Article Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Fiddler on the Roof is a film about changing culture and faith among Russian Jewish families in 1905. In one scene, the village Rabbi was asked if there was a blessing for the czar, who had persecuted the Jews. He replied, “The Lord bless and keep the czar– far away from us!”
We may chuckle at the story, but we still wonder how do we actually pray for bad leaders. We feel a tension between the Biblical command to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the fact that some of those in authority live ungodly lives and support unrighteous policies.
Cry out to God
Ezekiel cried out to the Lord in distress on behalf of the righteous remnant. “I fell facedown and cried out, ‘Oh, Lord GOD! Are You going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel when You pour out Your wrath on Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8; see also 11:13). There is nothing wrong with crying out to God about your heart-felt concern. Ezekiel did. But don’t stop there.
Pray for God to work through bad leaders
Habakkuk cried out to the Lord about evil rulers. In Habakkuk 1:2, the prophet described life under the wicked King Jehoiakim this way: “This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.” Sounds like a modern news report, doesn’t it? God’s first answer to this dilemma comes in the next verses, saying, “Look at the nations and observe– be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it” (Habakkuk 1:5). He goes on to describe how God would bring judgment on Jerusalem through the Babylonians.
God often uses nations and rulers for His purpose, even evil rulers. God can hit straight with a crooked stick anytime He wishes. He used King Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 44:28-45:1) to bring the Jews home from captivity. Daniel 2:21 says, “He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Acts 2:23 shows how God even used evil leaders in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: “Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.”
Therefore, we can pray for God to work through bad leaders. John F. Kennedy had many extramarital affairs, but God used his courage to stand against communist Russia in Cuba. Richard Nixon was corrupted by the Watergate scandal, yet God used him to open doors with China. We may pray for bad leaders by praying for good to overcome evil, despite their failures and sins.
Watch and pray
Returning to Habakkuk, we find two principles of prayer: expectancy, and faith. First is the principle of expectancy: the prophet finally resolved to be a “watchman” in prayer: “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1). Likewise, we are to watch what happens with rulers, and continually pray, expecting that God will do something. The second principle is faith. The Lord encouraged the prophet to keep watching, and waiting, and then God revealed one of the greatest doctrines of the Bible: “But the righteous one will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). This verse is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament, reminding us that our salvation comes by faith and trust in the Lord, and Him alone (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:11 and Hebrews 10:38). As Jesus said, “Watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:46).
Ask God what you can do
Contemporary Christian singer Matthew West sings about how he saw all kinds of suffering and injustice in the world which disgusted him. Then the singer cried out, “‘God, why don’t you do something?’ He said, ‘I did, I created you!'” (“Do Something” by Matthew West, from the album, Into the Light).
Isaiah gives a similar response to our prayers complaining about bad government. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would answer their cries when He saw social injustice in the land (Isaiah 58:3-10). The people were fasting and praying for justice. In this passage, God responded to the prayer by calling on His people to put feet to their own prayers. “Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn… and the LORD’s glory will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 48:6-8). God hears our prayers for justice to overcome evil, and He nudges us to get personally involved in fighting injustice. Pray for bad leaders by deciding to do something good yourself! You can vote for pro-life candidates, but don’t stop there; volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. You can vote for candidates who support the police and who fight for racial justice, but don’t stop there; show your kindness and speak up against mistreatment of the police and mistreatment of those of other races.
So what does all of this mean to us today? It means that no matter who occupies the White House, God is on His throne, and He is in control. It means that while we pray for and support godly leaders, we also pray for God to work His will through ungodly leaders. He has done it before, and He can do it again. It means that we put our trust in the Lord, not in earthly leaders. It means that instead of just complaining about evil, we need to ask God what good we can do ourselves. Then we need to get up from our prayers, and do something good in the name of Jesus.
Can democracy flourish just as well in any society, no matter what the religious and cultural values, or does democracy depend on Biblical values to flourish and prosper?
