The Lesser of Two Evils is a False Choice

The king was backed into a corner. His small country, founded on religious principles, was no longer a major force. Unable to protect himself form the powerful nations that surrounded them he felt no choice but to align himself with one of them. The nation was Judah and the king was Jehoiakim. To his north was the Babylonian empire, to the south the Egyptians. Neither of these empires shared the culture or values of his people but his only hope seemed to be aligning with one of them.

Four years earlier it seemed as if the Egyptians were the major force. The Egyptian army had swept through Israel in its way north to challenge the mighty Babylonians in battle. Jehoiakim’s father died in a foolish attempt to halt the progress of the Egyptian army. A short while later the Egyptians joined the Assyrians in battle against Babylon and were defeated. Pharaoh and his army went home defeated. The King of Babylon followed south to Jerusalem and besieged the city, forcing the new king Jehoiakim to surrender.

Since that time Judah had been forced to pay tax and tribute to the pagan nation of Babylon. The burden was great on the people and the city of Jerusalem was divided in its opinions. Some felt Egypt was still its greatest hope, others were persuaded that subjection to Babylon was the only way forwar (perhaps because Babylon allowed them to continue with their own king and customs.) For four years the allegiance to Babylon held sway.

At that time a second battle between Egypt and Babylon led King Jehoiakim to question his loyalty to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar’s army had tried to expand its influence further south into Egyptand had been repelled by the Egyptians. Jehoiakim king of Judah again had a choice between two evils. With whom would he align? He chose Egypt, hoping the might of the Pharaoh could save him. It didn’t.

A short while later Nebuchadnezzar returned with his army and laid siege. King Jehoiakim died during the siege and before long the city fell. Nebuchadnezzar and his army took Jehoiakim’s son and thousands of the nation’s best and brightest away into captivity in Babylon. Leaving behind a puppet king to rule in Nebuchadnezzar’s name.

The new king, Zedekiah, did not learn from the mistakes of his predecessor. A new Pharaoh came to power in Egypt, and once again the King of Judah was tempted to change his alliances and allegiance. He too rebelled against Babylon.

Only 4 years after Jehoiakim fell, Nebuchadnezzar and his army arrived again outside the gates of Jerusalem. This time, his wrath was not contained. He laid waste to the city and destroyed the walls and its temple. He killed Zedekiah’s sons right in front of the king and then put out his eyes, making the death of the sons his final visible memory. Judah was no more.

The fall of Judah reminds us of the challenges of choosing unholy alliances. The kings of Judah repeatedly saw only two options available, Egypt or Babylon. Neither option was good, neither nation shared any of their cultural values. One can imagine the debates in the courts of Jerusalem as people argued for one position or the other, trying to point out minuscule areas of good or potential incremental preserving of freedoms as they agonized over which evil was lesser.

They repeatedly out their hopes in powerful Pharaohs, setting their beliefs and values aside in favor of an alliance that might give them the best hope of preserving the greatest portion of the society in which they lived. Egypt may well have been the lesser of two evils, but they were still a bad choice. Judah lost everything.

What makes the story even more tragic is that Judah should have known better. The premise of having to choose between two earthly evils had been proven false many times in their history. Over and over again, their small nation had been threatened with destruction at the hands of overpowering enemies and over and over again they had been delivered, not through allying with another army but by trusting in their God. They should have recognized the false dichotomy. Their choices were not limited to Egypt or Babylon. There was a third way. They could have chosen to turn to God, returned to their values, and stood alone, trusting only in Him.

Modern day American Christians have much to learn from the lessons of Judah. We should resist the foolish claims of those who tell us that we have to choose between two evils. When both choices require us to compromise our values and deny who we are and what we believe, we need to choose the third way. If we do not, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves in trouble.

- Bart

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Who Should Christians Vote For?

Political posts are dangerous. It seems any post that even contains the words Republican and Democrat, or worse, the names Clinton and Trump, is destined to be met with a deluge of anger and recriminations. As dangerous as political conversations can be they have seldom been more difficult to avoid. The two leading candidates for president carry so much baggage it is amazing they don’t need two planes to fly to each campaign stop. Siding with either candidate gives others the right to ask, “How can you can vote for them knowing they did all of that?”

It has been a particularly challenging election cycle for devout Christians, those who seek to allow the teachings of the Bible to inform their decisions. Many Christians have over the years based their voting primarily on social, moral and religious issues, as these issues are easy to argue and support from Biblical texts. One does not need to be a Biblical scholar to be able to find scriptural support for positions regarding abortion and marriage. This clarity made voting a comfortable and simple choice for many. This election has muddied the waters. Those looking for Biblical guidance can find reasons to reject each candidate more easily than to support them.

Christians need to be reminded that the Christian Bible has existed in its current form for almost two thousand years. It is intended to be a spiritual history of the people of God and a description of God’s eternal plan for redemption through the sacrifice of His son Jesus, not an election guide. The writers of the Bible, especially those inspired to pen the New Testament, showed remarkably little interest in the political issues of the day. These men were eternally focused and believed that a person’s eternal circumstances were far more important than their temporary ones. Eternal freedom from sin was more important than any earthly right or privilege.

This focus on the eternal continues to be relevant. I have heard many believers this election cycle talk about the importance of religious freedom. Many fear that a Christian’s ability to live and act consistent with his faith is under attack. There is no arguing the reality of this threat, but we need to remember that the danger associated with living out the Christian faith was far greater 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire that it is today. Emperor Nero covered Christians with tar and set them afire to light his garden parties yet the focus of the apostle’s teachings was on the blessings associated with following God in the face of persecution, not on eliminating the threat! In his first letter, the Apostle Peter told the persecuted church that their steadfastness under persecution was powerful evidence of the genuineness of their faith. True faith endures through difficult circumstances, therefore difficult circumstances were the test that proved faith valid to a questioning world.

