Protecting our religious liberty in a time of political turmoil
I think it’s fair to say that people are finding this presidential election rather disturbing. Very few of us will be casting our votes for a candidate. Most of us will be casting our votes against a candidate. The caliber of the choices we’ve been handed are, to say it politely, rather dismal. To make matters worse, these dismal choices seem to reflect our overall dismal political, social, moral, economic, and spiritual situation. Things have gotten so hopelessly bad, it would seem, that we don’t have a prayer.
But in fact, we do have a prayer, a very familiar one. It may be the only thing we really do have that will do some real good, and bring some much-needed light to our darkening landscape. Here it goes—with a little commentary for our time.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name
This is the beginning of any prayer, especially the prayer of a people who has lost its way. Note, it begins with “Our Father who art in heaven.” Not our political party who art in heaven, nor our democracy which art in heaven, nor even our Constitution which art in heaven. It’s Our Father who art in heaven.
We have lost our way, in great part, because we look to politics and political parties for our highest good, to democracy for our salvation, to the Constitution as the man-made written document that can take the place of the Ten Commandments. When that happens, we are committing a kind of idolatry, and that means that God will hand us over to our idols to show us how foolish it is to worship them. Perhaps God has given us the presidential candidates we’re now stuck with to wake us up.
But this also makes clear why we so desperately need to protect religious liberty from those who would like to extinguish “Our Father.”
We need, therefore, to pray these words in repentance. We need to repent of putting all our hope, our highest hope, in politics. We need to put it back where it belongs, beyond the political realm, in Our Father who art in heaven, and protect our political right to worship, follow and obey Him.
And that means—to finish up the first line of the prayer, which literally means “may your name be held to be holy”—that worship, evangelization and serving as agents of God’s redeeming work in the world are our primary goals, not political activism. If we first of all worship God and evangelize others, we will create a good society, one that has far less need of politicians to fix all its woes, and far less conflicts tearing apart the political fabric. If, however, we treat worship of God as secondary, and religious liberty as of no consequence, then we start fighting over presidential candidates as if they were savior-gods, even when they are evidently below even a modestly decent human standard.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
Continuing on the same theme, for some time we’ve been trying to get an eternal kingdom on earth, rather than in heaven—that’s the goal of secularism, political utopianism. If we set all our hopes on this life, then of course we will make an idol of the political realm, and of course, we’ll be woefully disappointed when that idol turns out to be, not even golden, but of the basest, crumbling clay.
So, again, we pray in repentance: “May Your kingdom come, God, not ours.” And we must never forget, God’s kingdom is—as Christ makes clear—not of this world. When we place all our hopes in this world, then we fight, in every election, as if everything depends on who wins, and that can make people exceedingly desperate and even savage.
But God’s kingdom will come when his will is done. Striving for holiness, following his commands, will clear up a lot of the problems that plague us as a society. Our political life is becoming ever more degraded precisely because we have sacrificed one moral principle after another for the sake of political expediency and compromise, and hence political party victory. And a hollow victory it has turned out to be, for both parties. That’s what happens when you make the state your god. Like all idols, it asks for sacrifices, sometimes a sacrifice of our proper principles, and sometimes very bloody sacrifices, such as occurred with Molech’s child sacrifice in the ancient world, or abortion rights in ours.
Give us this day our daily bread
Needless to say, this is not a plea that God will plop down a meal for us out of the sky every day so we don’t have to work. But it is a recognition that we depend on God—the Creator of the earth which gives us bread—for our very existence. When we forget that, we tend to think that we don’t need God, all we need is (1) a free market where each individual passionately pursues his own self-interest, from farmers to bread bakers to grocers, which will somehow lead magically to everyone having more than enough bread, or (2) tax-supported government largesse, where the government plops down meals in front of us every day so we don’t have to work. When this happens, we worship the Invisible Hand and the Government that protects it, or the Very Visible Government Welfare System that dishes out the bread.
So, let us pray this line with repentance as well, giving thanks to God, the one who ultimately sustains us, and hence the one to whom we pray in ultimate gratitude at our daily meals.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Politics is a lot less rancorous when we remember that we are all sinners, and that we’re only going to live in peace if we both give and receive forgiveness.
So again, let us pray these lines with repentance, for all the times we damned the other side as demons while placing halos on our own as angelic, when we all know, deep down, how fallen we all are, and hence how much we all need God, the forgiver of all sins and debts.
And lead us not into temptation
As noted already, there are so many temptations to give up moral principles for the sake of political expediency, to give up common decency in our public sphere for raw political skewering, and to give up treating other people as if they were not made in the image of God. But our greatest political temptation is to give up our faith upon which all these good things depend, to renounce God as if he weren’t Our Father, so that Caesar will leave us alone. Insofar as we do so—inch by inch, or mile by mile—we leave the public political sphere unprincipled, indecent, and inhumane.
So let us pray that we resist all these temptations, and repent of our having given into them in the past.
But deliver us from the evil one
A bit startling, but that’s how the original Greek reads. A more exact, literal rendition of the original Greek would be “But snatch us from the evil one.” We are so busy demonizing the other side politically, that we forget that there are real demons, and one especially malignant chief demon, Satan, the evil one.
It is a strange irony, which others have pointed out, that in the most secularized and bloodiest of centuries, the 20th century, when belief in hell was consigned to ancient fairy tales, that we should create a hell on earth. It is beyond ironic, that in the 21st century, we should have Satan worship enter into the public realm under the guise of the First Amendment, as if freedom of religion meant freedom to worship the very being who is bent on the temporal destruction and eternal misery of humanity.
Realizing that there is such a being, and that we need Divine protection from this Father of Lies, is another reminder of the limits of politics, and the need for God. If we invite Satan into our public lives, he will come, and bring even more demons with him. There is a limit to religious freedom; it stops short of inviting the worship of our own destruction.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, Amen.
Given what we’ve already said, this speaks for itself: all kingdoms, all political power, and all political glory are nothing in comparison to the kingdom, power, and glory of God which lasts forever. And when we live for that, we will be the yeast that raises the level of our political life.