In just a few hours our president plans on holding a non-denominational inter-faith service to help the country and the city of Boston cope with the effects of the massacre left by the bombs exploded.
Certainly such a service should be held, however, when the officials cannot even agree on whether this should be treated as a crime scene or a terrorist attack how can such a service help us cope?
This sort of confusion over the issues points to a greater moral confusion in our country. Does this matter? Yes! We deal with a crime scene by collecting evidence for a trial and justice through our penal system. We deal with a terrorist as an enemy combatant without such legal privileges and due process. What we call an event determines how we respond to it. In a world where right and wrong consistently blurs to the point where we cannot accurately call an event like the one in Boston terrorism, it is no wonder that we cannot agree on other more complicated and personal moral decisions.
The headlines this week read “Marathon Terror”. I can think of no better way of describing a life without a clear understanding of right and wrong or good and evil. We must be able to label activities and events as well as intentions and thoughts in order to adequately deal with them and cope with the aftermath. If we label a serial killer as sick we imply he only needs a doctor. If we label him as misunderstood, then he only needs a platform to help us to understand him. If we label him as a menace to society, the only thing he needs is to be secluded from society. Only when we call a man a sinner can we introduce him both to justice and to the Savior.
Unlike some, I applaud the president and other officials in our government for realizing the need to help the citizens of Boston and our country cope with this Terrorism. Even so, I fear that without a clear understanding of how we label the actions of men, we are moving towards a religion of the state.
With such a religion of the state, the president operates as “pastor & chief” (thank Andy Stanley for the designation). In the non-denominational multi-faith service that the president officiates, his moral and spiritual labeling for an event officially destroys religious liberty. The moral and spiritual narrative that people hear comes from the president’s televised lips. What can the words of an ordinary pastor do to compete with his official word?
When the President holds such a service and does not allow every religious speaker to give his interpretation while himself being silent, he automatically takes the position of “pastoring” the nation. How many will hear him call for justice to be served and offer sympathy to the victims and assume that this adequately addresses these attacks? In a post-Christian culture with many religions and atheism(s) represented what do Christians do when the President, a professed Christian does not explain sin and salvation the way that we do? Should we be opposed to the “tolerant” religion of the state that comes up with a unique system of justice and atonement based upon the words of the “Pastor & Chief”?
I think of one verse that can help us here. Matthew 22:21 says “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Rome celebrated the emperor as the divine god who had all earthly authority. Taxes, respect and even worship were due to him. If Caesar said to pay the tax; Rome coined the money, hired the tax collectors and the citizens paid the tax. Caesar’s words, image, and authority determined for Rome the right response. The refrain “Caesar is Lord” became the early church’s main point of contention with Rome since they confessed “Christ is Lord”.
To be sure, we are not in the same place as ancient Rome, however the early church formulated their response to Caesar based on the Jesus’ answer to this question asked to him. Jesus made it clear that Caesar answered to God. Why? God, by his own authority declared man’s creation. He stamped man with his image. He further issued his Word to give his standards. Finally God offered his own system of justice for sin. The only payment for sin is death and the only way to avoid the penalty is perfect life. Christ’s perfect life and horrific death is offered as the substitute for all sinful mankind. Further God in Christ has the authority to forgive and grant to sinners payment for their sin. Any authority Caesar had or our president has is a mere reflection of God in Christ’s ultimate authority.
It is here that the Christian gospel offers something far greater than our “Pastor & Chief” can ever offer. America will either prosecute or eliminate the culprits of this terror. Even so, our nation will not likely ever judge whether or not President Obama or any of the millions looking onto this terror acted rightly at this time. Even if America never apprehends the culprits Christ will judge them perfectly. Our Savior, Jesus will judge all sinners for their known transgressions or their secret indulgences. The only way to receive his forgiveness and payment for sin is to repent, surrender, and reverence Christ as Lord.
Reminding the world that “Christ is Lord” offers us true comfort, since in Christ’s ultimate, all-expansive judgement, no one escapes justice. Some will pay their own penalty with their death. Others will turn away from the rule of their selfish desires and turn themselves over to the rule and reign of Christ. Even from “Marathon Terror” Christ can show himself to be in charge as he saves and forgives repentant sinners while judging rebellious sinners.
This also allows us to hear our “Pastor & Chief’s” words and decisions and heed them. Why? We know that he answers to God for his leadership while we answer to God for our respect and obedience to earthly authority as servants of God. Further when the President does not accurately speak about sin, suffering, and the Savior we an offer the gentle, respectful reminder to ourselves that “Christ is Lord”. We do not have to judge the President, the Lord will.
Some of you will balk and say, “What if a President wants to prosecute and execute those who speak about sin and about the Savior?” My answer is the same. “Christ is Lord.” If in this life we as believers must be thrown into the fire or into the lion’s den for what we believe about the Lord Jesus, we know that in the end He will judge us righteous and our tormentors as worthy of condemnation. If we know Christ as our Lord, then we do not have Marathon Terror. With Christ as Lord we are ready to run the Marathon for Him in spite of the Terror.