This guest post is by Rev. Donald Ehrke. He is a Libertarian, a former GOP campaign manager, and ordained minister living in Alexandria, Virginia. Many thanks to Donald for his excellent work! For guest post opportunities, please use the LCC Contact Page.
Before departing Springfield, Illinois for Washington, D.C., president-elect Abraham Lincoln remarked, “I now leave…with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended Him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail.” Lincoln reiterated his confidence that God willed the preservation of the American union in his first inaugural address, “You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’”
After a year of unforeseen bloodshed, Lincoln grew less certain of the Union’s privileged status. Following the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln noted, “In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”
Weeks before his death, Lincoln’s final thoughts were delivered within his second inaugural address. Rather than reproaching the South, Lincoln asserted, “… He (God) gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense (slavery) came.” Lincoln determined that neither the North nor South was honored before God; the war was a means of punishing both antagonists for the sin of slavery.
Lincoln’s evolving scrutiny of his heavenly “solemn oath” commands further investigation. In his day, Lincoln likely would have argued that God judges secular nations and that America had lost – but was regaining through the penalty of war – its status as His chosen people. We might question the validity of such an observation. Does God, in fact, judge entire nations and is, therefore, any nation privileged before Him today?
Anyone who has opened the Gideon’s New Testament Bible will notice an American flag on its second page. Below the flag is printed Proverbs 14: 34, “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Absent serious exegesis, one could accept this proverb on face value. This approach, however, will lead to hazardous insights:
- If my nation is righteous then any action to exalt it is justified
- If a foreign nation is not righteous then any action against it is justified
- If my nation is not righteous, all reform is justified to regain its right status
If one accepts these insights, one will be drawn toward a theology of glory or “prosperity gospel” – the belief that God’s approval is demonstrated through worldly success. It is, in fact, tempting to envision one’s secular nation as a modern-day Israel – God’s chosen people – rewarded for its righteousness or punished for its unfaithfulness. The reader is invited to decide which outcome is worse: the resulting exceptionalist and interventionist policies derived from self-righteousness or the potentially liberty-smashing reforms driven by self-loathing.
We are, of course, a chosen people and our nation (the Church) is righteous. Peter firmly declares, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” (1 Peter 2: 9). The nation Peter refers to is the body of believers made righteous through Christ. This nation knows no borders and requires no military; it is a collection of every faithful person throughout the world.
When Christians read God’s promise to Abraham that, “I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12: 2) we do not pretend that He is also referring to a modern nation-state. Instead, we are to correlate God’s pledge to Galatians 3: 7, “…those who believe are children of Abraham” and to Hebrews 6: 14, “I will surely bless you (Abraham) and give you many descendants.” From this we conclude that God only recognizes a single, privileged nation – His own nation of believers – which He forgives, sanctifies, and saves.
To extend God’s holy nation to include modern nation-states would necessitate a reinterpretation of Jesus’ assertion that, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18: 36). No secular nation may legitimatize its ambition by claiming to be God’s favored state. Even if secular policy is conscious of God’s will, it does not follow that God must bless that particular state. Mankind cannot bind God.
We are left with a choice between two “Abrahams.” We could be the descendant of an Abraham who presumed that a secular nation-state could crusade as God’s elect or we could descend from an Abraham whose faith embodied a nation of far greater meaning. As Lincoln noted, “God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”