By Reverend Clarence Bouwman, Pastor: Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church
This coming Tuesday the United States of America will receive a new president in the person of Barack Obama. We understand and notice that whatever happens in the United States greatly affects us in Canada, and so we are greatly interested in what happens south of the line.
To some degree Mr Obama is well known, simply because the media has been full of him ever since he entered the public stage through his quest for the presidency. On the other hand, there remain so many questions about what makes him tick.
Yes, he has the notorious reputation of being the most liberal of all Democrat senators, and Yes, he’s decided to say nothing about current issues (for example, Israel’s action in relation to Gaza) on grounds that there should not be two men speaking for the president at the same time. At the same time Mr Obama has made numerous appointments to his prospective cabinet, and these appointments reveal something of the direction the incoming president intends to pursue. Predictably, his appointments do not have near as strong a pro-life stance as President Bush’s appointments had. All of this together has made many Christians and/or conservatives wary, if not right down fearful, of this new presidency. Some literature I have seen in relation to a “President Obama” suggests that Christians are heading for the foxholes, ready for the dark days of a prolonged defensive battle against a new liberal onslaught.
I am not excited by the prospect of America’s most liberal senator becoming America’s president. At the same time, I do not think there is place for fear. I say this not only because the power of the president is limited by the checks and balances of his cabinet and the Congress, but I say it especially because the Christian needs to speak and think from out of his conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords. Pharaoh of Egypt, Sennacherib of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Caesar of Rome were men of enormous power and influence in their day, but Scripture speaks of them as tools in the hands of Almighty God. The people of Israel living in the days of Pharaoh or Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar or Caesar were not meant, according to God’s revelation, to be fearful of the directions taken by these mighty men, but were instead to relax in the confidence that the Lord their God had the world and its politics securely in His hands. That reality is even truer in the dispensation of Christ’s triumph over sin and Satan on the cross of Calvary and His ascension into heaven. This Christ is currently gathering His church into today’s world, and rulers and kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers are servants He is pleased to use to promote His church gathering work. Instead of fear or anxiety on account of America’s new administration, Christians around the world have reason to remain relaxed and optimistic. That is the simple consequence of confessing Christ’s ascension and His enthronement in heaven. Let our faith determine our mood.
It’s the awareness that Mr Obama is an instrument in the hands of the world’s King –Christ governs through him– that determines too how we speak of this man. Whether we agree with his policies or his direction may not affect the respect we have for him, simply because Jesus Christ is not wrong in deciding to use Mr Obama as President of the United States in order to make His kingdom come. As we need by definition to accept and respect the Saviour’s choice for the presidency, so we need, by extension, to accept and respect the man the Saviour put in that office. This is why the apostle could give the emphatic instruction to “honour the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17) – though the emperor of the day persecuted the people of God.
I make a point of saying this because of the lack of respect I hear from many –also Christians– in relation to (outgoing) President Bush. It may well be that he has made some major mistakes in his years as president (a matter on which I reserve judgment at this point; time will tell), but he was and today still is the man Christ Jesus is pleased to use as instrument through whom He governs the United States and exerts influence around the world. Since he is (and by Wednesday ‘was’) the Saviour’s choice of instrument, any dishonouring of the man at bottom dishonours the One who appointed him. We need not agree with how the President carries out his office, but we emphatically need to think and speak of him with the highest respect for Christ’s sake. Here Christians need to set the example for our fellow citizens.
Meanwhile, as governor under the King of kings, the President of the United States (and it’s true of all rulers, our own Prime Minister too) has an enormous responsibility to govern in a fashion that pleases the ascended Christ. That requires not just that Mr Obama acknowledge Jesus Christ as King and that he knows Christ’s revelation in Scripture, but it requires too so much wisdom in understanding the problems of the day and analysing them well. President Obama needs the guidance and insight of the Lord’s Spirit to carry out his office to America’s and the world’s benefit. For that reason he needs our prayers so very much. Timothy as minister of the Lord’s church in Ephesus had to see to it that, above all else, “requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2), and at the time that meant specifically the Caesar of Rome. This instruction was based on the recognition that “kings and all those in authority” determine to large degree whether their subjects “live peaceful and quiet lives” or, conversely, live in unrest and tension. So then, the King of kings needs to be petitioned persistently that He give wisdom and faithfulness to the earthly powers that be, so that those powers carry out their God-given offices in a fashion that serves the coming of Christ’s kingdom. President Obama too shall need so much wisdom and strength from the Lord God, and it’s our privilege to pray regularly and faithfully for God’s blessing upon him. We do well, in obedience to God’s instruction, to pledge to give ourselves to this task.
Change we can believe in
Mr Obama campaigned for the presidency under that theme. As he now becomes president, the pressure shall be on him to produce change that Americans can embrace as a healing balm for the nation’s ills. The Christian understands that any “change we can believe in” must take seriously the One who is seated at God’s right hand. It is God we offended through our fall into sin, and so God’s curse that weighs heavily on fallen mankind. Try though he might, President Obama shall not be able to move God’s hand of curse from any sinner, be it himself, be it the American nation, be it the peoples of the world. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ could achieve that goal – and in fact has accomplished it.
Expectations for President Obama are enormous, and the weight of the responsibility settling on his shoulders is astronomical, but the only way President Obama can bring about lasting change that’s beneficial for the world is through his seeking the will of the King of kings, and directing the peoples under him to the same source of life.
May the Lord God bless President Obama with abundant wisdom from above and true humility of heart.
January 16, 2009