What Does It Mean to Turn Back to God? As I watched images of the breach of the U.S. Capitol yesterday, like many Americans, I attempted to make sense of people’s behavior. I wondered how those who entered the Capitol made it past security, and was frightened for those inside as it was evident law enforcement officers were trying to manage a situation for which they were unprepared.
News reporters and elected officials have spent the last several hours trying to bring perspective to this embarrassing event, and most share a deep sense of sadness. I have also seen a few posts from Christian leaders, expressing some of the same emotions and reminding people to put their faith in God, who is ultimately in control.
There are obviously some logistical issues that will be addressed in regards to Capitol grounds security in the days and weeks to come. And there has already been and will continue to be finger pointing when it comes to the root cause of the violence. All of this is a normal, and in many cases a helpful response to a moment we hope we will never witness again.
My desire here is to focus on some spiritual matters, some of which have already been expressed by others and a few which represent deep convictions on my part. We do, indeed, have a spiritual problem in our country. Instinctively, we sense this has something to do with our relationship with God and His disappointment in us. At the risk of employing a cliché I will affirm we definitely need to “turn back to God.” But what does this mean?
I fear, while our walk with God is at the heart of the discussion, some of the messages I have seen in the name of “God” only create greater confusion. A friend of mine has a standing quip he uses when Christians attach Jesus name to their political views or some effort at self-promotion. He says, “Please, don’t bring Jesus into it!” Does Jesus care about politics? Absolutely! Should biblical principles be shared in the public square as a part of the conversation for building a stronger society? Yes! But just putting Jesus on our platform doesn’t make us right, and when our actions run counter to the teachings of Jesus, we hurt Him much more than He helps us.
It is hard for me to resist the temptation to be specific in calling out those who have evoked Jesus’ name to support their cause. Honestly, these kinds of things make me very angry. How would we like it if people put our name on their banners and cardboard posters, and then violated every principle we hold dear? However, I force myself back to the question, “What does it mean to turn back to God?” I share these possible answers for your consideration:
It means we begin with personal reflection and repentance. It doesn’t help to tell others what they need to do while ignoring glaring issues in our own lives. Jesus said, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) If everyone prioritized the need to be personally right with God, I feel confident most of our big problems would disappear.
It means we stop using God as a vehicle for our purposes, and become His servants once more. A single word for this approach to life is “humility.” All of my life I have watched people use the Lord for their personal ambitions, whether it be to spiritualize a business so they could take people’s money because they were “doing God’s work” or to twist scriptures to judge others and feed their personal egos. I have been disappointed and disillusioned by parachurch ministries which have criticized the local church while they continue to embrace unethical practices in matters of accountability and fund distribution (even as they receive financial support from the local church). In addition, in my own life I have felt the urge to promote a cause by trying to convince others it is God’s will, when in fact I am just using “God-talk” to make God fit into my plan. Any attempt to “turn back to God” requires that I take myself off of the pedestal and put the Lord where He belongs. Until I do this, my words and actions are nothing more than a form of “spiritual calisthenics.’ I am convicted by the words of Isaiah, repeated by Jesus: “’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)
It means we recapture a healthy fear of God. No, I do not fear God’s judgment in the sense of questioning my salvation. I have already resolved that I would be headed for hell were it not for God’s grace in Jesus. Because I have received this grace, my relationship with God is not one of fear, but of love and mercy. On the other hand, I still possess a healthy fear of God. Proverbs 1:7 reminds us that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” I feel certain you are aware of the recent prayer by a congressman where he finished by saying, “amen and awoman.” Obviously, the suggestion that “amen” is a sexist word is etymologically illogical. But the greater sin is the audacity anyone might have to use a conversation with God as a platform for a political statement; and this on a national stage. Once we remove the shock value of the “amen-awoman” incident, how many other occasions can we remember where personal agendas were surgically slipped into a public prayer? How can we imagine God is pleased with these behaviors? No, He will not be mocked. We are careful not to draw a connection between the trouble we experience as a nation and the judgement of God. This is often wise since we are not capable of perfectly discerning how God’s judgement is being brought upon a people. It is also not kind to suggest to a group of people who are suffering a loss that their pain is a result of God’s judgment on our country. Yet, in our effort to be loving, we must not forget there is a point at which God’s patience runs out. Before He called Noah to build an ark, the Bible tells us, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:6) We all know what came next. “Turning back to God” requires that we stop testing God and reclaim a healthy fear of Him. This includes our behavior toward His church, His bride, and the people He has called for His purpose.
It means we begin listening to God more than our favorite news outlet. There is nothing wrong with listening to the news, and certainly there are times when we are glued to a breaking story. It is good for the Lord’s people to be aware of current events and to be able to speak intelligently on a number of social issues. But if we are not spending as much or more time in the Word of God then we run the risk of letting the world control our perspective. When Israel first came to the Promised Land, Moses sent 12 spies into the land to gather intelligence. Ten of the spies caused the hearts of the people to melt as a result of their findings, and Israel had to spend forty more years in the wilderness. Surely the people of Israel reasoned that the testimony of ten spies was worth more than that of the other two who encouraged them to take the land. The volume of truth we hear will sway us, which is why God must have the time He deserves to speak into our lives. In Psalm 25 David wrote, “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)
I conclude by reminding us all, we cannot impose these actions on others. Yes, if everyone did these things our country would be much better off, but we must start with ourselves. Then we must practice many other things God’s Word tells us as we hope to bring others to a better place with God. It doesn’t do a lot of good to flash a banner in the face of an unbeliever, but we can change his or heart with love and grace. I believe we can turn our nation “back to God”, but we will only do it if we are the people we should be first, and if the true nature of Jesus shines through our lives in a way that makes it appealing to the lost.
Many of the topics before us in the wake of yesterday’s event are worthy of our attention. Christians can and should engage in healthy conversations to bring about change. But I am convinced if we are consumed by how others ought to do things differently, we are going to miss everything. We must always begin with ourselves and remember the ultimate cure for the things that ail the human heart is Jesus; not the Jesus on a protest sign, but the one who died for our sins and should reign in our hearts.