Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something Only Prayer Can Do

The South Carolina primary was pretty interesting.  Quite suddenly Mr. Gingrich is in the running again.  For some of those who are outraged over Mr. Romney’s 15 % tax rate this is wonderful news.  For some of those who are outraged at Mr. Gingrich’s marital infidelities it is depressing.

Outrage drives many of us during an election year.  It might be outrage over taxes or the decay of the family or abortion or something else.  But it rises as an expression of our hope that there really is, deep down, a moral order to things.  The cynics among us laugh at this.  For them there is no moral order, or (if there is) it is either not discernable or it is of no real interest to politicians, whose every decision (cynics say) is controlled by polls rather than principles. 

Should a Christian be a cynic or an idealist?  Probably a little bit of both.  I know I am both.  I am with the idealists when it comes to my confidence that there is an underlying moral order to things and that, one day, it will be fully vindicated.  But I am with the cynics in some ways as well (though I do think I am cynical)—for a couple of reasons.   First I sometimes share the cynic’s discernment problem—say for example when it comes to deciding about economic policies.  My second reason runs deeper.  I have my doubts about the lasting impact of policies or candidates—even really good ones. 

What our country needs most deeply can neither be legislated nor voted into office.  We need the sort of self-policing that comes from a widespread sense of accountability to a divine Person who sees and measures everything we think and do—what an earlier generation called an Awakening.   

Think about it.  Regulating financial behavior may have some value but there is no way of regulating greed out of the human heart: there will always be any number of financial wunderkinds who can find their way around regulations.   Let me put things positively.  When the people of a land genuinely fear God, they are less greedy (and therefore more generous), less predatory and promiscuous in sexual matters (leading to a diminished felt need for abortion), more faithful in their marriages (with happier and less wayward children), and more responsible towards the environment.  You can probably think of other benefits.

I am not suggesting we stop trying to write good laws or to get good people in office.      Nor am I encouraging us to be revivalist utopians.  No matter how broadly and deeply a genuine fear of God might reach in America, we will still have to await the return of Christ for things to be put fully right.

I am simply trying to persuade the church to keep praying.  As I said last blog, praying is something any Christian can do, a great consolation at those moments when we feel that the issues are beyond our understanding or control.  And praying is something we must do.  If the church does not obey Jesus and pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” who will? 

Praying is not ‘feel good’ behavior, a way to avoid the depressing fact that we have no real influence over the world.  It is obedient behavior—which should be reason enough to do it.  It is powerful behavior.  This we do not yet fully see—but one day we will.

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