Thursday, October 28, 2010

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The Prophet Amos, Chapter 5, Verse 24.

It’s election time, again. So shouldn’t our voting be biblically informed? Should we not long to cast our ballots with God’s perspective in mind and His values in our hearts? I will not tell you for whom I believe you should vote. But I will tell you of some of our Lord’s priorities for civil authorities and societies. We may begin with the verse above from the Prophet Amos. This verse is one that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was known to quote as he worked for the civil rights of minority races. What he wanted was for our government to treat every citizen the same when it came to the laws of our land. And this is the way we see God operate in His law-giving to Israel. So many today will argue that the wealthy should pay a higher percentage of the taxes because, well, they can afford it. That’s not what God prescribed for His people. He commanded that we all pay the same percentage, which means not all will pay the same amount, which is not a problem for God, and shouldn’t be one for us. This is called equity, or justice. It is not just to legislate that a person with more be over-charged to make up for the person who has less. That’s not equity. That’s like saying, says R.C. Sproul, that it’s OK to steal from someone as long as she is wealthy. I agree. Equity does not demand equal amounts, but equal percentages. Socialists, along with some Democrats and Republicans, believe that true justice only happens when everyone has the same amount, or at least when there are no more poor. This, in their minds, is true equality. And while it is equality, it is not justice. Justice says that we receive what we are due under the law of the land. Work is rewarded. Integrity is rewarded. Civility is rewarded. You get the picture. Now, to Amos.

Amos is prophesying God’s judgment against nations (including Israel & Judah) for the inequity of their civil practices. He points out their sins of greed and bribery (5:10-13). It’s not so much that the wealthy were directly abusing the poor, but that they were influencing the government to abuse them. The rich were putting their riches into the pockets of the law-makers and judges who would then decide in their favor regardless of whether the decision was good for the nation as a whole. For they sell the righteous for money, and the needy for a pair of sandals. These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless also turn aside the way of the humble . . . On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined (2:6-8). Greed, bribery, and disregard for the poor are disregard for the law of God; They rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept His statues; their lies have also led them astray. . . (v4). He even refers to some of the women as cows (4:1). He rebukes them for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy. They are those who say to their husbands, “Bring now, that we may drink!” The problem is not that there were wealthy people. The problem is how they acquired the wealth and what they did with it. To get it they practiced a kind of dishonesty that oppresses those who don’t have so much. And then when the finer things are acquired, they over-indulge and abuse them, without concern for the poorer of the land. God condemns this, and severely judges those who live like this. Remember Genesis 12:1-3 where God promises to bless Abram so that Abram could bless others. Blessings are for sharing, not hoarding.

So what does this have to say about how we will vote next week? I think it says several things that should help us.

First, it teaches us not to vote with our own interests as the priority. Vote with others in mind. Every law that frees me will likely restrict someone else. A law that prevents me from paying more taxes will demand that someone else pay higher taxes. Our government will not forfeit revenue. We should be careful then for what and whom we vote. Politicians make promises. That’s how they get votes. They promise that if we will vote for them, they will do thus and such for us. They ask us to consider our own self-interests. They do not appeal to us to seek the law of God or the well-being of others. That’s shameful, and should be thundered against. I believe this means that for the Christian, voting for whom we think will best improve our bottom line is sinful. After all, the Bible does not teach that it is the government’s task to create jobs, improve the economy, or provide for the poor (neither does the US Constitution). It doesn’t teach that the government is responsible to provide education and/or educational funding; or a thousand other things of which Americans are convinced the government owes them. We have become a people of entitlement. I have noticed in the presidential elections of my lifetime that so much of what is hotly debated and expected is not truly the work of government, but the work of the private sector and the church.

Second, Amos teaches us that no government is free to do whatever it pleases. It is not free to take a bribe. It is not free to oppress its people. It is not free to spend money it doesn’t have. It is not free to take a higher percentage from some so that it can guarantee a lower percentage to others. The poorest Israelite was required to pay the same percentage as the wealthiest. That’s equity. On another note, I think that Christians sometime assume that the poor are poor all of their own design; that if they would just get themselves together they could make financial progress that would alleviate their distresses. That’s not an accurate assumption. Some are poor because they are lazy; that’s true. But many are poor for other reasons. And many of these live in a society that makes it almost impossible to improve their situation. The Scriptures do not express the expectation that a government parent its citizens. But it does teach that the government should not limit the less influential classes by catering to the wealthy. It’s not right for a government to reward laziness. Neither is it right for it to reward greed. I suggest we vote for those who understand this.

Amos also warns against a nation’s unjustified violence against another nation. He says in chapter 1 that Ammon ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their borders (v13).There is such a thing as just war. But there is also such a thing as a war of greed, and pride, and selfishness. God says that nations that engage in this sort of war will be judged. Before a nation commits to destroying others, it should be sure that the cause is just. This warning also teaches us of the value that God places upon human life. He is concerned for the mothers and their unborn children. If we murder them we incur His wrath. So what should we think about living in a nation that has legalized such violence? Just so you know, I’m a one issue voter. I always vote to protect the helpless, the innocent, and the defenseless; those that have no voice in moral issues disguised as political debates about rights.

Third, Amos teaches us that God is watching. And history teaches us that super-powers are destroyed from within. Our nation is not currently under military threat from another super-power. We do however live daily under the greater threat of the decay of justice and morality. This too Amos preaches against. He says that the truth-tellers of his time were hated; and those that spoke with integrity were abhorred. He says that the transgressions of the government were great; that they distressed the righteous and judged the poor unfairly (5:10-13). He says they silenced the preachers and corrupted the pure (2:12). He also links governmental inequity with personal corruption. The same ones upon whom God pronounces judgment for their inequities, he also condemns for such as this: a man and his father resort to the same girl in order to profane My holy name (2:7). You see, character does matter in politicians and law-makers and judges. If a person will profane his or her own family, and thereby the name of God, he or she will think little of profaning their constituents.

Exhorting you to vote according to the Truth,

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