Believe and Obey

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A Principled God, A Practical God

What Would Jesus Do is a typical question that Christians ask.  It is designed to enlighten us as to what we should do.  The thinking behind the question is that Jesus has given us a set of principles upon which to act.  I would agree that He has given us such a set of principles that He wants us to follow.

He tells us that there are two great commandments: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. (MT 22:36-40).  He states that upon these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.  By the Law He means the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.  By the Prophets he is referring to Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. the main role of which is to call God’s people back to a righteous path.  There are multiple places where He holds us to the Ten Commandments (LK 18: 18-20; MT 19:16-20), among others.  He summarizes the Old Covenant as “do to others as you would have them do unto you” (LK 6:31) and He gives us a New Commandment to “love one another the way God loves us. (JN 13:31-34).  Most of this is summarized in the Sermon on the Mount (MT 5-7).  Clearly Jesus gives us a much more difficult task than just obeying the letter of the law, He wants us to embody the spirit of it as well (see MT 5:28) but He does give us a target to hit.

These are not specific codes or an index but rather principles for Kingdom living. Reasonable and faithful people can, in all good conscience, disagree with how these principles should be applied practically.  That is the source of all our political discussion, religious and secular.

However, is our God a practical God?  Does He give us principles that if applied will lead to practical disaster?   There are those that think so.  Certainly following Jesus can lead to great suffering.  Many have been and continue to be martyred for the cause.  Many suffer derision, shunning, lost job opportunities and social relationships because they follow Jesus.  Many are ridiculed and taken advantage of because of their commitment to Kingdom living.  I would argue that this is primarily that too many are also not following Jesus’ teachings.  Sadly, this would also include many self-identified Christians. Many use all sorts of rationalizations to justify this; Jesus’ teachings are an unreachable ideal or we are under some sort of “interim” ethic until He returns.  Needless to say I think this is nonsense. See MT 4:19 and MT 6:10 about the immediacy of His call.

 So, it seems that the history of mankind is one that is marked by the infliction of suffering upon others precisely because they do not follow the way of Jesus.  However, if all, or even most people, or just Christians, follow Jesus will this result in generalized disaster for humanity?

 I do not see how we can hold this to be true.  That would be to postulate the existence of an evil deceiver God who is playing cosmic pranks on His children.  We would have to imagine Him saying “Hey Peter, watch this, I will give them a set of guidelines that when followed will lead to war, poverty and destruction.  HA HA HA”.  This is not the God we follow, nor should it be. 

Of course God wants us to be at peace and in comfort.  He has given His people an amazing Creation that He wants used for the relief of man’s estate.  It would make no sense that we would fail to achieve that by following His precepts.  We should have every confidence that living as God wants us to will, both theoretically and empirically, produce peaceful relations, rising material prosperity and an equitable distribution of material goods.  In fact the Old Testament is full of examples of how the Nation Israel faced disaster precisely because they abandoned God’s ways. All that Jesus teaches should lead us to the same conclusion.

Is this a sneaky way to bring in a Prosperity Gospel?  By no means!  To claim that God’s principles are also practical is a general claim for humanity.  The claim is that there is tendency for Kingdom living to provide humanity with peace, and a rising level of material prosperity.  This does not say anything about us as individuals.  My business may still go bankrupt, I may get laid off, I may get sick or hit by a bus and of course there will still be brokenness in our relationships and in our lives.  In the end we cannot buy our way into salvation nor faith our way to prosperity.

Given that it is reasonable and Scriptural to believe that God gives us principles that are practically useful it offers us a template, as it were, to view and evaluate politics and policy.  First we must determine a reasonable application of what Jesus’ life and teaching tell us.  This is no small feat and will consume much of our time.  Then we must consider whether the policy or political philosophy will produce practical success for humanity, also no small feat!  Using these two “lenses” gives us a double check on the policy under consideration.  If the policy being discussed will produce disaster (as I would argue, things such as war, trade restrictions and minimum wages do), particularly for those it is intended to help, then it likely is a misapplication of the Scriptural principle.  It becomes akin to reversing the order of operations on a math equation to double check your work.

So let us use the reason God has given us to parse out from Scripture proper Kingdom living principles and to use that same God-given reason to determine if these are prudent polices to enact and use these two processes to come to a fuller understanding of what we should do as social and political creatures trying to live in God’s Kingdom.

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Praise Be to God

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