A Better CountryOctober 9, 2020
Well, it was bound to happen – the Presidential election season I mean. It happens every four years, as predictable as a winter cold. I haven’t been paying close attention to the campaign – settling for snippets of reports rather than watching the news, seeking to insulate myself from the trauma of the train wreck that seems inevitable. National Review captioned the recent Presidential debate as “The Jerry Springer Debate”. From the few minutes I saw, that seems pretty accurate – and depressing. It feels like I’m watching the light that was our nation flickering and fading away. And so, as we approach the latest rendition of “the-most-important-election-in-our-lifetime”, I’m finding my heart increasingly drawing back from the kingdom of this world and desiring the kingdom to come.
It’s not that I don’t love this country. I do. I grew up proud to be an American, just like Lee Greenwood said. I remember America’s 200th Birthday celebration in 1976. I still smile recalling the exhilaration of the “Miracle on Ice" (February 22, 1980) when a bunch of college kids beat the mighty Goliath of the Soviet hockey team in the Olympics. Grown men got teary-eyed over that. I believe America has been a tremendous force for good in the world – though undoubtedly some evil as well. We live in an incredibly beautiful land and we have benefited tremendously from the rich Judeo-Christian worldview of our forefathers. People all over the world have longed for the freedom and the riches we enjoy in our country. In spite of all of its weaknesses and sins and failings, in this fallen world, it is still a wonderful place to call home.
But it is feeling less and less like my homeland.
But that’s ok. We have a better country.
Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite chapters in all the Bible, particularly verse 8-16. I love the story of father Abraham, living by faith in a foreign land, “living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise” (11:9). A perfect picture of the Christian life in this world. As we heard this past Sunday night from 1 Peter 1, we are “elect exiles” in this world. When we came to Christ Jesus in faith, we became citizens of a new country (Phil 3:20). We joined ranks with the patriarchs; pilgrims in a foreign land “looking forward to that city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (11:10). We live in this world as “strangers and exiles on earth” (11:13) and “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11). Contrary to popular thought, our calling as Christians in this world is not to build the kingdom of God. Rather, we are to live faithfully and patiently seeking the kingdom God is building (11:10, 14, 16).
That means that our desires and actions and attitudes are meant to be shaped not by the fleeting trials of this fallen world but by the unshakable glories of the world to come. One of the things the Lord is doing in this season of unrest and pandemic is shaking out the parts of us that are more “American” than Christian. As Americans we believe in fighting for our rights, we believe in freedom and fair play and self-reliance. These aren’t bad things – there is a place for them. But if the loss of them makes us angry and anxious then we know that our American worldview has overshadowed our Christian one. Pilgrims don’t freak out when the foreign land they are living in stumbles. Only the citizens do.
Our calling as exiles and strangers in this world is to endure with patience and faith the sadness, wickedness, weakness, and brokenness of this present evil age. We don’t have to panic over national elections or get angry over pandemic policies. Pilgrimage is like camping in a tent – you understand that the dirt and lumpy ground and damp sleeping bag are all part of the package. And you are willing to endure it because it won’t be forever, and you have a home waiting for you.
David Platt, in his new book, Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask, writes this:
You see, it all depends on where we are looking for security and satisfaction. I’ve decided to stop looking to America for that. It is a city that can be shaken. Let’s live as the exiles in Babylon, seeking the good of that city, while longing for their true homeland (Jer 29:7). Let’s live for that “better country”, that is, a heavenly one. God is not ashamed to be the God of pilgrims – “for he has prepared for them a city”(Heb 11:16).
Come, Lord Jesus.