And It’s Killing Us . . .
With the result of the last presidential election, once again America finds itself in the midst of convulsions threatening the societal ties that bind us. The cycle of national pain has escalated since Columbine and more frequent manifestations of violence, terrorism and racial as well as political discord have reverberated through our culture. How do Christians make sense of such shattering and fracturing events? History could instruct us, if we chose to listen. Let’s take a look at how former generations of believers dealt with such catastrophes.
There was a time when a natural disaster, regional calamity, or an especially heinous act would motivate church leaders to call for days of fasting and prayer. These godly leaders saw a divine message in such painful events, that God was dealing with us as a people. They perceived the message was a collective one, a call to all His people to get on their knees and repent.
That belief—that God was speaking to communities, cities, states and even the nation through painful calamities, attempting to jolt them out of normal routines and to realize that something was very wrong—called for a response. His people needed to repent of their sins and take on the sins of the nation and plead for His mercy.
Read the writings of early ministers prior to the Revolutionary War. You’ll quickly grasp how very differently they interpreted a calamity than we do. Harvard President and Boston minister Increase Mather in 1680 describes the reasons for calling for a special day of fasting and prayer when he writes, “And whereas the messengers of these churches, who have met together to enquire into the reason of the Lord’s controversy with his people, have taken notice of many provoking evils as the procuring cause of the judgments of God upon New England . . .” (Barnard, The Path of Revival, 116.) He and many others like him of his day saw a link between regional ills facing a community and divine displeasure over collective sin.
Such a perspective is entirely biblical. The idea that God uses pain to get the attention of a people or nation hearkens back to lessons we learned in Sunday school. The cycles of pain during the period of the Judges reveal how God deals with people when they turn from Him to idolatry. We see Him raise up empires and use them for His purposes but then also judge them when they become corrupt. His corrective ways with nations arise in his recorded interactions with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, not just Israel.
However, in America we began to have a different take on national crises, one more pragmatic and less biblical, after the Revolutionary War. Our “independence” ushered in a more individualistic worldview. We don’t think much about the way God deals with countries now. We don’t see God’s hand in man’s affairs on a regional or national basis when painful events occur. Individualism has won the day, and we don’t even realize it.
As a result, few contemplate our condition as a nation or as God’s people within it. Rather we carry on content, comfortable and clueless to the glaring signs of our need for grief and repentance over the state of things. The loss of such perspective deepens and intensifies God’s need to deal with us. So more and more painful events unfold, and yet we remain clueless to the fact that God may have a message in the pain which requires a response from us. If we fail to respond again, He will amp up the pain in severity and frequency once more. Such an understanding explains the increasingly divisive and destructive circumstances which our nation and the Church face.
We might think that Christians will be spared the judgment we see unfolding on our culture, but that’s unlikely. You have to wonder, why are Christians—the salt and light of any culture—caught up in the same fate as a lost nation? Augustine wrestled with that question in the days of the declining Roman Empire. He wrote in The City of God:
“They (the righteous and the unrighteous) are punished together, not because they have spent an equally corrupt life, but because the good as well as the wicked, though not equally with them, love this present life; when they ought to hold it cheap, that the wicked, being admonished and reformed by their example, might lay hold of eternal life.”
In other words, the Church suffers the same fate of a wayward nation because they get caught up in the same values, the same attempts to control their environment, and the same lack of understanding that God really is in control. In so doing, they lose their prophetic voice and fail to correct the wicked out of fear of what it might cost them to do so. And so the pain continues until we cry out for God to do something.
Many of us can recite from memory 2 Chronicles 7:14, which describes the conditions for, or process of, revival. The passage is so familiar it does not bear more than a few words to bring it to remembrance, “If my people who are called by my name . . .” What few can recite, however, is the previous verse. 2 Chronicles 7:13 describes the pain God uses to motivate us to cry out to him, ““When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people…”
What will it take for American Christians to discard complacency and exchange it for repentance? Regardless of who won this election, God’s people should grieve, not celebrate. Not until we realize our true condition and the nature of God’s loving, corporate discipline will we begin to consider that we’ve been missing the divine message in our ongoing and increasing national pain.
Rev. Mark Barnard serves as President of Blessing Point Ministries. Blessing Point works to mend the tapestry of church life. Barnard is the author of the several books including, The Path of Revival – Restoring Our Nation One Church at a Time.