Daniel Webster said, “Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”
Psalm 33:12 (HCSB) says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh—the people He has chosen to be His own possession!”
We sing “God Bless America,” but then we tell people to choose your god: Buddha, Allah, Ahura Mazda, Krishna, Yahweh, take your pick.
That simply will not work! Look at the verse again. Notice that it says in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh.” Most Bible translations say “the LORD.” Whenever you see “LORD” in all capital letters, it means that the Hebrew word used is the actual name of God given to Moses at the burning bush: “I am,” which in Hebrew is Yahweh.
A nation whose God is not Yahweh, a nation that rejects the God of the Bible and Biblical values, rarely has a stable democracy. There are a few exceptions, such as Turkey, India, Japan, and Indonesia. But all over the world, we have seen that nation after nation that has put the Lord out of government is having a hard time putting democracy in. All across Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa, which have been dominated by communism and non-Christian world religions, we see most governments are dominated by dictators instead of democracy. In Iraq and Afghanistan, sectarian conflict is threatening democracy. In the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” of new democracies appears to be turning into a “Muslim Winter.”
Just as a life without Jesus will always fail, a government without Yahweh is often frail. But a nation that has the God of the Bible as its foundation has put into place the value system needed to support a successful democracy.
The Declaration of Independence contains four references to God: as Lawmaker (“the laws of nature and nature’s God”); as Creator (“endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”); as Supreme Judge (“the Supreme Judge of the world for our intentions”); and as Protector (“the protection of Divine Providence”).
In 1787, the Constitutional Congress was arguing over the writing of the Constitution of the United States, and they were getting nowhere. Finally, Ben Franklin rose and said,
“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers were heard, and they were graciously answered . . . Have we now forgotten this powerful friend? Or do we no longer need his assistance?
I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”
When George Washington took the oath of office as our first president in 1789, he asked that the Bible be opened, and he placed his hand on it to took the oath. Then he added to the oath the words, “So help me God,” and bent forward and kissed the Bible before him.
John Adams, our second president, said, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” These words are engraved in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
History has shown that democracies have done well in nations founded on Biblical values. Democracy flourishes in Europe, which has a Christian heritage, in Israel, where the values of the Old Testament are the basis of their government, and in North America, most of Latin America, Australia, and most of central and southern Africa that are dominated by Christianity. In South Africa, where the white minority gave up rule to the black majority, Bishop Desmond Tutu led them through a peaceful transition of power. Miraculously, bloodshed was avoided, unlike the conflict we see today in Iraq, a struggling democracy that does not have worship of the God of the Bible as its foundation. The key was that as Christians, South Africans were able to forgive.
Why is it that democracies tend to flourish where the culture is dominated by Biblical values?
Philippians 3:20 says that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Yet it is interesting that citizens of the heavenly kingdom make better citizens of earthly kingdoms.
Christians know they have a responsibility to contribute to their government. Jesus said, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
“And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants… Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)
Christians know that they have a responsibility to make a positive difference in their world.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
Christians know that they are to pray for their nation’s leaders. Paul says 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray for kings and all those in authority, and in Paul’s day, a pagan Roman was the emperor.
But because our highest citizenship is in heaven and not on earth, Christians also know that times may come when they have to stand up to godless and corrupt earthly rulers for the greater good of the nation.
Moses stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and demanded that Pharaoh give up his Hebrew slaves.
The prophet Nathan confronted King David to his face when he murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba.
The prophet Elijah confronted King Ahab and condemned Queen Jezebel for worshipping false gods.
John the Baptist told the ruler, Herod Antipas, that he was wrong to divorce his wife, and for his boldness, John the Baptist lost his head.
It may not always be easy, but it is always best for a democracy if that nation is founded on faith in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we wander away from that faith, we put in peril our earthly livelihood and our eternal home.
As John F. Kennedy said, “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”
No wonder Daniel Webster said, “Whatever makes good Christians makes them good citizens.”
As Psalm 33:12 says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh.”