Tag Archives: eternity

Government is not God

In ancient Israel, citizens were persecuted for failing to honor Baal, the patron god of the government. It was considered tantamount to treason, because the government relied on Baal for success. One of the classic confrontations between government/god and heavenly God took place on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire to burn their sacrifices to Baal. The fact that Elijah succeeded after they had failed did not change the government position in the matter. The government, and all its followers, continued to worship Baal and reject the God of all the earth. Serving God became a sure way to be chased into the wilderness where a person would likely starve or die of dehydration even if the government were unsuccessful in its pursuit.

 In the first century Roman empire, emperors began to claim status as deities, and that claim led to an expectation that citizens would worship the emperor. He claimed the authority and power to take care of citizens, and he expected thankful, respectful worship. Although merely an expectation or a politically correct act at first, it became a mandate and the excuse for persecution of those who did not worship the man claiming godhood. It was tantamount to treason to act as if the emperor were not a god.

 In twenty-first century USA, our government is increasingly taking on the role and expecting the worship of a god. It wants to deliver commandments, receive offerings and dole out blessings. Moreover, it wants worship, in the form of no criticism. So far, the expectation of compliance with government thinking has not progressed to the accusation of treason for those who disagree, but disagreeable speech is not well received. Historically, governments that began by suggesting that arguments against government are thoughtless progressed to actually censoring or forbidding free speech.

 There are Christian leaders, surprisingly, who seem to believe that government can, even should, be God’s agent to bring his kingdom to pass. They applaud a government role in social services for provision of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and transportation. They believe that when the government guarantees to provide for all human needs, it is creating the kingdom of heaven on earth. They seem to believe that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” that we are praying for the government to bring that kingdom to pass.

 The author of Revelation warns us in twenty-two riveting chapters of the futility of believing that government can replace God. John of Patmos was granted a vision that transported him into heaven where he could look back at the earth and the time/space continuum, and there he could see what becomes of a world in which people worship government instead of God. This world is full of ever-increasing chaos and destruction, all overseen by a bloated, besotted, whorish government that wants and needs the worship of the people who are being destroyed by the boulders that government oppression drags down upon them. The book of Revelation is completely relevant to our world today, not as a timeline for the end of the age, but as a real vision of what is happening right now.

 The big lesson of Revelation is that God does not call upon government to do his work on earth. He calls on his faithful followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and share his love with everyone. God rightly expects that his followers will worship him, and those who love him rejoice in the opportunity to do so. Their worship and testimony pushes back the evil that runs rampant over lives and property when government replaces God in people’s hearts.

 The sad part of it is that some Christians seem willing to pay exorbitant taxes to government under the impression that all that money will bring the kingdom of God to pass. They forget that money we give to government seldom comes back to bless anyone. All that money builds bureaucracies and builds buildings to house bureaucracies and buys computers and papers to process the rules and regulations of bureaucracies. Very little of it ever gets into the hand of poor, starving, homeless people. Those who do receive any benefit have been so thoroughly demeaned by the process that they can never do anything more than survive to apply for more aid.

 Contrast this outcome with the results of the World Hunger Project of Lutheran World Relief. People who participate in this project are the beneficiaries of giving motivated not by tax laws but by the love of God and people. Of every dollar that LWR puts into this project, 92 cents is placed in the hands of the people the project helps. That money funds deliveries of animals and plants to farmers along with water projects and training in agriculture skills that increase productivity of both plant and animal culture. Families are not simply fed three times a day; they receive livestock and training that set them on a path to self-sufficiency. The family does not become dependent on the program. Rather, the program leads them to become independent of the program. They take away skills and encouragement to help others as they themselves have been helped.

 For that matter, contrast government charity with the results achieved by the Heifer Project, a completely secular and private project that also provides livestock and training for hungry people. The people helped by Heifer Project also are led to independence and self-sufficiency, unlike the sad dependents of government charity in housing projects across the country.

 The people who are “helped” by government become defeated and dependent. The people who receive help from projects like the World Hunger Project retain their personal dignity and become independent, self-sufficient, and prosperous. It is not government that brings the kingdom of God to earth. It is God’s people following the Holy Spirit in love and service to others.

