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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Does God Protect the Righteous?

Dean Esmay has a interesting post up, pointing out why he doesn't like the type of thinking displayed in this LaShawn Barber post. Read both so you will understand the basics of what I am talking about here. While the notion that God protects a righteous people is frequent throughout the Bible, it is a dangerous thing to focus on too much. First off, the Bible claims a special covenant with the Children of Israel. There is no indication that I no of that any other nation can perform it's half of the terms and get the benefits. That would be similar to me noting J.K. Rowling’s contract with Scholastic and sending Scholastic a book and expecting the same pay off. I don't believe that such a covenant is reflected at all in the New Testament. Indeed Christ seemed to disavow any connection with Government and was for all nations and peoples, not just a select group. That is a fundamental difference in the underlying themes between the Old and the New Testaments. Beyond that, we can easily see dangers that happen when a nation decides that they are a covenant people. While this has been a theme of America (and used to promote all manner of nastiness) it's most prevalent modern manifestation was probably the Boers and the apartheid government of South Africa. This should be a caution to any who think that they must be a special people. Another danger of this path is the inclination to judge an individual or nations righteousness based up exterior events. People that get cancer, for example, do not get cancer as punishment from God for wickedness. Even if God were to punish someone in that manner on occasion, I think only the most loony would conclude that everyone who gets cancer is the recipient of a 'curse' from God for wickedness. The book of Job in the Bible provides a pretty thorough refutation of this notion. God works in mysterious ways. Let's pretend for a moment though that God had indeed promised to protect and guide America as long as we were righteous. Let us further take the assumption that God primarily measured righteousness, as LaShawn seems to, by focusing on what goes on in our bedrooms. What does that tell us about how we form public policy? I would submit that even with those assumptions it tells us very little. Does God count someone righteous because they don't sin because it is against the law? I would think not. A Righteous person would not sin no matter what the law said, and a person who only refrains from sinning because it is illegal, respects man more than God, which is probably a deeper and more important sin than any sexual misconduct. I would find in hard, based upon Christian tradition, to classify a people that refrained from sin because of threat of legal penalties rather than love of (or fear of) God as a Righteous People. If I ascribed to the belief that Righteousness would guarantee protection for my nation, and therefore I wanted my neighbors to be Righteous, I would prefer a legal environment where sin (those that did not cause harm to another, things like murder form an entirely different nexus where a society that permits it might well be sinful) was entirely legal. At least then I would be more able to identify who was, and was not, Righteous and try to convince those that fell short to change their ways. Of course from a different perspective, it is easy to see in general that a virtuous people will tend to prosper more than non-virtuous people. Many of our virtues, whether you consider them to be handed down from God or built up over time as a response to societal need, are indeed beneficial. A nation of hard working, honest, giving, and faithful people will doubtless have greater success than a nation of lazy, lying, selfish, and philandering people. Even here though, it seems that attempts to compel this behavior by the power of the state (the Soviet Union for example) are less than successful. Certainly both communist philosophy and Judeo-Christian theology hold those virtues in common. America basically adopted the idea that people should be urged but not compelled toward these virtues and each man was free. The Soviet Union took a very different approach. I think everyone will agree that America had far greater success at instilling them than the Soviet Union did. Partially that success was a result of the fact that even without needing to invoke intervention by God, and individual will have greater success if they display those virtues than an individual who does not in a free society. Communism removed that natural feedback loop and attempts to instill it's own incentives via the power of the state. I think that the parallels with sexual virtues are obvious. I certainly don't claim to be a Christian Theologian (I don't claim either actually) but I have always found theology a fascinating study. It has long been apparent to me that non-believers tend to sell Christian Theology short. It is equally apparent that many believers do as well, focusing on a narrow sin without any understanding of the structure of the whole.


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