If, like me, you’re a follower of Jesus, chances are good you’ve spent most of today experiencing a wide gamut of emotions, most of them complex and at times contradictory. As I’ve read through my wife’s Facebook news feed and my Twitter timeline, I’ve seen Christians express their emotions in a wide variety of ways, all of which I think I’ve experienced. But I’ve also seen a disturbing trend amongst these various responses: oversimplification. The oversimplification usually looks one of two ways. Either it boils down to, “Jesus is still the King, so everything will be all right,” or, “Barack Obama is still the president, so we have to honor him because of his office and teach our children to honor those in authority.” I don’t take issue with either of those statements. I agree with them, actually. But what troubles me is how passive they are in light of the complexity of emotions we should be feeling. If we look at what Scripture says, today we should feel multiple emotions. Here are a few examples:
Deep sorrow. In Psalm 119:136, the Psalmist lamented, “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law.” The fact that our country voted for a man who favors murdering babies on demand, suppresses religious freedom, and supports homosexuality should move us to deep sorrow. That sorrow should be deepened by the passing of gay “marriage” laws in four states and legalized drug abuse in two others. To overcome this sorrow with a cliche is not spiritual; it’s shallow and self-centered. It’s akin to Hezekiah taking comfort that life would be fine for him even though God’s horrible judgment would come on his children. Don’t numb yourself to the wickedness we witnessed our nation choose yesterday. God isn’t numb to it, and you shouldn’t be either.
Torment. In 2 Peter 2:8, Peter tells his readers that Lot was tormented day after day by the lawless deeds of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that: day after day. The idea of “torment” in this verse is being in severe distress or harassed. In legal parlance, the word indicated torture. Lot felt horrified and oppressed by the unrighteousness of his neighbors on a daily basis. Lot obviously knew God was king and ultimately would overrule men’s wickedness, but that knowledge did not lessen the distress he felt every single day because of the sin he saw all around him. As Christians, if we are not distressed every day by the evils around us, we need to start paying attention. If we dismiss these lawless deeds as what need not trouble us, we might examine ourselves to see if we really love the law of God in our own hearts.
Determination. Greco-Roman culture was no better than ours, and in many cases was worse, but Paul did not allow that to discourage him or to allow his readers to feel resigned. He told the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling to show themselves to be lights in the midst of a perverted world (Phil 2:12-16). Far from being discouraged, the Philippians were to use the wickedness around them as motivation to hold fast to God’s Word and never give up. If you feel resigned that this is the new normal, and America (and the world) is too far gone, you need to renew your determination to be a light in a dark world, knowing that God is still at work.
Submission. Yes, Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-15 mean that we submit to governing authorities inasmuch as their laws do not violate God’s Law. Even when our rulers are wicked men and women, we are still called to submit. Even when their lawless deeds torment us, we still must submit within the bounds of God’s Law.
Self-Control. God laid down this principle in Exodus 22:28: “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” Paul shows the abiding nature of this command in Acts 23:5 when he is being tried by a self-righteous, hypocritical high priest. No matter how evil the governing authorities are, we must not curse them. They will give an account to God for their deeds, including how they govern and rule those under their authority. As a caveat, this also does not mean we ignore their wickedness or pretend they are honorable and upright. John the Baptist was not timid when he confronted Herod’s sin. Calling sin what it is must not be confused with cursing a governing authority. Our speech must be under the control of the Spirit, who leads us always to speak the truth in love.
Prayerfulness. The Apostle Paul commanded believers to pray for their rulers (1 Tim 2:2) so that Christians may live dignified, peaceful lives that model godliness to a watching world. Such conditions evidently conform to God’s desire to save sinners. We are to pray for our enemies, even for those who torment us with their wickedness, especially when they are in positions of political power.
Hope. Romans 8:18-25 reminds us that the creation is subjected to futility in this present age, but that it won’t always be this way. In the midst of any sufferings in this life, we should be hopeful because Jesus has been raised from the dead and someday will raise us up to His glorious, immortal life. Even creation itself will be set free from its futility and be made new. We have a glorious hope that transcends politics, elections, and every earthly institution. We need to wait eagerly for it with perseverance.
As Christians, it is right for us to feel all of these emotions at the same time. The Christian life is not meant to be a simple, one-dimensional, happy-clappy experience. God uses all of these feelings to refine us into the image of Christ for His glory and our good. When we jettison one or more of these feelings because they are uncomfortable or, perhaps, because they seem unspiritual because of poor understanding of Scripture, we short-circuit our own sanctification. God wants us to hate sin and persevere in hope. God wants us to weep over lawlessness and keep our speech about evil rulers in check. God wants us to grieve over sin and pray for sinners.
The Christian life is complex and profound; when we simplify away the complexity, we become shallow and defined by cliches that never really satisfy our deepest longings for Christ. But when we let the tension within us remain, it drives us to Christ. In His presence we find a peace that surpasses any cliche and, indeed, all human comprehension.