08 August 2023

“If my people pray, I’ll heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7.14.

Today’s out-of-context verse is really popular with patriots.

Every country has its problems, right? Limited resources. Suffering people who need social services and healthcare. Ecological crises, like pollution, floods, drought, and pests. Rich people, corporations, and criminals who think the laws don’t need to apply to them. Corrupt government officials who enrich themselves instead of serving others. Racists and nationalists who want social supremacy for their group. Fascists who want to undermine or overthrow democracy and run things their way. Foreign countries who want to oppress and exploit the country, or at least keep it powerless and out of their way.

Who’s gonna solve all those problems? Well, they need to, but it’s mighty hard! They’re gonna need God’s help—if not Jesus’s direct intervention when he returns to take over the world. So they pray.

As we should! What’s wrong with praying for our country? For the wisdom of our country’s leadership to rule us properly? For supernatural solutions, if that’s what it’ll take? Plenty of kings in the bible did it; even pagan ones. Often to the wrong gods, but still: They realized they were gonna need divine aid, so they sought it.

Hence most churches pray for their countries. Sometimes as a regular part of the liturgy, sometimes not—but the church members are really agitated about something in the news, so Pastor decides it’s time to pray for the country again. Some prayer groups make sure to include the country and its leaders, even specific politicians, every time they meet.

And a lot of ’em like to invoke today’s out-of-context verse. ’Cause to them, it looks like a promise from God: If they pray for their country, he’ll fix it!

2 Chronicles 7.14 KJV
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

And of course they get really annoyed with me whenever I tell them they’re quoting this verse wrong. ’Cause what’s wrong with praying for our country? And why wouldn’t God fix it if we earnestly seek him?

Civic idolaters in particular. These’d be the folks who believe when Jesus returns, he actually won’t overthrow their country. In the United States, they figure the USA is the one exception to the kingdoms of this world which must become part of Christ’s one-world government. They figure already is his kingdom. Americans already are God’s chosen people. It’s just certain other unpatriotic factions are heavily mismanaging things. So we gotta outvote them. Or, failing that, overthrow them. You know, cheat.

And once our Christian nation returns to God, returns to proper Christian values (as they define them), stamps out the wicked, and makes a big show of repentance like public prayer and voting for the prolife political party (nevermind the various godless things that party’s candidates also believe): We’ve unlocked the magic spell laid out in that verse, and God has to heal our land. ’Cause it’ll really be his kingdom on earth. He’ll make it paradise. Maybe even hold back on the End Times for a few more years, so we can finally accomplish all our personal goals for wealth, romance, material success, and personal prosperity—all without that pesky rapture messing up our schedule. Yet at the same time, in our church services, claiming we’re getting the church ready to meet her groom. Rv 21.2

Yeah, it’s a wholly inconsistent theology. But politics and fear will do that to people.

Whenever I object to them ripping 2 Chronicles 7.14 out of its historical context, I regularly get accused of not loving the United States like they do. And they’re right: I love it, but definitely not like they do. I love it like God loves the world—and wants to save it! Jn 3.16 I want as many Americans as possible to turn to God. Not by political might nor personal power, but by the Spirit of Christ Jesus himself.

I remain mindful my citizenship is in God’s kingdom. And every time the Holy Spirit wakes me up to the fact the United States and his kingdom are opposed, I side with the kingdom every time. As should every Christian—instead of bending the truth till we can play both sides.

The historical context.

Solomon ben David was the fourth king of Israel, and the first to build the LORD a permanent cedar-and-gold temple. (Not stone; ignore the inaccurate Christian art. Stone temples came later. Stone Temple Pilots way later.) He completed it fairly soon after he becam king around 970BC; his father David ben Jesse had been accumulating materials for it.

The temple was part of the national worship of the LORD, having to do with the Hebrews’ special relationship with him after he rescued them from Egypt. It had to do with that specific people in that specific land: If Israel abandoned the LORD, they didn’t just suffer the natural consequences of their immorality. They had cursed themselves, Dt 27 in a way the United States, and other countries which imagine themselves Christian, have never cursed themselves. They’d suffer supernatural consequences unique to their people, land, and circumstances. Dt 28.15-68

So when the LORD made the following promises to Solomon, he was simply reiterating what he’d originally told Israel though Moses.

