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. - II Chronicles 7:14
It is always difficult to take the admonitions of God to the nation of Israel and make direct application to contemporary peoples. That is because there are no God-ordained theocracies in the world today.
The world has a tragic track history with nationalism. It most always leads to abuse and oppression.
Even modern Israel is multi-cultural, secular, and eclectic in its religious views.
Nevertheless, all nations are a part of God's purpose and promised blessing (Genesis 12:3, Psalm 22:27, Psalm 72:11&17).
All nations are likewise subject to judgment (Isaiah 40:17).
In Matthew 25, we are told the primary basis of that judgment - how nations respond to the poor and powerless.
God's people remain scattered throughout the globe - wherever they are called by God's name.
So, for nations and individuals, there is a blessing available - a conditional blessing.
The first requirement to which the promise is attached is humility.
Humility is the first characteristic of strong leadership - among people or among nations. Humility before God and others enables us to walk under God's watchful gaze and alongside our fellow human beings. Humility precludes chauvinism. It discourages imperialism. It condemns pride.
Humble leaders do not need to justify their every deed, but they can admit failures. Humble nations can strengthen their standing by doing the same.
The greater the nation, leader, or organization, the greater the need for humility.
The second requirement for the blessing is to pray. The sort of prayer that we need is not the sort that exalts us or boasts or impresses listeners with our eloquence. It is needy prayer, humble prayer, listening prayer, and loving prayer. It is honest. It is seeking. It is prayer without agenda. It is prayer that asks God what we must do. It is prayer that extends our concern to friend and enemy alike.
That leads to the third requirement - seeking the face of God. To seek the face of God implies that we have not grasped a complete vision of God already. The revealed truth we have received is sufficient to save, but not to suspend our seeking. To seek God's face is not to seek information about God, but to seek God Himself with awe, wonder, and childlike readiness to receive.
The fourth requirement is to turn from our wicked ways. It is no sign of strength, power, or righteousness to assert we have no wicked ways in our lives or in our nations. Pride weakens us. Self-righteousness stifles our potential for growth. God is not looking for PR people as leaders. He is looking for people who are willing to look at their choices and change if necessary.
Those four requirements have been recited, amplified, and subjected to exegesis until we can hear them without being moved. We have heard them so many times that we have built up walls of resistance around our favorite sins and defined what other people ought to do to comply.
They are always about someone else.
Like a much-maligned preacher in the news during a presidential election some seasons back, our most fundamentalist preachers have all said, "God damn America."
They have. I have heard them. Many have responded with a hearty and bellowing "Amen" if it was other people's sins that were being condemned. No one accused those preachers of being anti-American.
But when a descendant of slaves dared to suggest that racism, blind nationalism, and greed were among our national sins to which we had to give account to God, the critics went wild.
The same message with a different application got different responses.
The truth is that God still dislikes all the "traditional" sins, but He also has issues with those that seldom make the list - those in which nice people participate.
We are expected by God, as individuals and as nations, to behave ethically, morally, compassionately, fairly, cooperatively, and righteously. We are expected to live by Matthew 25:31-46 as nations and the Sermon on the Mount as individuals.
Is there someone out there who wants to argue that America and American Christians have done so flawlessly in recent decades?
I would like to hear that case. The political right and the political left in America both agree that it is not true. They both agree that we have embraced wicked ways.
They just have different lists of wicked ways.
Is America good?
America is great! I love America. I love the Constitution and the people of America. I love the Republicans, the Democrats, and the independents that balance out each other's craziness.
Is America perfect, sinless, and innocent of innocent blood?
No. No nation is.
Are others worse?
Some may be but we can't do their repenting for them. We are only responsible for our own repentance.
You can't point at your neighbor down the street when God calls you to turn from your wicked ways.
We cannot do so nationally either.
Nor can we frame our foreign policies simply around our own selfish interests and call that "Christian."
I don't expect people who do not share my faith biases to buy into my presuppositions blindly. This is about the conscience of my particular tribe. That is where my appeal is directed. It is about the stewardship of our influence.
There has not been a national party platform in this country in 30 years that should not have given Jesus' followers a great deal of heartburn.
But we pick a horse and run with it because we have not been called to isolate ourselves.
Can we have national repentance?
Perhaps to some extent - but for certain, we can repent and turn from our own wicked ways. Again, your list may differ from that of other fine believers, but you must work on those things about which the Spirit convicts you.
The benefits are impressive.
In the first place, God says He will hear.
In the second place, He promises to forgive. Unlike humans, God does that quickly and without hesitation.
In the third place, He promises to heal our lands.
And we need healing.
These are days of sinful bickering, disrespect, incivility, disregard for life, unbridled anger, bitter divisiveness, euphoric drunkenness, moral ambiguity, sexual manipulation, greed, lack of compassion, disregard for the poor, bigotry, bullish power grabbing, broken boundaries, coldness, hardheartedness, slander, self-centered self-promotion, stubbornness, corruption, and deep need.
Somehow, I believe that if the leaders of our nation would get off of their political platforms, forget the colors of their states, turn off their cell phones, forget about polls, stop calling each other names, quit demonizing each other, and listen to each other and to God, it would be a step in the right direction.
If they would cultivate humility, they could learn to pray. If they would pray, they would seek God's face (and be very surprised at what they found). If they would seek God's face they would want to turn from many of our nation's wicked ways.
We can wait for that ... or we can do it ourselves.