 Government has an important role on earth, a role ordained by God. It provides security and good order to allow free people to thrive and to serve God in safety. Government clears the playing field for free commerce, providing opportunity, not benefits. Government has no God-given right to supersede the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. When we try to make government an agent of charity we only beggar both the taxpayer and the recipient. As Christians, we all need to work very hard to reverse the trend of trying to replace God with government by means of social programs. We should not put our faith in government. We must  put our faith in God and serve him obediently and faithfully, doing the work he calls us to do, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Judas and Peter – I wonder

Jesus, the son of God, needed nobody to tell him about people because he knew what was inside them. When he began his work, he chose twelve men to be his closest friends for three years. He talked with them, traveled with them, corrected them, forgave them, and died for them. Yes, for all twelve.

Jesus knew all about Judas. He knew who Judas was. He knew what Judas was. Judas was Everyman. It is popular to view Judas as the supreme traitor of all time, but the fact is that he was no different than the rest of us. He was no different really than Peter, who denied Christ three times during the trial initiated by the betrayal of Judas. We point the finger of scorn at Judas, but all the disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested. We are all alike. When Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” I don’t think he muttered under his breath, “except for Judas.”

There are two different stories in the Bible about the death of Judas. The differences in detail matter little. The common thread is that Judas clearly regretted his actions and fell into deep despair when he realized what he had actually done. His story is a lot like many other human stories. People sell out and then realize that the price they were paid didn’t touch the value of what they sold.

I think most people assume that there is a particularly gruesome, painful, overheated spot in a dark corner of hell where Judas suffers for eternity in an agony that is still not painful enough to wipe out his memory of Jesus’ face. If human beings were in charge of the universe of time and eternity that would certainly be the case. Humans love retributive justice. They like to see people get what is coming to them. Most people applaud when a righteous fake is exposed and punished. That was Judas – a righteous fake. We would not be human if we did not think he deserved and thoroughly earned his place in hell.

We are human, however, not God, and God is not so much about retributive justice. God is about forgiveness. If he were about retribution, Jesus would never have died on the cross. Jesus himself said that his life, death and resurrection happened because God loved the whole world. On the cross, one of the thieves suffering beside him was promised paradise, even though he had already confessed that he deserved to die that terrible death.

I won’t pretend that I know what became of Judas in eternity. I do know that when Jesus met Peter after the resurrection, Peter was forgiven. It seems pretty obvious to me that Judas repented of his betrayal with just as much bitterness as Peter, who burst into tears when that rooster crowed. Jesus loved both of these men and knew their weaknesses as well as he knew their strengths.

I have always treasured Peter’s life story, because Peter seems to be a lot like me. Like most people, I don’t even try to delve into the life of Judas, because he is the bad apple. Still, when I think about it now, I wonder if we know as much as we think we do.

Some people say that Jesus chose Judas specifically for his role as a traitor. I don’t believe that is the way God works. God can accomplish his purposes without the necessity of evil. However, Satan is at work in the world, and Satan works deftly in the human heart. In the heart of Judas, Satan apparently found ready material for his work. Judas made a choice that led directly to Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet I believe that Jesus did not exclude Judas when he prayed for the forgiveness of all who took part in his execution. On the day Jesus met Judas, he knew all about him, yet he brought Judas near. He touched Judas and loved Judas.

Here is what catches my attention and makes me pause in my judgment of Judas. I have lived a long time and I have claimed the name of Christ for a long time, yet when I examine myself honestly, I know that I have betrayed Christ many times. Every time I am aware of it, I ask for forgiveness. Knowing that I don’t recognize all the betrayals, I often ask for forgiveness for all the times I “knew not” what I did. I trust that as a baptized believer, marked with the cross of Christ forever, that God will forgive me and that my salvation is sure. I trust that Jesus won’t throw me out in retribution for all my sins. I trust that Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead for me. He forgave Peter for betraying him, and I believe he forgives me as well.

So I wonder – what about Judas?