Circle of Juan de la Corte, 1580-1663. Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
With the impending election in our future, the bombast and proclamations coming from both sides has seemed to increase exponentially. Talks of election fraud to landslide victories scroll across our screens. But, often even louder and crasser are the supporters of the various candidates. Both sides claim to hold the moral and political high ground. Then, when you throw Christians supporters into the mix, the religious ferver that gets mixed in seems to amp the issues up even more. Things move from not only moral issues, but transform into religious, and even possibly salvation, issues for some.
From a Christian perspective, the noise at this point is deafening to me. I’m not exactly sure this is the witness we want to have in the world.
I have been spending a lot of time wondering lately what the Christian response should be in situations like this, and politics in general. I stumbled across the reading for this Sunday which features a selection from Habakkuk, one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. After Habakkuk’s initial complaint in first few verses, the reading movies into this description of the Chaldeans (aka the Babylonians).
For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own. Dread and fearsome are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more menacing than wolves at dusk; their horses charge. Their horsemen come from far away; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, with faces pressing forward; they gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and of rulers they make sport. They laugh at every fortress, and heap up earth to take it. Then they sweep by like the wind; they transgress and become guilty; their own might is their god!
Habakkuk 1:6-11 (NRSV)
If I took this reading out of context (eliminated the mention of Chaldeans and didn’t mention it was from the Bible) and passed it around, I’m sure there would be a few people who would fully support and desire this description for America. Replace horses with tanks/helicopters and horsemen with drones and I think we’re not too far off. It’s tempting, power of this sort is exciting and can be very fulfilling. I get sense of excitement watching things blow up just as much as the next guy. But, as great as that all is, the last line of the reading should bring those thoughts back down a bit.
“Their own might is their god!”
What I hear a lot in the political discourse today is talk of this kind. We need to be bigger, faster, stronger and richer. If only we had the right leader, then things will be alright. Other nations are doing so well and we seem to be struggling. It feels a little bit to me like when the Israelites demanded a King in the book of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 8). The Israelites were not thrilled with the way things were going in Israel, and were tempted by what they saw with other nations and their kings. Even though the prophet Samuel encourages them otherwise and God realizes they’re ultimately rejecting God as king, they get what they want.
And things go south very, very quickly.
Except for a few outliers, (David, Josiah, Hezekiah to name a few) who were not totally blameless, the rest of the kings were pretty much horrible. The Israelites got what they wanted, but it was definitely not what they needed.
The temptation to be bigger, better, faster, stronger is very strong. But, I think returning to Habakkuk can give us some insight into where Christians should fit into all of this.
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”
Habakkuk 2:1-4 (NRSV)
First and foremost, Habakkuk waits for words from God. He is not distracted by the blustering of the Chaldeans or the chatter of the king and politicians within Israel. Habakkuk takes up his post and stations himself to hear from God in a rampart. Habakkuk places himself above the fray. From the watchpost he can see everything, he has a better perspective.
I’m hearing echoes of Psalm 18:2 here, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Habakkuk seems to be realizing that the real place of safety and security is with God, waiting on God, waiting on his words. From this position he is safe and is also able to listen for words from God rather than be distracted and tempted by the words and yelling from others around us.
Finally, God’s word comes and it knocks the blustering and show of the Chaldeans right off their high horse. The spirit of the proud is “not right in them.” They are all show, all bluster and their faith in themselves and their power is misplaced. Instead, “the righteous live by their faith.” Those whose faith is in God, who take refuge in him, live and are sustained by their faith in God.
During this tumultuous and divisive political season, I think Christians should be placing themselves above the fray. Like Habakkuk, we should not be tempted by the words and displays of the proud, but should find solace in the quiet security of God. By being above the fray, we are in a unique position to evaluate and critique prophetically. When our support and security is in God alone, we can resist the temptations of temporal power and stand secure on the watchtower making the message of God plain so that our message might not get wrapped up with the shouting and the noise.