What one thing could America's new president, Barack Obama, do to bring peace and prosperity?
It's a good question, especially in light of the high hopes and expectations he has generated not just for America but for much of the world. It is also the right question for any leader to ask himself.
It echoes what King Solomon said when he became king of Israel. He said to God: "You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" (1 Kings 3:7-9).
President Obama is no doubt getting advice from many counselors. But he—or any leader—would do well to listen carefully and consider the best advice possible, that of God's Word.
A nation with a form of religion, but little substance
America's fundamental problem is that, though it claims to be a Christian nation, it neither knows nor obeys the true God.
Yes, the founding fathers believed in God, the Bible and even rightly invoked the Ten Commandments as vital for any nation to prosper. The laws of the Bible formed the foundation of the country's laws. American currency is inscribed with the words, "In God We Trust." And the majority faith in the land is Christianity.
However, although 40 percent of those asked claim to attend church each week, actual attendance figures show the total is much lower. Many claim to believe in God, religion, the Bible and many things spiritual. But it is the substance of those beliefs that we should be concerned about.
When we examine actual practices and beliefs of professing Christians in the light of what the Bible says, we find a wide discrepancy. Many of people's central beliefs about God and Jesus Christ are not found in the Bible!
The list is long and ranges from the true nature of God to the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, from the timing of Christ's birth to when He died and rose, from the day on which Christ and His apostles worshipped to the Bible's statements on what happens to a person at death. Confusion reigns when it comes to basic knowledge and understanding about God and His teachings.
The result of this confusion is a nation that has a form of religion but lacks biblical substance.
This may sound surprising. You may ask how—when all these churches do good works and speak so much of God—it could be said that America is not following Him. The answer lies deep within the story of how God works with His people.
The reforms of a biblical king
The Bible tells the story of a time in the southern Israelite kingdom of Judah when King Asa took the nation through a spiritual awakening and reform. The kingdom of Israel had been divided into two peoples, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The resulting confusion impacted the spiritual life of the people, always a tenuous one since false religion continually lurked at the edges of society, seeking inroads against the true knowledge that God had placed within the laws and constitution of the land.
Asa began his reign by removing the altars to foreign gods and all the sacred high places, pillars and wooden images of idols—gods that were not the true God (2 Chronicles 14:3). He issued a decree urging the people to "seek the Lord God of their fathers, and to observe the law and the commandment" (verse 4).
It may seem strange that the king of a nation founded by God would need to be redirected toward observance of the Ten Commandments! Yet this is what we read. Judah was a nation literally "under God," but they had forgotten a great deal and needed to be reformed. Does this sound familiar?
The story continues. Asa was a capable and sincere king. He cared for the quality of life among the people. He maintained a standing army to protect the borders and ensure peace.
God, we are told, protected the people and maintained their national sovereignty in the face of hostile neighbors (verses 11-12). Israel had made a covenant with God and even though the nation did not always faithfully follow that covenant, God always upheld His part of the agreement and faithfully protected the nation. Until the day He let them go into captivity, God was patient and merciful with the nation.
While Asa had undertaken significant reforms, he had not gone far enough. One day he was confronted with another directive from God, sent through a prophet, Azariah the son of Oded.
The prophet boldly walked up to Asa and spoke these words: "Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law" (2 Chronicles 15:2-3).
Worshipping a different god
The people of Judah thought they worshipped God. But here God's prophet said they didn't worship Him. How could that be? The answer is simple. Their hearts had been turned away from the true God by the idols they worshipped.
The promises and enticement offered by another ideology and lifestyle led them to worship the image that represented that desire. Whether it was a ritual that promised sexual fulfillment and fertility or another god that promised personal success, people were eager to fabricate an image of that god, thus obscuring their understanding of the true God of their fathers.
That is how idolatry works. It places a veil over the eyes, ears and mind of people that clouds proper understanding of the true God.
Whatever we as human beings place in front of our eyes and worship in place of God becomes our own idol. That act renders us incapable of discerning truth in worship of God. One can profess a belief in God, but if one's actions serve another image of a substitute god, then that worship is futile.
Today America and other nations may profess a belief in God, but in reality they worship at the altars of many different gods created in the image of the believer.
Oh, most don't carve out wooden images or offer sacrifices on altars dedicated to pagan gods today. And most do not worship a god of the sun, moon and stars. People are far more sophisticated than that.
No, they worship other gods—gods of tradition, celebrity, status, power and money. People worship themselves, made in the image of God, when they spend their energies pursuing these false values. When they think they can chart their own destiny and master their own fate alone, without God in their lives, then they are just as guilty as those in the ancient world who made a god out of every force of nature.
Psalm 115 speaks of those who fashion idols of silver and gold, the work of their own hands. Idols have hands that do not work, mouths that do not speak, eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear (verses 4-7). They are inanimate forms that do nothing but distract the worshipper from the truth of God.
Here is the irony. Those who fashion these images become like them, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear (verse 8). They become blind and deaf to true spirituality.
America stands at a crossroads. Its people desperately need the true God. Not the false, lifeless image of a god that has been palmed off as the true God. America (and all nations, in fact) needs a true servant of God teaching the pure, unadulterated truth and law of God and turning the people's hearts back to their Creator.
It is this God who has stood above America since its founding, protecting it against all enemies and blessing it through the ages. To this God America owes all thanks for the power and wealth it has amassed. Its national greatness comes from the faithful blessing of this God, not its own might, power, wisdom or genius.
And like Judah in the days of King Asa, America has been for a long time "without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law" (2 Chronicles 15:3).
An opportunity to change
Will President Obama heed the wise counsel of God's Word? Will the people he leads? He has a chance. So does the nation. But without a return to the true God, only He knows when He will remove His hand of blessing and allow a tide of oppression to wash over the nation, sweeping away His benefits, along with America's favored position among the nations.
Regardless of what others do, you have the opportunity to foresee the time of great trouble ahead and heed the warning of God's Word. You can choose to hear and "seek the Lord while He may be found" (Isaiah 55:6).
As the prophet told King Asa so long ago, "When in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them." He followed that with an encouraging assurance: "Be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!" (2 Chronicles15:4, 7).
The choice is yours to make. GN