We’re talking in this series about the steps we can take, as Christians, to move our nation to recovery. And recovery is a funny thing. If you’ve ever known someone trying to recover from surgery, from an addiction, from a tragedy of some kind, you’ve noticed that many times they reach the point where they realize they can’t do it all by themselves, that they need help. Maybe it’s in the form of a nurse, or a sponsor, or a friend, or a higher power. And often, the key to recovery is acknowledging that we can’t and that we need help.
Well, surprise. We’re a church. We happen to think that maybe God is a good chap to reach out to for that help. But here is the problem with that in America today. At the national level in this election, for example, serious talk of God is pretty much absent. It seems we find it difficult to declare our dependence on God, our need for Him. I mean, we made a good run at getting prayer out of schools. You know the old joke, though, right? As long as teachers continue to give tests, there will be prayer in schools. But we seem uncomfortable talking about God and our need for Him. We’re at a place where we are willing to offend God rather than the 8 percent of Americans who think He doesn’t exist.
It wasn’t always like this. Take our nation’s motto, In God We Trust, for example. You know when that became our national motto? No, it wasn’t in the 1700’s. It wasn’t in the 1800s. It was in 1956—just 60 years ago in a joint session of Congress. How things have changed in 60 years. But wait! While our leaders may be skittish about talking about or to God, maybe the general population is less so. Remember the weekend after 9/11? The church and synagogues were absolutely packed out. It’s like we realized that no matter how powerful America is, how rich we are, how awesome we are, we were aware that there are some things beyond our control, and we sought out God. That was just 15 years ago, when masses of Americans thought perhaps it would be a good thing if God involved Himself in the affairs of this country.
Now, let’s look quickly at an Old Testament account of what, in my opinion, could be and should be the posture of our national leaders. You decide for yourself, of course. And it’s something that leaders of America understood not all that long ago. The account is in the 10th Century BC in Israel. Israel at this time is a world power. It has secured its borders, and there is peace all around. Israel is wealthy, and it’s led by Solomon, an extraordinary man, so wise that leaders from around the known world would travel to Jerusalem just to sit at his feet and ask him questions. And in the middle of all this, Solomon completes one of the ancient wonders of the world—the temple. And when he gathers all Israel to join him for its dedication, it gets interesting. He built a raised platform in the middle of the temple so everyone could see and hear him. He gets upon that platform, and instead of a speech drawing attention to himself and what he had accomplished, Solomon does the unthinkable. He kneels and raises his hands to heaven. You can read this for yourself in 2 Chronicles, chapters 6 and 7. And he prays a prayer that went something like this:
“God, please inhabit this temple. And God, please bless your people. And God, when your people are disobedient we want you to discipline us, but when you discipline us and we cry out for help, we want you to hear our prayers. Please don’t abandon us when we sin; please don’t abandon us when we walk away from your law. And God, when we walk away from your law, and we notice the pestilence, and we notice plagues, and we notice that there are enemies that are about to attack us, in those moments move us to repentance. And God, when we repent, hear our prayers from this sacred place and deliver your people and keep your covenant promise with the nation of Israel.”
He declares his dependence on God when everything was just hunky-dory in Israel. Israel really needed nothing specific from God at that point, but Solomon realizes that he is as dependent on God at that moment as he would ever be. And then Solomon prays for you and me.
As for foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel.
After this and probably a lot of celebrating, Solomon heads to bed. And it appears that in the middle of the night, God wakes him up. And God has a response to the prayer Solomon prayed. It’s pretty cool.
I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
So, when Israel goes off the reservation, and God brings about discipline, just like Solomon asked Him to do, the way out is to have the people humble themselves, declare their dependence on God, and turn from their wicked ways. God promises here that He will hear, forgive them, and heal their land. And we find out that what is true of individuals, and is true of communities, is also true of nations. There is a relationship between a nation’s well-being, a nation being blessed by God, and that nation’s willingness to hear and obey God in its affairs.
Now, this all sounds very strange to us, doesn’t it? But it hasn’t always been strange. In the middle of the Civil War, when no one knew for sure who was going to win that conflict, a Senator from the North, from the state of Iowa, proposed a bill to have a national day of prayer. The Senate passed that resolution, and Abraham Lincoln signed it into law. That resolution is full of the concept of the need for dependence on God:
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that repentance will lead to mercy and pardon and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
That last little phrase is actually borrowed from Psalm 33. And even though the North was convinced it was in the right regarding the Civil War, it recognized that the need to humbly repent from the sins of the North was necessary to have God bless that nation. That’s a stark contrast to our culture now, which is to believe that we can solve all of America’s problems through education, or legislation, or man’s efforts. We surely don’t need God for anything.
So, I wonder if, when the book of James in the New Testament, says this: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” whether God also resists the proud nation, the nation that thinks it doesn’t need Him. I wonder if the same grace available to a person who is willing to declare his dependence on God is available to a nation that does the same. Maybe, despite the billions spent on defense, America is bereft of defenses as we’re left to deal with the discipline God allows to fall on those foolish enough to conclude we don’t need Him. Maybe we need to get back to declaring our dependence on Him. Because as 9/11 confirmed, when the rubber hits the road, most of us would really like God to be engaged on our behalf.