The Storm Clouds of Crisis: What Does the Bible Say About Government in a Broken World?
To read the headlines is to glimpse a world that seems to be spinning out of control: “Israeli Jet Shot Down after Bombing Iranian Site in Syria,” “Russians Killed in US Airstrikes,” “India Tests Ballistic Missile, Posing New Threat to China,” “2018’s Second Government Shutdown,” “French Soldiers Killed by IED in Northern Mali,” “Putin Boasts of New Russian Nuclear Weapons,” “Japan to Buy Cruise Missiles Capable of Striking North Korea,” “China Sends 100 Christians to ‘Reeducation’ Camps,” “Britain to Test China by Sailing Ship in Disputed Sea,” “17 Killed in Mass-Shooting at Florida High School,” “China Threatens War over US-Taiwan Bill,” “Pakistan and India Exchange Artillery Fire,” “Assad Still Using Chemical Weapons,” “Turkey to ‘Target’ US Troops in Syria,” “Myanmar Bulldozes Rohingya Muslim Villages,” “15 Dead in Airstrike in Northern Yemen,” “US Announces Sale of Anti-Tank Missiles to Ukraine over Russian Opposition,” “18 Killed in Somalia Attacks.” And these headlines are just from the past 60 days.
It all calls to mind a simple but powerful prayer offered by U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black a few years ago: “Provide this land we love with your gracious protection, and may we never cease to be grateful for the numberless blessings we receive each day from your hands,” he intoned in his reverent baritone voice, continuing,
Keep us from shackling ourselves with the chains of dysfunction. Use our senators today to serve your purposes for this generation, making them ever mindful of their accountability to you. Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis, empowering us to be responsible stewards of your bounty … using judicious compromise for the mutual progress of all.
The prayer works on two levels.
Deliver Us From Evil
First, it implicitly asks God to protect our country from crises that are beyond our control. In this broken world, our leaders are often forced to make decisions in the midst of crises thrust upon them and us: acts of war and terror like 9/11, massacres and mass-shootings like Parkland and Vegas and too many others to count, natural disasters like the California landslides and Caribbean hurricanes, man-made disasters like the East China Sea oil spill, Syria’s refugee catastrophe and Venezuela’s collapse.
Pyongyang, Moscow and Washington are rattling nuclear sabers in ways that recall the coldest days of the Cold War. Wars are raging in Ukraine and Yemen, Syria and Somalia, Afghanistan and all across Africa — and rumors of war between Israel and Iran, America and Russia, North and South Korea. People of faith — Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, Muslims in Myanmar, Buddhists in China, Jews in Europe — are being persecuted because of their faith.
Here at home, we seem beset by crisis and division. Our republic is under assault from within and without. There’s the daily threat of cyberattacks that could cripple our economy, an EMP blast that could throw us backwards into the 1800s, a pandemic that could kill millions and close us off from the world.
A Google search of “White House in crisis” yields 329,000 results; “Congress in crisis” 264,000; “constitutional crisis” 507,000; “budget crisis” 441,000; “immigration crisis” 291,000.
Some will react to this list by longing for “the good old days.” But the timeless words of Ecclesiastes caution against that: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” And besides, our memories fail us. The world was a mess a decade ago, a century ago, a millennium ago. It has been a mess ever since the Fall.
To be sure, we are called — as individuals and as a nation — to try to make things better. But we don’t control nearly as much as we think. So it doesn’t hurt to ask God to help us avoid crises — to “deliver us from evil,” as it were.
An Exquisite Compromise in Governing
We have real enemies in this world, and those who don’t share our views on tax policy or welfare or immigration or entitlements don’t deserve that label.
A second reason Chaplain Black’s prayer is so apt relates to crises of our own making. Chaplain Black was asking God to intervene and guide our leaders so they would stop resorting to kick-the-can governing and stop viewing the other side of the aisle as enemy territory. We have real enemies in this world, and those who don’t share our views on tax policy or welfare or immigration or entitlements don’t deserve that label.
Indeed, Chaplain Black was not just praying for our country and our elected representatives; he was speaking to our country and especially to our elected representatives — challenging them to turn away from brinkmanship.
His prayer reminds us that in a representative system like ours, where each branch of government can check and be checked by the other, the majority is not vested with the powers of a czar; that the minority should not act like an insurgency; that compromise is not a dirty word, but rather an essential ingredient for making government work.
This is not a call for everyone in Washington to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” That’s not what the Founders envisioned. There’s a time for arguing about policy differences and philosophical differences. But as Jefferson put it, “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle,” which means there’s a time to compromise — something the Founders themselves illustrated.
The Constitution they crafted was an exquisite compromise of divergent views of government: Some wanted a strong union, with a strong central government that could be wielded to act on behalf of a growing nation, while others wanted power to reside in the states and sought to limit the power and reach of the central government. Yet both groups recognized they had to give a little in order to govern.
Earthly Government and God’s Plan
To govern is to bring some semblance of order to a situation. It’s important to remember that our God does not like crisis and chaos. Genesis tells us He brought form and order out of chaos. Paul writes that He is not a God of disorder, and that government authorities are put in place for our own good.
The implication is clear: Earthly government serves an essential function in God’s plan. Legitimate governments exist to protect life and property, to be instruments of justice, to deter and if necessary defeat enemies, to maintain law and order — all so we can live peaceful, quiet lives, as Paul put it. Jefferson called this the “pursuit of happiness.” This cannot happen if our government lurches from crisis to crisis.
Chaplain Black’s prayer reminds us that you and I have a role to play. “The real business of your life as a saved soul,” as Oswald Chambers wrote a century ago, “is intercessory prayer.” Most of us think of this as interceding for the lost, and understandably so. But it also means interceding for our country and those elected to govern.
We must never put our country ahead of our faith, for as Paul reminds us, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” But he also reminds us we are supposed to pray for “all those in authority.” We serve our Lord and our nation — in that order — by lifting our leaders up daily and asking God to steer them around or through the storm clouds of crisis.
Alan Dowd writes at the crossroads of faith and public policy.