So far, my “Reasons for Hope” series has taken a narrow perspective, considering God’s promises of sanctification for individual believers, and then a big-picture one, considering God’s promises for the future. In this final article, I’m going to finish up in the middle, with a look at reasons for hope about our country and our place in it.
While patriotism should never shoulder aside the priorities of our faith, we still ought to care deeply about the state of our country. “Love your neighbor” naturally leads to an interest in our society and government, and in fact Paul instructed Timothy to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:2). In the Old Testament, God told his exiled people, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29:7). God put us in a particular place at a particular time for a particular reason, so we have a degree of responsibility for “the welfare of our city” and ought to pray and act and feel accordingly.
Which might explain why most of us find reading the morning news to be a very depressing experience. In almost every possible way—morally, economically, politically, internationally—our country seems to be staggering. And while there is reason for hope (I’ll get to that in a moment), we ought to start by admitting that hope for our country will always be less confident than either of the other flavors of optimism I’ve surveyed. We can be completely confident about God’s promises for the future because they only depend upon him. Our own condition is a bit less certain because it depends upon our own choices as well as our Father’s promises and work, but at least our choices are our choices. When it comes to those we love, whether our country, our friends, or our family, our hope is always tempered by the reminder that we cannot make choices for anyone else.
Even the sovereign God himself, having chosen to allow humans to make meaningful, reality-altering choices, sometimes watches with regret as we make a hash of things. Surely we will never fully understand the mysterious self-restraint which could produce this plaint from the Creator of the universe, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37). It is worth remembering that shortly after Jesus spoke these words, the Jews would condemn Jerusalem to crushing judgment by turning away from and murdering the Messiah himself. Each person makes his own choices, and sometimes the majority makes the devastatingly wrong choice, again and again.
But there is still reason for hope.
The first reason to hope is that God is sovereign. Though he permits our free choices, he is far from an impotent bystander. The Bible is equally insistent that man is free and that God is sovereign over all things, including our decisions. Even while the Jews were making real, free choices, choices which God mourned, those same free decisions were acting out a perfect divine plan laid before the universe came into existence and prophesied in detail hundreds of years before anyone involved was even born. Romans 8:28 promises, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” and “all things” includes the most disastrous mistakes, and even sins, of our fellow citizens.
And God is not only sovereign; he is good and compassionate. Our culture may be inclined to focus too much on God’s goodness and compassion and not enough on his holiness, justice, and wrath, but we must be careful not to react too far in the opposite direction. We may anticipate judgment for our national sins, and frankly, we should. (The infant-sacrificing Canaanites had nothing on us!) But King David knew what he was talking about when, faced with judgment for his sin, he declared, “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam 24:14).
How many times in the Old Testament did Israel turn again to God in repentance and find ready forgiveness? One of my favorite lines in the Bible is Judges 10:15-16, “The sons of Israel said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.” As the prophet Jonah later discovered to his chagrin, even the capital of the cruel and perverted Assyrian empire could experience God’s mercy if it would only repent. When national judgment comes, we can take some comfort in the fact that our country will fall into the hand of the Lord, whose mercy is great.
But perhaps national judgment need not come. Like Nineveh, repentance can come before judgment falls, and come amazingly swift and unexpectedly. Which brings us to the final reason for hope for our nation: There are many, many praying Christians left, and praying, obedient Christians are the most powerful force in the world.
The faithful Christian may be Elijah, who routed 450 prophets of Baal and saved Israel, or we may be Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who left a testimony of faithfulness as his people faded into exile. It’s impossible to know ahead of time. But remember that—it is impossible to know. Don’t assume the worst. Remember Elisha’s words to his servant as they stood surrounded by an army of enemies, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:8-23). How often has God followed dark nights with glorious mornings, and often in the most unexpected ways?
No earthly nation lasts forever, and America will undoubtedly collapse one day if the Lord does not return first. Perhaps that day is even closer than it appears. We have certainly done enough national evil to draw judgment upon ourselves. But it is never too late for repentance, and we should not assume we know God’s plans. As long as we are in this “city,” we should work and pray for its good, and we may just be surprised. Whatever comes, we can be sure our Father will work it together for good, and he will do so through his people who pray in faith, wait on him, and love our neighbors as ourselves.