by Aaron D. Wolf
Let’s be honest: As Christians, we often get depressed when we look at the direction our country is going. We have our small but significant victories, our Hobby Lobbies, and then turn around and witness the horrors of abortion-on-demand, same-sex “marriage”and the open ridicule of Christ and His Bride in the halls of power and in popular culture.
What can we do?
Sometimes we’re tempted to “put our trust in princes” (Ps. 146:3)—to throw our emotional energies and hopes into politics. We know that earthly citizenship is one of our many vocations, through which we may honor God by serving our neighbor, even by participating in government. Perhaps, we are tempted to think, “The next election will be the ‘greatest in our lifetime,’and we will once again see God’s blessing on our nation!”
Others might lean toward what we call “quietism”—a resignation to accept things as they are. We know that we are “aliens and strangers” here, and that, although Christ reigns in heaven, we will not see the fullness of “Thy kingdom, come” until the final judgment. Why bother with a society and culture that have forsaken the Lord and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment?
The principles listed above are rock solid because they come from God’s Word. But the conclusions are false, because God’s Word has more to say about government and our relationship, as Christians, to it.
In 1849, a severe cholera outbreak hit the United States, so devastating that it prompted President Zachary Taylor to call for a “National Day of Humiliation and Prayer.” C. F. W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, was wary of heeding “the command of a temporal authority to call for a church festival,” yet he participated not by joining in a public prayer event but by delivering two sermons at church.
Walther preached that most Americans would attribute the successes of their country to the patriots of the Founding generation, to the Constitution, to American ingenuity: “But what does God’s Word say?” Laying out his text (Jer. 18:1-11) Walther reads,
“See, that clay is in the hands of the potter, as you are also in my hands as the house of Israel.” But the Lord does not say this only of Israel. After this He applies it to all peoples and all kingdoms.
It is ultimately the Lord, Scripture teaches, Who causes kingdoms to rise and fall; the Potter shapes the clay. And irrespective of their form of government, He blesses when He sees fit, allows bad things to happen and wicked men to prosper, in order to drive people to repentance and faith.
Walther then asks on behalf of his fellow-Lutherans, “What good will it do if we turn to God in repentance if the whole country will not also turn to God?” He finds an answer in the Old Testament account of Sodom, where the Lord promises to spare the city, not if all of its citizens repent, but “if only a few righteous could be found there.” Far from treating America as a “Christian nation” and calling for another “great awakening”—the way numerous Reformed pastors did on that very “Day of Repentance” in 1849—Walther urged Christians of the Augsburg Confession to look their own sins and receive Christ’s forgiveness:
Therefore, let us stop looking at others and what they may or may not do. Only let us pray for them that God would enlighten them. But we would seek the LORD with our whole hearts, to turn to Him with our whole hearts; to turn to Him from every sinful and godless way, retaining love for His Word and keeping it sacred and using it to direct our whole life; and to pray without ceasing for blessings upon the land so our repentance and our prayer will not be in vain. God will “let Himself repent,”humanly speaking, when He has drawn near to reward the evil of our homeland.
Things may look grim in America today, and God will not withhold His judgment forever. Yet God remembers His people—the Church—even in temporal affairs. Repentance, we know from our Catechism, means both contrition and absolution: sorrow that we have offended God and faith to receive His free forgiveness. And in addition to the great benefits of life and salvation, “Through repentance,”declares Walther, “we are able to stay the sword of God when He approaches to slay our homeland.”