Monday, January 15, 2024

The Promises of Democracy

A true leader brings great hope to a nation.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. Isaiah 40: 3

The world changed when John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy by preparing the way of the Messiah. More recently, another man spoke the words during a time of cultural upheaval in one of the most important speeches ever delivered. During that speech, before Martin Luther King, Jr. began his eloquent revelation of a dream, he referenced the valley:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

Then came the heart of the speech and the sharing of the dream, and this man of God included Isaiah’s prophecy. He knew of its fulfillment. And yet, he believed the words held a future hope. For Americans? For peace among the races calling themselves Americans? Most certainly. But Dr. King realized the words were written to proclaim the coming of Christ. To mark the day when the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and all flesh would see it together.

Evil shut the mouth of John the Baptist, but the prophecy rang true and the message did not end. The voice of Dr. King met evil as well. But his dream didn’t end. Great loss was suffered, and great progress made in exalting that dark and desolate valley. A servant of God, one with a vision and a voice can bring great change, raise up the lowly, flatten mountains, straighten what is crooked and smooth the rough places.

But not completely. Evil still lurks. Some claim the media is responsible for stirring the racial tension rising up in America today. In reality, Satan is behind it. And he’s got his claw in politics too. Absurd comments from this unusual crop of presidential candidates seem to result in a tangled, ridiculous waste of time. No potential leader possesses the vision and voice to lift us from the sinking wasteland, or flatten any mountain blocking a secure and united future. The new political horizon makes the setting sun of current rule seem practically tolerable.

I long for the vision of a man who was murdered when I was a child. As a southern white girl, I wasn’t raised to fully appreciate his legacy. As a Christian woman, I can see the greatness of his message and his leadership. But I have a dream that One even greater will come and rule the world with truth and justice. Thank God, the prophecy will soon be fulfilled again. He is coming.

I have a dream that I can gather with all races to worship in freedom. But it’s not a dream—not anymore. It’s reality every time we gather in my Southern Baptist Church. It would have never been this way in the past. But now, it’s not an issue to even note. We’re just family.

I have a dream that come November I can step into the voting booth and mark a reasonable choice. But not all dreams are meant to be. I know this much: God appoints leaders. Some to lead with greatness. Some, by their ungodliness, to cause a nation to turn from rebellion against God or else meet an end. I wonder what Dr. King’s prayer for our nation would be today. He might still hold firm to the promises of democracy. Hope is not yet lost. Or perhaps he would simply pray, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Good Question

God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hand we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen

Most children, or at least those who learn to give thanks at mealtime, recite this little prayer. It teaches the basic lesson of expressing gratitude for God’s provision. But even before giving thanks and asking God to meet our needs, the truth of God’s attributes are taught in those first two short sentences. First, greatness is accredited to God. And then, goodness. An important lesson, and yet it’s often repeated in vain until children grow into adults who may or may not increase in understanding, in the expression of prayer, or in the realization that God is not only great, but He’s also good.

The distinction between the greatness and goodness of God is addressed in the first book of the Bible. God makes a lot of something out of absolutely nothing. The Creator of the whole universe brings it all down to a perfect piece of a paradise with a crowning touch of humanity, and He introduces Himself to His creation. His greatness is not in question. But for reasons that perfectly happy first couple could not comprehend, the Great Creator allows His goodness to become of matter of doubt.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5
God’s greatness wasn’t the issue when Eve reached up and grabbed hold of one thing God told her not to eat. The serpent didn’t raise the question in her mind as to whether or not God was great. But…was He good? Really? Maybe He didn’t have her best interests at heart after all. Maybe He was withholding something
wonderful. Maybe He didn’t tell her everything she needed to know to live a perfect life in a perfect place. 

And so the question arose, not just for Eve and the man who let her do all the talking in this world-changing event, but for the rest of us, too. The question of God’s goodness dropped us onto a slippery path that eventually led us to question even His greatness.
Now, a long time after Paradise and a long way down after the Fall, how do we know that God is not only great, but that He is good? Do we know by the number of good things that happen in our lives? No matter how good life once seemed, most people meet a crisis that causes them to question God’s goodness. This is no Garden of Eden we’re enduring. Sometimes it’s more like a war zone and we’re living with the scars of our battles. Sometimes those scars run deep enough to kill any remembrance of God’s goodness. If God is good, why is the world so bad? We might find some assurance of God’s greatness in the world around us, but His goodness will always come into doubt. It’s our nature to ask the question and we’ll never find enough evidence to convince us of God’s goodness without a resounding, eye-opening transformation.
There is no other way to know that God is good except by the truth of the Good News.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7
He is great. He creates, sustains, and holds the world together by His might. No one can measure His greatness. And He is good. His goodness can be measured by the depth of His love in that He provided a way of escape from sin and death. We might acknowledge His greatness, though in our present state we can’t fully comprehend it. But it’s the light of the Gospel that brings us to acknowledge His goodness. A great God might have left a fallen world in the darkness. A good God never would.