British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once said, “The future of the world rests with the United States.” Now, decades later, another scholar from the U.K. explains how this is still true.
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
American or not, the great temptation is to put our trust and hope in “princes.” And when people criticize America, it is often because they think America stands for virtues and ideals in a unique way—a nation created to be something different from the old empires.
Suffice it to say the world can look forward with more hope if America fights to set people free from every kind of slavery—not only with weapons, but also with words and wisdom. Many of us pray for American leaders who can inspire their people to seek the glory of God above all else with righteousness and courage, to be a city on a hill that gives hope to the world.
What does America mean for the world today?
Who are the Americans that the world sees: Christian workers and Christ-honoring leaders? Or people pushing the values of the flesh through songs, films and social media? If Christians are silenced or sidelined in America, then persecuted Christians all over the world lose a powerful advocate.
If freedom really is a principal ideal of America, then what kind of freedom is it? If we look to America and its leaders to raise up the flag of freedom, will it be a freedom flowing from the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17)—a freedom that is given by the Son of Man (John 8:36), the true King over all kings, presidents, CEOs, media moguls and celebrities?
Or will it be a fleshly lawlessness, a liberty that is wasted on selfish ends? Will this new lawlessness mean the loss of genuine freedom for Christians?
In Europe, the name of Jesus is hardly ever spoken in the public square. Here in South Wales, only a tiny percentage of people ever go to church, though just over a hundred years ago there were mighty revivals. We seem to be facing the same kind of pagan, tribal Europe that the original Christian missionaries faced nearly 2,000 years ago.
The need for righteousness in public and in private life can never be met by a presidential candidate. If some Americans have become dissatisfied with the political establishment, then perhaps there will be a new generation of Americans in political life who will stand up and speak the name of Jesus—whatever their party allegiances.
However, human beings let us down; human beings break promises; human beings betray our hopes and play on our fears. Psalm 118:9 must be ringing in every American Christian’s mind as they approach the voting booth. The answer for America will come when Christ’s people humble themselves and pray, turn from their wicked ways and seek His face (2 Chronicles 7:14).
The challenge of what can be achieved through the voting booth or the statute book has been a constant question throughout Christian history. Some religious systems and ideologies were committed to taking political power from their origin. However, Jesus of Nazareth asserted that His kingdom is not of this world, and He repeatedly rejected political power in this world for Himself. Though He claimed to have all authority and power in Heaven and on earth, He did not seek to take the place of Herod, Pontius Pilate, Caesar or the Persian Shah.
This reminds us that regardless of how much political power we wield, we are still called to shine as stars in our generation (Philippians 2:15), no matter how corrupt or challenging it is.
The churches became the beacons of light and social reform long before they had any institutional political power or influence. As they worked to free the oppressed, and lived with blameless righteousness no matter how godless or oppressive their nation was, they outlived, out-thought and out-loved the world, the flesh and the devil.
Most Christians all over the world are ruled by leaders who are of different religious beliefs, under political systems where they have very little power. Christians change the world when local churches remember that they are God’s ultimate agent of transformation.
This American presidential election feels momentous for us all because the whole world is moving and shaking. Similarly, in Europe, views are changing and new political ideas are in the air. It is possible that we will see the Living God shake the world in judgment. Perhaps the intensity of the American election has led to the personal attacks and fiery language, not only from the candidates but more so from the most inflamed supporters.
What is to become of all this heat when the election is over?
Romans 13:1 says, “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Whoever wins this election, the Christians from every party must lead the way in unity and respect, binding the nation together under the authority that God establishes. In a democracy just as much as a dictatorship, the Living God raises up and pulls down the leaders. He brings judgment and blessing to all the nations of the world. Nobody ever comes to power except by His will alone.
Think of Paul’s wisdom to Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
During this election season, my American brothers and sisters should remember that the greatest cause of all is not American greatness, social justice or any other political goal. The greatest cause of all is Christ. That means we pray for our leaders and live peaceful, obedient and godly lives so that we may bring all people to a saving knowledge of the truth. ©2016 Paul Blackham
Paul Blackham is a U.K.-based scholar and evangelist. He co-hosts the international television program Book by Book. He recently released The Great Unknown, a book on Heaven and hell.
Scripture references are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.