“She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings…”
-1 Peter 5:13
The people of God have always had to figure out how to follow the Lord faithfully in a culture or country that is often different, diverse or even hostile to the faith. We have been reading and teaching through the bible at our church over the last year and one thing that has stood out to me is how God is always at work in the kings and kingdoms of this world.
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar put it this way:
“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” -Daniel 2:20-21
This theological and historical realization came after a series of wild event retold in the first couple chapters of Daniel. The story revolves around Babylon, Jerusalem and the people of God and it’s one of brutal and barbaric war, complete conquest, displacing captivity and clashing cultures. In Daniel, the story is told from the inside out, from the side of the victims. It’s a reminder that even in the most dangerous, desperate and discombobulating of times, God is still in control and working for our good.
Among us religious folks this perspective is often lost in the political season. All platforms of media are pungent with the smell of people pissing their pants over the looming political apocalypse. It’s a maddening cacophony of shrill voices, sweaty hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Fear, anxiety, prejudices and ignorance are often at the root of our paranoia. It not that such a view is unfounded, there is a biblical record of thousands of years that clearly retell the truth that:
“When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.”
“A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor as a roaring lion or an attacking bear. A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people, but one who hates corruption will have a long life.”
The writings of the prophets and the revelation of the New Testament paint a graphic picture of a world that rejects God, his word and ways:
“So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement.” -Revelation 17:3-6
For the conservative evangelical this often paints an adversarial perspective and posture in politics. Beasts, whores, blasphemy, gross materialism, unrestrained immortality and bloody persecution are powerful images that undergird a lot of people’s apprehensions in envisioning the future. It’s a vision that is played out in the media even day. In five minutes one is presented with the evidence of this portrayal of humanity in the beheadings, bombings, murder, rape, environmental pillaging and economic injustice taking place across this globe. But that microscope nature of media amplifies these issues to seem larger than they are in relationship to the good going on in the world. Fear always trumps reality and the result is the widening gulf between people, cultures, religions, family and neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, there are monsters in the world, evil is real and there is much to be concerned about today, but we can’t let fear displace faith.
The Apostle Peter weighed in on the issues of politics in his time when common folk didn’t really have the freedom to engage the system or change it for good:
“For the Lord’s sake, accept the decrees and laws of all the various human institutions, whether they come from the highest human ruleror agents he sends to punish those who do wrong and to reward those who do well. You see, it is God’s will that by doing what is right and good you should hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish. Live as those who are free and not as those who use their freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as God’s servants. Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Reverence God. Honor your ruler. -1 Peter 2:13-17
The early Christians focused most of their energy on working on themselves and serving others while proclaiming in word and deed the arrival of a new King and Kingdom. They understood the delicate balance between ‘in but not of’ that the people and prophets of God have always had to maintain.
“They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers. They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They share a common table, but not a common bed. They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.”
-Letter to Diognetus, (A late 2d century apology addressed to a certain Diognetus who is otherwise unknown. Diognetus was a tutor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius)
People of faith should remember that God calls us to witness to the truth in service and resistance to Babylon and that Babylon will always end up calling all to bow and worship it (Daniel 3:1, 5-6).
This truth is at the heart of the Americanization of Christianity that is at the forefront of a lot of our conservative politics. It’s a golden headed idolatry that has been erected by people who have forgotten where their true citizenship resides. Politically engaged believers must witness and work for the good of all, but never forget we ultimately serve one Lord and ruler of all the kings of the earth (Revelations 1:4-5).
I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.
Images of God vary infinitely. No two are identical. Each human mind conceives its own image of God. Even atheists must create an image they can reject. I’d never really considered these things until I taught English in China, where we studied references to Christianity in English literature.