Are we bewildered yet? Are we holding out hope? I don’t know about you, but the state of the world, especially the political cycle in the United States, makes me want to find a cozy catacomb and sit out for the next term or two. It seems hopeless and desperate, and, at so many turns, without virtue. As leaders, how do we biblically approach these shifting times, with an affection placed in God’s plan and not in the plans of men and women? How do we keep our people from running to the first catacomb they see? Here are five reminders that might help.
5 Reminders That Will Keep You From Running To Your Cozy Catacomb
Scripture Makes It Tough
We need to be forthright about the challenges in Scripture, not to promote any agenda, but to faithfully exegete the Word of God and apply it to our lives. We know Moses threatens Pharaoh, Ehud stabs Eglon (and loses the sword in the process), Elijah rains down fire on the prophets of Baal (belonging Ahab and Jezebel), Shadrach and friends defy the king’s order, John the Baptist hails insults at Herod the tetrarch’s sinful marriage, and Jesus casts out the money changers. But Joseph submits to Pharaoh, Daniel stays behind and serves the king, Jesus ends up on a cross… and we can’t dismiss New Testament teaching. Romans 13:1 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (mentioning even paying taxes). I Peter 2:13 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority.” We can draw out at least two things in the narrative and instruction: (1) dissent should sometimes be our action and reaction; (2) submission should be normative yet not used as an excuse, for instance, the verses above were cited in the call to keep slavery over its abolishment.
I love Psalm 2:4-6: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” Isn’t it great that because God is sovereign, he laughs at those who think themselves capable of breathing, like Belshazzar, who gets the mene message: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end” (Daniel 5:26), and dies that very night. When it comes to power, God alone holds it. The Psalms will always quiet our restlessness about how it all ends for the wicked and the righteous. We know they also express the angst of “When, Lord?” and “How long, Lord?” Democracy as a political system is not mentioned in Scripture, but it shares the common struggle of power and greed with the best monarchies. A change in the heart, a need for revival, a call for humility–let’s pray for these in the fleeting moments God gives to us.
There are Others
After his exhausting sprint away from Ahab’s men, Elijah is ready to die. He thinks the case for God’s holiness is hopeless, since, of course, he’s the only one working for Him, right? God speaks into his depression with something radically different. Not only is Elijah not alone, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him,” says the Lord (I Kings 19:18). Also, God is quick to explain that Elijah will be replaced by Elisha, making it clear that it’s His story and not about any one prophet. How often do we grumble about being outnumbered when it comes to upholding holy living? Do we use these complaints to cordon off any reaction or protest? Rest assured, there are others. The remnant is not as small as we think and the fields are ripe for harvesting. Do we believe it? Do we hear God whispering through the wind, fire and earthquake–all the stuff of our noisy lives?
Pilate made it into the Creed!
Isn’t it fascinating that Pontius Pilate made it into the Nicene Creed? Of all the people who could be included, the Roman governor of Judea is stuck right in front of the death and resurrection of Jesus (“… he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again.”) Does it tell us anything about earthly authority? I think so. It didn’t matter how many times Pilate washed his hands; his decision to allow Jesus’ crucifixion would be remembered. However, just like Judas, the crucifixion didn’t have to proceed because of Pilate’s allowances. He made a decision and God used it for his greater glory. We see this in Cyrus sending Nehemiah and the Israelites back to Jerusalem, or Herod adding to the Temple that Jesus knew or Caesar Augustus calling for a census of all the Roman world. Pilate made it into the creed because God’s plan always and forever trumps our plans, and certainly the plans and schemes of the so-called political leaders (even if we may not see it right away).
The End is Near
Peter and Paul and the rest of the Apostles thought so. Do we? Peter’s advice is worth heeding: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:7-11). Peter goes on to makes sure we expect to suffer because of our faith. Are we? The American system of government–this grand experiment, as Chesterton says, of self governing–can sometimes mask over our duty to be alert and be of sober mind and to, “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (4:12-13).
The early church’s escape to the catacombs in and around Rome kept alive the faithful call to worship and commune together as a body of believers. Perhaps a time will come when catacomb worship is necessary. It was in 1934 Germany when the Confessing Church went underground as the crosses were removed from churches, or, more recently, in China’s house church movement. No matter the case, the catacomb might be a retreat for authentic prayer and worship, but it isn’t a place to stay. The Christian’s call is to be in the world but not of it, to get knocked around and maybe even killed in the name of and for the glory of God. Our call is not a violent one but it will be disruptive, simply because the death and resurrection of Jesus takes away human power and glory, the two-headed monster so enjoyed by our political classes. Is it time that we start looking for our catacomb?
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.