Friday, May 07, 2004

What I've Been Learning

Well, I've been learning a lot about Microeconomics today, but that's not what this post is about.

I'm sure that by now you've probably seen the picture of President Bush comforting a girl whose mom was lost in the World Trade Center. The picture was not a photo op, but rather was snapped by the girl's father. People who've met Bush seem to have similar experiences with him (and that's just from one Mark Shea post). While many disagree with him, either on many or, as I do, on a few, issues, honest people all seem to come away believing that he is at least a good and upright man, whether misguided or not.

As I've mentioned before, I've started preparing for marriage, though there's no girl in the picture yet. I've been praying that God would show me how to be a good husband, and asking for guidance in the Bible by seeing how those counted as righteous lived. Even more so, I realized that to be a good husband, one must first be a good man. From that, being a good husband should flow.

The theme for this year's Navigator Bible studies has been a survey of the New Testament. However, after a certain number of Pauline letters, I felt as though perhaps getting back into the Old Testament for a while might be a nice break. I won't say that I was looking for some "light" reading, but I was at least in the mood for stories, rather than direct instructions, especially when I wasn't as familiar with those stories as I am with the Gospels. So, I decided to start reading Judges. I skipped Ruth, but then read through First and Second Samuel, and am now in First Kings. Basically, it's been the narrative of the post-Exodus leaders of Israel up until the Babylonian captivity.

Back to Bush. Reading through the comments at Mark Shea's and other sites, I saw that there were essentially two responses. The first was from supporters of Bush who appreciated what they were seeing, and the second was from detractors who nonetheless admired Bush as a man. This second group has decided that, if it came down to it, they'd rather have a bad man in office (and I'm not labelling Kerry as bad, but a bad man could fill this role) who did what they thought was right for the nation than a good man who messed things up. I can understand this position. I've often considered that I'd rather vote for a Pro-Life scumbag than a good man who, for whatever reason, supported access to abortion. Many of us are single-issue voters and are more concerned with issues than with character. However, I suspect that most of us, at least ostensibly, would say that we'd rather have an honest man whom we disagreed with than a bad man of our own party. The thing is, some issues are so volatile that they get in the way of that view, especially if we decide that support for an opposing view reflects a wicked character (which is not to say that this is never the case, but rather that it isn't necessarily so).

However, we often forget that while God allows us a certain amount of free will, His will always trumps. God would not allow abortion to exist if it meant that his overall plan were to be thwarted. If you believe that the war in Iraq is wrong, then you still have to admit that it does not prevent God's plan from coming to fruition. When Israel chose to be ruled by human kings, God granted it, though He warned them through Samuel that they would suffer for their choice. In fact, God tends to take the bad and broken and turn it to his purposes as a new creation. Through the Pharisees, people such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea met Christ. Through the Roman occupation, Cornelius met Peter. It would take an entire book to chronicle the evil that put Paul on the road to Damascus yet allowed him to experience the risen Christ. Judas' treachery and Satan's scheming paved the way for the ultimate redemption of mankind. Hopefully, through being face-to-face with abortion, people will come to appreciate the value of a human life. If the Iraq war is wrong, then hopefully we will learn how better to deal with our enemies (and, if it is a just war, how to identify ones in the future).

Looking at the leaders of Israel, we see a bit of a pattern. When the leader was a good man (or woman, in Deborah's case), God blessed Israel. When the leader was wicked, calamity ensued. When a leader did right or did wrong, the question was not about the consequences of the action, but rather whether his heart was inclined towards God. King David did some pretty scummy things, from executing opponents to not punishing Amnon for raping Tamar to orchestrating Uriah the Hittite's death so as to cover up his affair with Bathsheba. And yet, the Bible tells us that David was a man after God's own heart, and we see that Israel prospered under David. This is not to say that his actions did not have consequences, as seen by his not being allowed to build the Temple and in Absalom's revolt, but that despite falling down repeatedly, David was still trying to walk with God. We can contrast David with Solomon, who, despite his unrivaled wisdom, should be considered a failure. There was peace in Solomon's time, but at the cost of alienating most of the Israelite tribes. When Solomon built the Temple, I think he did it as much for his own glory as for God's. We read of him wastefully covering valuable materials such as cedar in gold. Furthermore, after building the house of God, his own palace was twice as big. Though the reign of Solomon would appear to be a success, it sowed the seeds of Israel's ultimate downfall and the destruction of the Temple.

The leader of a nation is that way due to the will of the people. This may be active, as in the United States where we vote peacefully, or passive as in a dictatorship where the people see more personal benefit in being as slaves than rising up or fleeing (and, to clarify our own status, I don't know how many of us could say that we'd be revolutionaries if we lived in a place like North Korea). Thus, the leader can be said to represent the people, because if he were sufficiently unrepresentative, either he would be removed or the people would be removed (either through fleeing or because they were executed for their opposition). If a leader is righteous, it is because the people at least have tolerance for righteousness. In the same way, an evil dictator is allowed to wield power because good men do nothing. In Israel, when the people cried out when under the yoke of wicked rulers, they were rescued. When they rejoiced in the rule of a good king, they were rewarded. However, when we read of them not rebelling against the rule of someone like Ahab, God punishes them.

We are rewarded or punished for the devotional failings of our leaders because our leaders are representative of us. When you vote for President, you are essentially saying "I cede my right to execute decisions directing this country to the future President, and I furthermore would like for X candidate to be that President." If you vote for a good man and a bad man becomes President, you will still suffer for the choice of your country, but it will be credited to you as righteousness that you supported the Godly man. Likewise, if you vote for an evil man or do not vote, you cannot claim any share of the glory resulting from the actions of the good man. "Caesar" is not necessarily evil. If it were, then Peter would've told Cornelius to leave the service of the Roman emperor, much as Christ told one rich man to sell all that he had. Instead, we see in government a reflection of ourselves that can be seen by all. If we have a bad government, then we need to examine ourselves. If our leader is representative of us, then we need to emulate good leaders.

A man who leads a church must also be successful in leading his own family, and to lead his own family, he must be a good man. By looking at things that are a step removed from us, we can see things that aren't visible when we focus on ourselves. One way for me to learn to be a good man is to see what leaders in the past and in the present have done that makes them good men and apply it to my own life.

UPDATE: Check this out.

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