Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Living 'In' But Not 'Of' The World: Another Habit of the Heart That Can Help Make Democracy Work (Part Four, de Tocqueville-inspired columns)

[This the fourth in a series of columns I've written for the Community Press newspapers here in the Cincinnati area. I hope you find it helpful.]

I’ve been discussing habits of the heart, ways of approaching life, that followers of Jesus Christ can use in making their community, country, and world better.

This discussion is inspired by the classic study of Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, called Democracy in America. In the 1830s, de Tocqueville came to the United States to discern what made American democracy work. He concluded that one major factor was the “habits of the heart” Americans had adopted because of their faith in Christ.

In past articles, I’ve identified several of the habits commended by the Bible that followers of Christ can bring to the political life of the world today. So far, I’ve talked about the habits of confident humility, love for our neighbor, and commitment to justice.

A fourth Christian habit of the heart is that of being “in,” but not, “of” this world.

I need to give some background.

The Bible says that God made this world as a “very good” place. (Genesis 1:31) But when the creatures God made in His own image, human beings, rebelled against God, they ushered in all sorts of bad things that have warped our world and us.

Sin and death have distorted life as God intended it to be. The New Testament portion of the Bible says that, since the fall of humanity into sin, all of creation has been groaning like a woman in labor, waiting to give birth to a new way of living. (Romans 8:22)

In this new way of living, the power of our sin to separate us from God is to be erased. And that’s a good thing because when our relationship with God is restored, our sins are forgiven, we pulse with the good life of God, and we have the promise of being with God forever.

This new life comes from Jesus Christ. That’s the good news (what Christians call the “gospel”) of the Bible. The New Testament says: “...if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation...” (Second Corinthians 5:17)

Christians live in this world and are called upon to care for its affairs. That includes the political affairs of our communities and nations.

But we’re called to care with a light touch, not regarding any political or economic matter as being of ultimate importance. This planet is not our final destination. That’s why Jesus and the Bible say we’re to live “in” this world, but not to be “of” this world. (Check out John 15:18-19; First Peter 2:11) We’re to be caring, concerned neighbors who aren’t caught up in the warped values of the neighborhood we call Planet Earth. (Of course, as human beings still living in the neighborhood, we still make mistakes and sin!)

One Biblical writer, Paul, conveys the twin poles of “in-but-not-of-the-world” living, especially as it relates to our role as citizens, in two separate passages in his letter to the Christians at Rome.

In Romans 13:1, he writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities...”

And in Romans 12:2, he says, “Do not be conformed to this world...”

In other words, for the good of their neighbors, Christians are to give their support and loyalty and pay their taxes to their government, even when they disagree with particular government policies. But when government asks us to do things contrary to God’s will or that are destructive of our neighbors’ interests---whether they’re the neighbors living in our suburban development or in Sudan---we’re to fight for what we think is right.

Put positively, we’re to love our neighbors as God loves us. We can do that in lots of ways, including our voting.

Christians are to be “in” but not “of” this world. That’s a habit of the heart we can adopt that will make our democracy---and our lives---work.

[You can find a complete text of the Bible here.]

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