We are in the midst of our country’s well-documented, helter-skelter race towards secularism (sexularism?) and the most ironic aspect of it all is that we are hell-bent on ensuring God comes along with us. Perhaps we enjoy the idea of a moralistic-therapeutic deity who only shows up to enact karma against our enemies or to give us what we want just a little too much to let it go. Or maybe we simply don’t want to leave God behind in the Dark Ages while we cruise into our godless Utopias, like the cool kids abandoning the misfit to kick rocks alone in the playground. “Hey God!” we call with a warm, friendly smile from the back of a red corvette headed to where the party’s at. “You can come too!” Ideally, God goes “gee whiz!”, jumps in, and learns how to live, you know?
Perhaps you don’t believe me. If not, bear with me as I make a quick tour through the two polar opposite spectrum of our society, as represented by our recent political conventions. Tell me then if America is anything less than hellbent on pulling God wherever we may go, even if it’s as far away as possible from where He stands.
First stop: the Trump Convention, formerly known as the Republican National Convention, where we are treated to this powerful reminder of who exactly we could be voting for if we cast a vote for Donald J. Trump. In Trump, we are granted nothing less than “a man who believes in the name of Jesus Christ!” Pastor Mark Burns, a man who needs to be at the top of the list for the part of black Santa Claus, goes on to thank God that He has provided Trump with “the words to unite the party” and that God Himself is “guiding” Donald Trump to lead this country to unity. Really, watch the video. If you, like me, watched some of the RNC prime-time speakers and witnessed some of the silly fervor on display, well…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Okay, before we consider Burn’s declarations of Trump as the spiritual Prophet meant to lead America out of Liberal Egypt, let us take one quick peek over at the DNC. Surely, this party, liberal as it is, wouldn’t try, let alone care to bring God into this, right? No, I’m afraid not.
Dr. Cynthia Hale’s prayer, though longer and slightly less bombastic, is more developed, more sophisticated, and a great deal gentler. It would be your typical liberal-progressive Christian political prayer if not for one moment in the speech that is so ludicrous it instantly undermines everything Dr. Hale is saying and leads to one of the most absurd spectacles in recent political times: the sight of Hale continuing to thank God for unity, and praying for more of it as the party that is meant to bring such unity to the nation drowns out her words in competing chants of “Bernie!” and “Hillary!”
The suicidal moment in Hale’s speech comes right at the climax, after she has built up to a glorious crescendo. She declares to God and the nation: “We have an opportunity, O’ God, to give undeniable evidence of our commitment to justice and equality by nominating Hillary Rodham Clinton as our candidate!”
Stop. Think through that sentence. The most undeniable way America has to show evidence of our commitment to justice and equality is by making Hillary Rodham Clinton our most powerful leader? There is a wide array of appropriate reactions to choose from – wonder, incredulity, horror, confusion, grief – but for me personally, I’ll let the basketball GOAT do the emoting:
We in America, no matter which direction away from God we are barreling down, remain desperate for God to come with us. He could go the Conservative/Republican route and fulfill his mantle of being the great-but-not-too-great mascot for ‘Merica, sort of like an Almighty Uncle Sam. Or he could go Left, and embrace his obvious transgender/transpecies (Lion and Lamb?) tendencies, open up a feminist gathering place on a liberal campus and spend eternity softly and quietly repenting of His fondness for masculine pro-nouns and for creating a group of men literally known as the Patriarchs. It would seem, then, that God is in luck: he’s got two sets of cool kids, headed to different parties (word is, the parties are going to be “on fire”), and they both want him to tag along.
Of all that can be said about this ironic appropriation of God for seemingly any whim that strikes the American people, I find that it all boils down to one simple reality: there is no fear of the Lord before our eyes. Which is another way of saying that we’re bankrupt in the wisdom department.
The most popular words correlating wisdom with an appropriate fear of God comes from Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9-10). The fear of the Lord is not the fulfillment or the completion of wisdom, but the very beginning. Like, the first brick. You take away a fear of the Lord and you take away your last inalienable grounds for morality, for human rights, for any sound way to consider gender, sexuality, truth, good, evil, meaning, purpose and love.
Someone who is less versed in Christianity might read this as implying that the only basis for doing anything good is a scared-straight fear that God is going to damn you if you don’t, but that’s not really what this verse is about. The fear of God is the fear – the awe, the reverence, and yes, the fear – of one who is so far above you in power, in holiness, and in authority. To some degree, you fear your mom and dad. You fear your boss. You fear the President. If you play professional sports you have appropriate fear of the competing legend, be it Jordan, Messi, Brady or Serena. God says that nothing wise ever comes outside of fearing the Lord, which involves approaching Him humbly, seeking His will, and understanding that we do what He says no matter what. Our fear is not primarily dervied from the fact that God has hell in His back-pocket; but rather, because we are well aware that he made hell, he made you, he made air, he is Truth, and that He is, in the end, God.
The command and the benefits of the fear of God applies to both parties as well as to the spectrum of humanity ranging between them quite well. To the Republican/Conservative leaning, the fear of the Lord both requires and leads to the denunciation of boastful, braggadocio pride: “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Prov 8:13). To the Democratic/Liberal leaning, the fear of the Lord requires an abandonment of the lie that we have the right to alter reality and human rights to our whim, and to subject ourselves to His gracious authority: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13).
To all humans – American, illegal immigrant, refugee or otherwise – God issues commands infused with glorious promises: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” (Ps 33:8). “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Pro 14:27).
There will always be groups trying to pull God along with them, because in the end they still want to hold on to this faint idea that God – if there even is a God , that is- would be friends with them. They want to believe that He would approve of them and all that they do. But the problem is that we tend to get it backwards. God has come to where we are, not to join in our sin but rather to bring us to Him. He’s the one who knows where to find the real party. Though He is so holy, superior and glorious in comparison to us, this idea of friendship with us is not laughable to Him. In fact, He desires it more than we do, but He is crystal clear that there is only way this can ever come about:
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Ps 25:14).
In other words, fearless fools never know full friendship.