~ If God Be Against Us,
Who Will Be For Us? ~
St. Paul's rhetorical question, " If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31b) has too often been used as a self-serving battle cry. From individual athletes and sports teams to entire nations, prayers are offered for victory. From time to time a Christian athlete breaks a performance record or wins a gold medal, credits and praises God for the achievement. Others beam with religious pride exclaiming in their newsletters and talk shows, "Isn't he/she a great testimony to God's goodness?" Like the vestments of the ego-driven Pharisees, we often clothe human pride and achievements with religion accolades. Does that count as an added treasure stored in the kingdom of heaven?
I like what Abraham Lincoln replied when asked if he believed God was on the side of the northern union during the Civil War: "I don't ask God to choose sides. I want to be on His side since He is always right." People make plans, commit to a course of action, then ask God to bless their decisions.
Reading what Paul wrote after verse 31 quoted above, we see he was speaking of Christ's sacrificial redemption on our behalf. Indeed God has pursued us, loved us first, knocks on the doors of our hearts, emptied Himself for our salvation and our bonding with Him. God is for us being His children forever and, as Paul finishes that chapter, nothing can separate us from God's love. So yes, who can be against us in this redemptive gift since God wills it?
Let's resist, then, ascribing the "If God be for us" of spiritual redemption to our human agenda, nationalistic or otherwise. Are we not frightened of the other side of that question: "If God be against us, who will be for us?" The obvious answer is principalities and powers of evil. The Babylon described in the book of Revelation is forcefully addressed by Isaiah: "Sheol [hell] below wakes up to meet you when you come. It wakes up the ghosts of the dead, all who were leaders on earth. It raises all who were kings of the nations from their thrones. All of them will greet you, 'You also have become weak like us! You have become like one of us!' Your pride has been brought down to Sheol along with the music of your harps. Maggots are spread out like a bed under you, and worms cover you" (Isaiah 14:9-11, GW). We must be intolerant of Babylon.
The US is not a Christian nation. Like the European Confederation and the South American nations, the US is a nation of many diverse faiths with no national religion. Unlike our "Founding Fathers," we no longer base our decisions, laws and policies on Biblical principles. In the cause of religious freedom, we are a secular state. This is as it should be, so long as our Constitution's mandate prohibiting the government from infringing on the people's right to practice their spiritual faith 24 hours a day wherever they may be, in or out of their houses of worship, is respected and protected.
But North and South Americans and Europeans forget or don't understand that many other nations are not secular. The driving force of many Middle Eastern and African nations is religion and the Quran is above any state constitution in authority. How the Quran influences national laws and decisions depends on the governing administration. This is no different than in the US where the Supreme Court decides on the interpretation and application of Constitutional Law, frequently reversing its own decisions as administrations, justices and political climates change.
A downside of secular governments and the separation of "church and state" is the desecration of the sacred in favor of economic imperatives. Thus ancestral lands regarded sacred by the original American nations are forcibly taken to be mined and excavated. While the bodies of US Founding Fathers and presidents lie undisturbed and honorably guarded, the remains of many Native American great grandfathers and grandmothers, and those of foreign cultures, are disentombed and displayed as "artifacts" in our museums. Ancient biblical sacred territories are now convenient and strategic, temporary military bases. Just below where Christ was crucified is a busy commuter bus transit station. The US is stock piling millions of doses of smallpox vaccines in case of a bio-terrorist attack whose manufacturing uses fetal tissue of aborted babies. To accommodate those of us who would refuse such a vaccine, some "human-free" versions will be available, but in limited supply and inconvenient distribution. Why all the doses are not human-free is a matter of economics, as all the examples above are, which is to be expected of a secular state. Yet we are horrified at the practices of some ancient cultures who sacrificed their children to appease evil forces. What about ours?
The cultural ignorance and arrogance of the western nations fosters serious communication problems. We seat the Palestinians and Israelis at the same table and insist negotiations are not about religion. We truly see diplomacy as a secular endeavor in making concessions and compromises and even throw in a few billion dollars of our own to grease the process. Then we are baffled that agreements still can't be reached. We can tell the Islamic nations a million times the war on terrorism is not a war on religion, and we believe they will see it the way we do. They, however, blink back at us with eyes that don't understand. To them, everything is about religion and it cannot be otherwise in a theocentric government, moderate, liberal or extremist.
During the Cold War years the Russian people were not our enemies. The ideology (religion) of Communism was the enemy. Now we don't have a problem with the state religion of Communism in China. It's their human rights violations that are offensive, but not offensive enough to get in the way of good economic business. Chinese communists officially have no problem with Americans, as don't the Hindu provinces in India and other Far East nations. They have a problem with Christians. Not just American Christians, but their own nationals. Communist governments in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries and Islamic government factions in Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Somalia and many other nations are imprisoning, enslaving and killing their own Christian citizens, just as the former Soviet Union did, at a rate exceeding the Roman Empire of the first century.
Western nations have a vastly different worldview than those of the Middle and Far East. For us, it truly isn't about religion, since we are not governed by religious principles. For them, it truly is about religion, or ideology with a religious fervor, and one's religion is not negotiable.
In the mix of all these observations is the point to remember and ponder. Being practiced by humans with egos and flaws, all religions including Christianity have been used to promote evil in the name of God, thus profaning the sacred. Compromising the sacred for economic or personal gain is a profanity. We are instructed to submit ourselves totally to God, to be inflexibly obedient to Him, to love Him with all our being and love each other with that kind of agape love. Jesus taught no middle road of compromise, but rather the difficult, narrow way, the way of love that becomes a target for persecution, the way on which we carry a cross in preparation to be nailed to it. Jesus remarked that he who puts his hands on the plow to prepare for the seeding of the field but looks back isn't worthy to follow the way, which actually is Christ Himself.
I don't know why we call Muslim terrorists "Islamic extremists." Do the Islamic scholars and clerics use that term? Why would practicing any religion or ideology of love and obedience to God to its extreme turn it into something evil and destructive? Why has "religious zealousness" or spiritual zeal been tainted by negative connotations? If a religion of purity of heart and devotion to the obedience and love of God is practiced to its extreme, it will not transform into ugly destructiveness. If it does, or is only "kind and good" when practiced in moderation, it is not a religion of purity and obedience to God. The greatest commandment, love God with all your strength, mind and heart, is extreme! In fact, it cannot be practiced in moderation, for that is akin to not following it at all.
The Christian inquisitors of the Middle Ages who tortured or executed other Christians were not extremists. They were sinful profaners of the Gospel of Christ. Any missionary who ever "forced" conversions to Christianity wasn't an extremist, but a prostitutor of the faith.
Perhaps one test of the integrity of a religion is to see what it does when practiced to its extreme. St. Paul was a Pharisee zealot who became an uncompromising Christian zealot. Our first martyr, Stephen, was an extremist, as were all our martyrs, so was John the Baptizer, and all the prophets who preceded him. We own our Bibles thanks to the shedding of blood by Christian extremists. Jesus promised we would be persecuted. If we are not in some way, we cannot attribute this to "good fortune" or a "blessing." Perhaps it is because we are not being extreme in following Christ. He called for the extreme in us so lack of persecution may indicate disobedience to our Lord.
Strive to take Christianity and Christ, the Way, Truth and Life, to the extreme. Where would it lead? To Christlikeness. That is our goal and destiny. And that's the whole point. God is for our becoming "conformed to His [Christís] image," so who can be against us?
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © January 26, 2002
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
What's New/Article Index <>< Home/Welcome Page <>< Weekly Reflections Listing