Our brief national nightmare appears to be over, as the most recent U.S. government shutdown has come to a close. A compromise has been reached between the Democrats and Republicans, the President and the Congress, yet the roots of disagreement appear to be unmoved.
This most recent crisis only underlines the greater reality that we are divided, not only in Washington, but as a country on whole. We are at a crossroads, just as Ancient Rome was in the first century before the birth of Christ.
According to the late, great historian, J. Rufus Fears, “In 60 B.C., a crisis of almost unprecedented proportion had been reached (in Rome) over the lack of a budget and the national debt.” The Roman Republic, which had fallen from its glory days of a virtuous and patriotic citizenry, was troubled by other similar problems, including elections that were decided only by campaign contributions, an immigration crisis and wars in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the Roman people of the time seemed to care more about Gladiator games than civic virtue and were unwilling to carry the awesome responsibility of self-government. By the year 59 B.C. the Roman Republic, which was divided into two major political parties much like our own, turned to the eventual dictatorship of Julius Caesar.
A national crisis, however, does not necessarily need to destroy a republic and create a dictator. In fact, American history shows the contrary. Our own Founders, in 1786, faced a debt crisis of epic proportions and emerged from it all the stronger. What separated those leaders, ones like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, from today comes down to one ingredient: Patriotism.
Whether implementing laws or overcoming debt, what our leaders–what all citizens–need most today is a sense of patriotism, of “country first.” Washington, D.C. and its branches of government certainly house some effective leaders and lawmakers, including those who represent Oklahoma. Yet the 24/7 news cycle has created a game of political one upmanship in which even the best politicians are only rewarded for scoring short-term points, rather than long-term solutions.
The Internet has only made this problem worse. As LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer recently pointed out, social media can either coarsen a debate on political issues or be a platform for lifting up Jesus. “You can complain on Facebook about who shut down the government, but you might just shut down a more important conversation (about faith),” he said.
Christians, therefore, must take stock at this key time in the country as to where our best efforts should be spent. As citizens, we strive for “country first;” as Christians, we put God first.
During the Babylonian captivity, God’s people were told to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). If God could tell the Israelites to seek the welfare of a place like Babylon, surely we Christians in America should be seeking the welfare of our country.
That means we must pray for wisdom for our current leaders and that God would rise up more “George Washingtons.” If we do not, a short-term shutdown of a few government services may be the least of our concerns. If we do, by God’s grace, America’s best days could still lay ahead.