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In God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis has a very fine short essay on the dangers of national repentance. In short, what he cautions us against is the prayerful form of “don’t blame me, I wanted to do something else.” In other words, every form of true repentance is hard, while there is a form of blaming others (while using we language) that gives us a carnal pleasure. In everything else that we consider today, this wise caution should be kept in the forefront of our minds, and at the very top of our hearts.
“And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression: And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders: And he hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:6-9).
Summary of the Text
At the tail end of their time in the wilderness, the Israelites are being reminded out how it was that they came to be delivered in the first place. The Egyptians treated them oppressively, and laid hard bondage upon them (v. 6). The people of Israel cried out to God as a consequence, and God heard them, and considered their afflictions (v. 7). As a result, God rose up and scattered their enemies with an outstretched arm (v. 8), and brought them to the threshold of a land filled with promise (v. 9). And by no stretch of the imagination is this a “one off ” situation; it is a biblical theme (Judg. 3:9; 4:3; 6:6; 10:10; 1 Sam. 12:9-10; and many other places).
How Individuals Repent
Repentance is always a function of things going wrong somehow. Nobody converts because every day they get happier and happier, and finally they are so happy they decide to turn to Christ. Some convert even though they are externally blessed—but only because they feel and see the hollowness of it (Ecc. 1:14). Others do it in a more straightforward way—they have their whole life come apart in their hands (divorce, financial ruin, disease), and in their affliction they turn to God.
Horses and Mules
We should far prefer to be taught (Ps. 32:8). We should not be like the horse or mule, needing a bit and bridle to direct us (Ps. 32:9). But when we refuse teaching, the Lord is fully capable of ramping it up. He always sends prophets before He sends the pestilence. But when men are sleek in their conceits, they think the mere fact of a prophet means there will be no pestilence.
Lord, Do What It Takes
National repentance is not a nebulous dislike of ourselves, and it does not consist of being accusative toward others. Jesus teaches us what our value system ought to be. We ought to prefer losing our right hand to keeping our right hand to go to Hell with (Matt. 5:30). We ought to prefer to go to Heaven missing our right eye than to go to Hell with both eyes (Matt. 5:29).
Translate this to our national situation. What do we actually prefer? Would you rather have America spend the next ten years doubling our GDP, or the next ten years repenting? Now some might think a sensible response would be to ask why we couldn’t have had a doubled GDP and the repentance too. I don’t know why we couldn’t have had that. You tell me.
So if we are true Christians, our prayer will be, “Lord, do whatever it takes. Lord, break us down.”We do not ask for more than it takes (obviously), but we must not ask for less than it takes. It is not lawful for us to arrange any of this for ourselves, taking matters into our own hands. But it is lawful and right to accept it with gratitude and humility when the Lord takes up the rod. Behold the kindness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22).
Remember that in calling for national repentance, we are not calling for a generic or nebulous kind of “feeling bad.” Repentance is an activity of the mind (the word means “changing your mind”) and consequently it is an activity filled with content.
These are not “partisan issues” at all—the call to repentance is genuinely bipartisan. God calls all men to repent and believe, and it is possible to come to Him from any direction—from left, right, and center. You can come to Him from the polished marble floors of Washington, and you can come to Him from the fever swamps. You can come to Him from a gay pride parade in San Francisco, and you can come to Him by climbing down off your step ladder of Pharisaism. Come.
Some might object that this really is partisan—that I am somehow targeting the Democrats, and not the Republicans. Not a bit of it. I am preaching against Suleiman the Magnificent, and against his harem.
What do you let go of when you come? I mentioned that repentance is an activity filled with content. Let’s consider two general areas, one from the first Table of the law, and the other a cluster of three commandments from the second Table of the law.
First, we must repent of secularism (Ex. 20:3). We have no right to worship, pray to, invoke, or claim the name of any other God. The only God that any nation has a right to claim is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Secularism is a sin, a grievous one.
As far as our national hatred of our neighbor goes, think about our complicity with abortion (Ex.20:13), pomosexuality (Ex. 20:14), and statist piracy (Ex. 20:15). Three commandments, three verses, right in a row. And remember that secularism started off by justifying its neglect of the true God for the sake of our neighbor. Where is all that neighbor love now?
Three Stark Realities
We have some great challenges before us. This is not going to be easy—whether to declare or to endure. At the same time, we may embrace what God sends, even though we do not have the authority to send those hard challenges down upon ourselves.
Here are the three central issues we must keep central to our thinking about all of this. First, there is no deliverance without Jesus. Second, there is no deliverance with the sin. And third, there are no other options, or other alternatives. Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. If the Lord is God, serve Him. If Mammon is god, then let us all go to that great Federal Reserve temple, where we may follow our god of green liquidity in solemn procession as it circles the drain.