instance, take Jeremiah 7:3-7 -
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend
your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do
not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the Lord,
the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord." For if you truly amend
your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if
you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed
innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to
your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land
that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.
If we do justice and take care of the immigrant and the poor and the
homeless, and if we refrain from violence, and if we refrain from
seeking after the idols of our age then God will be with us in our
land. Why don't we hear church leaders applying those words to America?
Why don't we have Evangelical churches mobilizing for National Days of
Justice or Peacemaking or Welcoming and Caring for Immigrants? If we
claim other words of worship requirement and blessing that were
directed at Israel as mandates for ourselves in the modern church, then
why aren't we claiming these words as well?
Our acts of worship and sacrifice – of taking our lives and making
them holy by giving them to God – define our relationship with God.
There should be nothing divisive or political about the decision to
worship with acts of prayer or with acts of justice. God seemingly
requires both of us. But we have allowed our politics to guide our
interpretation of scripture – even to the point of which passages we
claim as our own. We, like those Jeremiah calls out, seem to trust in
the deceptive words "The Temple of the Lord." Instead of listening to
all of God's words about worship and acting rightly, we assume that our
group's interpretation is correct and holy. We hide behind the name of
"biblical Christian", or "compassionate Christian", or "progressive
Christian" or whatever other deceptive mantra we choose to repeat as a
way to drown out the voice of God.
I really don't care about God healing or blessing America – God is
far bigger than the petty boundaries of a nation. But I do care about
the church following the path God has called us to – a path that
listens to all of God's commands and doesn't run away from the acts of
worship required of us. Which is why I think we should listen to
whenever God says "If my people…"