2 Chronicles 7.12-22 KWL
12 At night, the LORD appeared to Solomon
and told him, “I hear your prayer.
I choose this place as my house of sacrifice.
13 Look: If I restrain the skies
and don’t let it rain,
if I tell locusts to consume the land,
if I send plague upon my people,
14 if my people, called by my name, submit
and pray and seek my presence,
if they repent of their evil ways,
I’ll hear from the heavens and pardon their sin.
I’ll cure their land.
15 My eyes are open.
My ears are attentive to the prayers of this place.
16 I now choose and sanctify this house to be for my name—
there, forever.
My eyes and heart are there every day.
17 And you: If you walk in my presence
like your father David walked,
and do everything I instructed you—
keep my rules and my rulings—
18 I’ll support the throne of your kingdom,
as I arranged with your father David,
telling him, ‘Your man ruling Israel won’t be cut off.’
19 But if all of you turn away,
quit my rules and instructions which I gave you,
and go serve other gods,
and bow down to them,
20 I’ll pluck you off my ground
which I gave you.
This house I sanctified for my name:
I’ll fling it from my presence.
I’ll make it an object lesson—
a warning to every people-group.
21 This house, which was once so great to every passerby,
will be desolate.
They’ll say, ‘Why’d the LORD do this
to this land, this house?’
22 They’ll hear about it, ‘They quit the LORD,
their ancestors’ God, who brought them out of Egypt’s land.
They embraced other gods.
They worshiped and served them.
So God brought all this evil on them.’ ”

This is why this passage doesn’t apply to just any people or any land. It’s entirely specific to ancient Israel. Doesn’t even apply to modern Israel—much as modern Israelis really want it to, and regularly claim it does.

Has God warned other nations he’d drive them from their homelands if they violate his will? Actually yes he has. Multiple times. Like the Hebrew nations of Edom and Moab: The LORD’s prophets warned Edom they’d be displaced if they kept sinning. Is 34.10, Jr 49.19, Ek 35.15 Jeremiah likewise warned Moab. Jr 48.46-47 God has all sorts of relationships with individuals, people-groups, and countries. These relationships share a lot of similarities, ’cause he’s the same good God, with the same loving character.

But the promises God made to Israel are not the promises God made to the United States.

God never declared he’d drive us off our land if we sinned against him. Never told the indigenous Indian nations that either; the only reason Christians claim he did, is racism. They wanna justify their ancestors doing that to the Indians, and wanna justify still treating the Indians like conquered people, like foreigners in their own land.

God never threatened to destroy America’s temples, as an object-lesson to the world. In fact, in the case of Christians, he promised to build us into his temple. Ep 2.21-22 Yeah, Jesus might remove individual churches, Rv 2.5 as is his prerogative as our Lord. ’Tain’t the same thing at all.

God never offered to set up a dynasty of leaders for America, and in fact our founders would have screamed bloody murder if he had: George Washington himself resigned his generalship lest his troops make him king, and refused a third term lest he start a precedent of presidents-for-life like Franklin Roosevelt. Any dynasty of leaders would be competition to King Jesus; David and Solomon’s successor, who himself has no successor because he lives forever.

The more we look at the whole passage, the more we realize it doesn’t fit the circumstances of the United States at all. That’s why people who love this verse, tend to trim away all the verses but verse 14. Then it appears to fit: Repent, and God’ll repair our nation, and make it stand forever!

Not overthrow it, and transform the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of our Lord. Rv 11.15

Okay, we repent. How about everyone else?

The other part of the problem is obvious: The United States may be “a Christian nation” by dint of being full of people who claim to be Christian. But it’s not officially Christian. Our government isn’t Christian; it’s secular. Public officials may personally be Christian, but they’re forbidden by our Constitution from establishing any one religion over the others. Constitution, Amendment 1

Nor should it! Our Founders were very familiar with the “Christian nations” of Europe, and many of ’em saw and experienced firsthand how much their politics had completely corrupted their Christianity. They knew full well that nationalizing religion destroys religion. Breeds hypocrites—and we have plenty enough hypocrites already. Even small acts, like making “In God we trust” our national motto, empower fleshly Christians to claim God forgives and even endorses all the evil our country could and does do.

Our nation has been guilty of grievous sins in the past. Slavery’s an obvious one. Though our founders were Christian—or imagined they were—they permitted slavery, and even wrote it into the Constitution so their states could tap the slave population to gain more power in Congress. Constitution 1.2 ¶3 Now yes, slavery isn’t banned in the scriptures. But God mitigated it: God ordered the Hebrews to treat their slaves civilly. Not as property, but as subjects. Subjects who could still cry out to God when oppressed, much like the Hebrews themselves cried out to him in Egypt. As Christians, we’re to treat fellow Christians as sisters and brothers, even when they’re slaves Pm 1.16 —a principle which oughta nullify any differences between masters and subjects. That is, when practiced. It wasn’t. Slaves weren’t even treated as humans, much less family.