In the writings of Peter and the other apostles we see other perspectives that differ from many modern American Christians. Christians in the early church did not live in a free and democratic society. Many were not Roman citizens and many others were slaves. Neither of these classes had the right to vote. Even those who were citizens and had the ability to vote had no way to influence the decisions of the emperor. The focus then was not in changing government but in accepting the sovereignty of God over government. The world was to be changed not one vote at a time, but one heart at a time. The agent for societal change was God, not the individual.

American Christians seem to have lost sight of this principle. We have grown up in a nation that emphasizes the right to vote and its importance. We have been taught since childhood that we could change the world. We are continuously bombarded with ads telling us that if we just vote for this person or this ballot measure that the “problem” whatever it is, will be solved. Government, not God, has become the agent of societal change, even in the minds of those who claim the faith. In almost every political post and article I read and in every political discussion in which I participate the emphasis is on what “we” must do, on how “we” need to change things. If only “we” could regain power and influence, if only “we” could get the right people on the Supreme Court, then all will be good again.

The evidence of the last few years has proven that the apostles were right. If we want the world to change for the better the battle needs to be won in the hearts of the people not in the voting booth. Our society is changing. Political and judicial decisions and actions are not the cause of the change, they are the reflection of it. The current debate over marriage is a perfect illustration of this truth. Christian conservatives who hold out hope that a 5th conservative Supreme Court justice will change things are deceiving themselves. A recent Pew survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of young people, 71%, favor same sex marriage, and that even 27% of adults who identify as Evangelical do as well. Same sex marriage, even if overturned by the Supreme Court of the land tomorrow, has become a value of our culture that will not be denied. Any who hope that this will be changed by an election are simply deceiving themselves.

In fact, one of the few blessings of this Presidential election is the manner in which it reveals the misplaced hope of Christian voters. It is time for us to remind ourselves that true, lasting, and meaningful societal change is dependent on our ability to influence the hearts of those with whom we come in contact, not with our ability to influence the leaders in government. The choices in this presidential election are so hopelessly flawed, dishonest and corrupt it is hard for anyone of conscience to stand with either candidate. The best arguments tend to be those made about standing against the other side. People of strong faith and conviction are faced with the choice of siding with someone who has defied a number of Christian values or not voting at all.

I have decided that my decision comes down to the value of my vote. I believe that my vote, like every action I take, is an extension of myself, an expression of my values and beliefs. If there are no candidates who reflect these values in any way, then there are no candidates to vote for. I will vote for neither of them.

This is not a usurpation of a societal obligation or an abdication of responsibility. It is an acknowledgement that the power to change society is dependent more on my character than it is on my vote. If I compromise my character I lose that power. I choose to live my life as a Christian more concerned with the eternal state of people’s souls than with the current state of American government. I will continue to vote for candidates who are worthy of my vote but I will put my hope in no man or woman.

To my Christian brothers and sisters who feel that the future of America rides on the results of this election I offer this reminder. Two thousand years ago the Church had no voice in the Roman government, yet the church endured and the Roman Empire did not. The church endured and the message it spread changed the world. God did not need politicians to accomplish His purposes then and He does not need them now. Let us focus on Him.

-          Bart

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Can Anybody Make America Great Again?

Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again. This is a catchy slogan and a worthwhile goal but it lacks clarity. While Mr. Trump has repeated the slogan ad nauseum he has yet to offer meaningful details on two important items. He has not defined what it was that made America great in the first place or what steps he will take to restore the greatness that has been lost. I don’t believe Mr. Trump has an understanding of either point. His world view is too simplistic and his understanding of history too limited.

He is not alone in his struggle to define the essence of American greatness. This election cycle has seen many definitions. On the Republican side the tendency has been to emphasize the founding documents of our nation and the principles espoused therein. On the Democratic side the emphasis tends to be on our history of fairness and equal rights. Both sides generally agree that the American economy has been exceptional in the past and should be in the future. Who is right? How do we make America great?

I have come to the conclusion that both sides are wrong in their explanations and in their solutions. American Greatness began not in a document or a policy but as all greatness does, in the hearts and minds of people. The greatness that led to the war for independence arose from the hearts of men and women who believed that men had unalienable rights that came from the Creator, not from a king. The unyielding belief in the value of every man ultimately gave birth to the nation. It was belief in something greater than led to greatness itself.

Every great deed done by Americans, from freeing the slaves to fighting tyranny in two World Wars, was done not for economic gain or personal reward. Greatness came about because there was a shared belief in doing what was right, as well as a shared belief that rightness was defined by the Creator. Deeply held beliefs that rightness was both desirable and attainable led men to set their personal interests and safety aside and fight for what was right. Moral clarity led to clarity of purpose and national success was the result.

I believe it is the loss of moral certainty, the disappearance of common definitions of right and wrong as defined by Someone Greater than us, that has resulted in America’s decline. We are becoming a nation where pleasure and self-preservation have become the greatest values. Doing what is right and good is no longer a primary consideration in the minds of most Americans. A recent survey of Millennials gives credence to this new morality (or amorality). When asked how they would make an important moral decision, only 22% of those surveyed said they would choose based primarily on what was right. A plurality said they would choose solely based on what was in their personal best interest.

A nation of individuals pursuing individual goals will never achieve greatness. A nation that demands excellence from neither its leaders or its people cannot hope to excel. If we want to make America great again, we will need to rekindle the desire for goodness and greatness in our hearts. We need to desire rightness and goodness more than pleasure and comfort, so much so that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in the pursuit of the right and good. Then, and only then, can we make America great again.

-          Bart

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