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Op-Ed: God Has Ordained Human Government and Left Christians with a Powerful Role in It

I don’t make it a practice to endorse political candidates or parties, though I’m sure my congregation could guess which way I’m voting since they know my stand on various issues. I certainly believe that God has ordained human government and that we are subject to the authorities he has placed over us (see Romans 13). It seems unthinkable that God would establish human government and then expect humans to stay out of it, especially in the democratic republic in which we live in the United States. So, what responsibilities do we have to our nation as followers of Jesus? We find an answer to that question in Jeremiah 29:1-13. Be responsible in our culture. In 597 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had taken hostages from Jerusalem and carried them off to Babylon. Six years earlier, in 603 BC, Jeremiah’s contemporaries Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah had been kidnapped and taken there to serve the king. The prophet Jeremiah told the Jewish captives, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. … Multiply there, and do not decrease’” (29:4-6). Jeremiah was saying they would be in Babylon for a long time and they should get used to the idea of not just surviving but thriving in their new digs. He encouraged them to provide for themselves and establish families. He was telling them to be involved and responsible in their new culture. Jesus never envisioned his followers living apathetically in anticipation of the end times. Engagement, not escape, is his intention for us. He wants us to live out our faith in this world. Before his crucifixion, he prayed, “Father, I pray not that you should take them out of the world but that you should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus never intended us to live in isolation, but to be intentional about our permeation into our cultural environment. The gospel should influence all areas of our lives, including politically in the public square. Be prayerful for our country. Jeremiah continued, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:7). Jeremiah announced that the Jews’ welfare was bound up in the interests of Babylon. He did not urge the Jews to revolt against or remove themselves from their pagan host country. He urged them to pray for the hostile land in which they found themselves. Similarly, our nation needs God’s help. We need God to forgive our sins and to bring healing. We need to be praying daily for our leaders and for our country. Prayer is the bare minimum, the basic first step. We are not instructed to rebel against our government but to be peacemakers and lights in the darkness as much as possible (see Romans 12:18). Of course, this is not to say we stop with prayer. We can — and should — always do more than pray after we’ve prayed. But we can never do more than pray until we’ve prayed. Be careful whom we consider. Next, Jeremiah issued a warning to the Jews: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them,’ declares the Lord” (29:8). There were men (clergymen, so to speak) among the Jewish congregation in Babylon who were writing letters and speaking messages that conflicted with everything Jeremiah was writing. They were saying that peace was coming, that the Jews would not remain in Babylon for 70 years, and that their exile was not a punishment for their sin. It was fake news! Daily we are barraged with both positive and negative messages from both political parties and countless media outlets, all with their own particular bent. Because that is so, I think it’s safe to say we’re going to hear some things that are true and some that are false. What are we to do with so many different messages? Well, we don’t throw our arms up and disengage. We think. We learn. We become informed as best we can about the real issues​​ and what our leaders stand for. And we vote. We may even feel compelled to run for public office because we feel it’s the best way to make a difference. We need followers of Jesus involved in the political process. I’d much rather see believers as political candidates than unbelievers, wouldn’t you? Step up to the plate. Help shape policy. We don’t have the luxury to sit back and complain while sitting on our hands. Be hopeful of our calling. After reminding the Jews to be responsible, prayerful and careful, Jeremiah exhorted them to be hopeful about the future. He wrote:
“For thus says the Lord: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart’” (Jeremiah 29:10-13).
God promised to bring the Jews back to Jerusalem, and he did. With the big picture in mind, get involved, but have a light touch. As we live in this temporary, earthly realm, we must fix our eyes on the permanent, heavenly kingdom to which we journey. We’re here for a lifetime, but not for all time. So even when we experience a political setback, when our candidate loses or our policies are voted down, there is always reason to have hope. As children of God, we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with hopelessness or despair because of our government or society. We have a purpose in politics; we must stay informed, engaged and active. But more importantly, we must remember that God is on the throne in heaven. That’s a rock-solid truth we can rest on at all times. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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