byFaith | 11.26.13
By Alan Dowd
Last month, amidst the latest battle over government
spending, Senate Chaplain Barry Black offered a short, simple and perfectly apt
prayer for our divided nation: “Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis,” he intoned
in his reverent, baritone voice. “You created us for freedom, so keep us from
shackling ourselves with the chains of dysfunction. Use our senators today to
serve your purposes for this generation, making them ever mindful of their
accountability to you…empowering us to be responsible stewards of your bounty…using
judicious compromise for the mutual progress of all.”
The prayer works on two levels.
First, it implicitly asks God to protect our country from those
crises beyond our control. Our leaders are sometimes forced to make decisions
in the midst of crises that are thrust upon them and us: acts of war and terror
like 9/11, mega-storms like Sandy and Katrina, natural disasters like the
tsunami of 2004, man-made disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Plus,
in the realm of the all-too-possible, there’s the daily threat of cyberattacks
that could cripple our power grid, an EMP
blast that could throw us backwards into the 1800s, a pandemic that could kill
millions and close us off from the world and each other, nuclear-armed madmen
that want to hasten Armageddon.
No matter how powerful—how much in control—we pretend to be,
the reality is we don’t control nearly as much as we think. Chaplain Black, a
retired Navy admiral, knows that decision-making in such times of crisis can be
difficult and downright dangerous. So it doesn’t hurt to ask God to help us avoid
such times—to “deliver us from evil,” as it were.
A second reason Chaplain Black’s prayer is so apt—one that
was probably at the front of his mind and heart as he penned it—relates to
those crises of our own making. Chaplain Black was asking God to intervene and
guide our leaders so that they stop resorting to kick-the-can governing, stop
spending money they don’t have, stop creating economic bubbles by guaranteeing things
government shouldn’t guarantee, stop promising too much at election time and delivering
too little when it’s time to govern.
Indeed, Chaplain Black was not just praying for our country and
our elected representatives; he was speaking to our country and especially to our
elected representatives—asking, challenging, telling, pleading with them to
turn away from brinkmanship and fiscal cliffs and default scares and shutdowns and
over-spending and under-thinking.
His prayer reminds us that in a representative system like
ours, where each branch of government can check and be checked by the other, the
political majority is not vested with the powers of a czar; that the political
minority should not act like guerillas; that compromise is not a dirty word but
is an essential ingredient for making government work.
This is not a
call for everyone in Congress to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”. That’s not what
the Founders envisioned for the checks-and-balances system they created. “Madison,” as George Will has noted,
“created a constitutional regime that by its structure created
competing power centers and deprived any of them of the power to impose its
will on the others.”
In other words, there’s
a time for arguing about policy differences and philosophical differences.
However, as Jefferson put it, “every difference of opinion is not a
difference of principle,” which means there’s a time to compromise—something the Founders themselves illustrated.
The constitution they crafted was a compromise of divergent views of
government: Some wanted a strong union, with a strong central government that
could be wielded to act on behalf of a growing nation, while others wanted power
to reside in the states and sought to limit the power of the central
Yet both groups recognized
they had to give a little in order to govern. And both wanted the new government’s
“competing power centers” to find common ground. Otherwise, there can be no
governing, as we are reminded during times of man-made political crisis.
To govern is to bring some
semblance of order to a situation. It’s
important to remember that our God does not like crisis and chaos: Genesis
tells us He brought form and order out of chaos. Paul writes that He is not a God of disorder (I Corinthians 14), that
government authorities are put in place for
our own good (Romans 13) and that we are supposed to pray for “all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives” (I Timothy 2).
implication is clear: Earthly government serves an essential function in God’s
plan. Legitimate governments exist to protect life and property, to be
instruments of justice, to enforce contracts, to maintain law and order, to deter
and if necessary repel enemies—all so we can live peaceful, quiet lives, as
Paul put it. Jefferson called this the “pursuit of happiness.”
happen if our government lurches from crisis to crisis. To be sure, building a
bridge between one party that thinks government is doing and spending too
much—and needs to shrink—and another that thinks government isn’t doing
enough—and needs to grow—is not easy. But it’s impossible if the two sides
don’t even talk, which is what happened before and during the latest shutdown
showdown. For instance, a Google search of President Obama and House Speaker Boehner
“not talking” returns 132,000 results.
Black’s prayer reminds us that you and I have a role to play here.
“The real business of your life as a saved soul,” as Oswald Chambers wrote a
century ago, “is intercessory prayer.” Most of us think of this as interceding
for the lost, and understandably so. But it can also mean interceding for our country
and those elected to govern. The Lord promises that if we seek His face and
turn from our selfish ways, He will intervene to heal our land (II Chronicles
To be sure, we must never put our country ahead of our faith.
After all, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3). But as Philip Yancey
observes in The Jesus I Never Knew, Christ
followers “possess a kind of dual-citizenship. We live in an external kingdom
of family and cities and nationhood, while at the same time belonging to the
kingdom of God.”
Those of us blessed with this dual-citizenship, as Chaplain Black
reminds us, serve our nation and our Lord by lifting our leaders up daily.
Dowd writes a monthly column exploring the crossroads of faith and public policy for byFaith's online magazine.