So, just as God judged Egyptian slavery, he judged American slavery. He allowed us to suffer the Civil War. It was divisive, bloody, costly, and it did the job of getting rid of slavery. Which is great.

Did we repent of it? Nah.

Those who were against slavery had repented long before the war. But the slaveholders sure didn’t. Still haven’t. Their descendants claim they aren’t to blame for their ancestors’ actions—even as they still benefit from the gains their ancestors made by exploiting the institution of slavery. We’re still dealing with the consequences of their lack of repentance: Continued talk of secession and states’ rights, a stronger fixation on property and gun rights, fears of our government which go beyond rationality, segregation (including the fact white and black churches still exist, not as a reflection of their community’s demographics, but because people simply won’t worship together), class exploitation, social injustice, and of course racism (as demonstrated by the claim “all lives matter,” when people’s actions prove they don’t believe certain lives do).

And in some states, denial any of these things even exist. That talking about them is “woke,” and they don’t do woke. That history isn’t really about learning the mistakes of our past so that we might do better: It’s about feeling good about ourselves and our nation’s greatness. It’s about patriotism.

Racism in the United States—even if you don’t imagine you commit it—is proof the people of our nation haven’t really humbled ourselves, sought God’s face, and turned from our wicked ways. It means we put makeup, not medicine, on our wounds. Or we figure, “Well, I repented; that should count for something.” It’d be nice if it did. But Daniel and Ezekiel still got dragged off to Babylon, just the same as their unrepentant pagan Hebrew neighbors.

We think changing our laws, despite no national repentance, will solve our problems. Abortion is awful; let’s ban it! But it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a severed head. It’s not even close to repentance. People still seek abortions, same as they always have. And as soon as they get a chance, they’ll elect like-minded politicians, who’ll appoint like-minded justices, and we’ll be back to the same old problem.

’Cause it’s happened before. When the U.S. passed Prohibition and banned alcohol, the bulk of our society simply ignored the law. Alcohol went underground, and criminals prospered. The same is happening with narcotics prohibition. The same will happen if we ban porn, abortion, gambling, and other destructive behaviors. We gotta fight society’s bad attitudes and self-centered tendencies. We gotta work on the root of the problem: People don’t love their neighbors. People don’t know God. Many of us are only pretending to follow him, say all the right words, and harbor all the wrong attitudes. We’ll all pray “Heal our land” together, but ignore the fact we ourselves are poisoning it.

The promise of a new nation.

The reason civic idolaters quote this verse is ’cause they want God to save the United States. Not so much the people in it. (A lot of times they don’t even like the people in it.) Just them, their rights, their security, their property, their freedom of worship… their comfort. The things of this world.

That’s not the inheritance God intends to grant us Christians. He wants to give us a new world. A new heavens and earth. Rv 21.1 Whether that’s a literal new planet, or this planet rebooted back to how God originally created it, I don’t know, and won’t insist upon. (I’ll just say don’t rule out either interpretation.)

Our inheritance isn’t control of our nation. Nor the preservation of this nation. It’s not power for ourselves, with Christians in charge, making everyone behave. It’s a wholly new nation, under God—really under God, not just recited by rote—with Christ Jesus personally in charge. It consists of people from every nation. Rv 7.9 Not just U.S. citizens, but Canadians and Mexicans, Indians and Pakistanis, Israelis and Palestinians, Russians and Chinese, Brits and Irish, Saudis and Iranians, Grecians and Turks, South and North Koreans, Filipinos, South Africans, Brazilians, Australians, and so forth. We’ve not been promised an earthly homeland if we just follow God. We’ve been promised better. His kingdom.

That’s our homeland. Not our existing ones. Those will pass away. They’re meant to be replaced with Jesus’s eternal kingdom.

Nope, not saying we should destroy them ourselves. Certainly not by permitting sin, and letting our neighbors drag us into hell. Let’s repent. Really repent. Let’s share the good news with them, and convince them to repent.

Let’s seek God together—not quote 2 Corinthians 7.14 regardless of context, and hope some part of it’ll kick in for us.