It seems like God’s people, and that means us, have a long history
of not being able to understand the difference between worldly power and
authority and the power and authority of God. The elders came
to Samuel and asked for a king that would lead them in warfare and would
fight their battles for them. Never mind, they said, when God warned
them that such a king would demand every earthly good from them in return.
They wanted a king who would secure homeland security for them and would
enforce justice. They should have known that God wanted something much
better for them. Their prophets and priests like Samuel had been trying
to tell them that the use of worldly power and force through warfare did
not lead to their security.
But this lesson is a difficult one for us to learn. Over and over again
the people of God support military leaders and readily go to battle in the
name of God to secure their homelands. The Old Testament gives us alternative
visions, but we can’t seem to hold on to them. As often as we recite
the Lord’s prayer, we ought also to recite Psalm 89:16-17; 18-19. We
need to remind ourselves that the people who proclaim the Holy One of Israel
as King are blessed. To the Lord belongs our shield, and it is through
the Lord’s justice that we are exalted. Sadly, we are like the elders
who came to Samuel. Rather than looking inside of ourselves and at
our relationship to God in our search for peace, we look for leaders who
will confiscate weapons of mass destruction and apprehend terrorists.
And if we criticize such a leader, we are accused of being un-American.
Is this something like what Jesus addressed when the scribes said he was
blaspheming God for telling the paralytic that his sins were forgiven and
that he should rise up and walk? The issue was about authority.
Jesus had the authority of God to forgive sins. He also had the power
to heal. But his ministry was not centered in healing the sick, but
in forgiving the sins of God’s people. He used his healing powers to
get their attention.
As I reflect on these lessons, I am given guidance in how to
evaluate those who criticize George Bush’s use of military force to defend
homeland security. If they criticize the president only because they
seek his discretionary power to command our country’s military forces, they
are speaking without authority unless they get elected.
But if they speak from the position of the Lord’s justice, they are exalted,
which means that they are elevated in status, dignity, power, honor, and
the effect of their action is intensified.
Sadly, as I listen to presidential candidates criticize George Bush’s foreign
policy I hear only strategic alternatives, not a proclamation of God’s authority.
Some would say that is as it should be to maintain the separation of church
and state, a feature of our democracy that I greatly value. But I am
listening for rhetoric that has the authority of the Lord’s justice without
necessarily proclaiming religious values. What I hear is the rhetoric
of candidates addressing people who are asking for a king to fight their
battles. If the Lord is our shield, it is up to us to proclaim God
as king in our lives and not look for a military leader to get us out of
our difficulties. I think we need first to proclaim the authority of
Jesus who forgives our sins before we look to destroy those who sin against
us. This is not easy for us to do. It never has been.