Unification News for May 1998

The Sovereignty of God

UViews May 1998

The most popular New Testament passage is probably John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, the whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." There are several theological affirmations in this verse, and the one I want to address here is that God loved the world. It doesn't say "For God so loved my nation," or "For God so loved my race," or "For God so loved my family," or "For God so loved me."

It is a subtle perversion of true Christianity to preach a gospel that God so loved me, or God so loved my race, or God so loved my nation, if by saying this we deny that God loves equally other people, other races and other nations.

This is not to deny that God loves me and that Jesus died for me. But the verse tells us that God loves me in the context of His love for everyone else. This affirms our common humanity, that we are equal in the eyes of our loving Father. Thus Christianity tells us that the world is one under God.

Every nation, therefore, should be able to see itself as one nation under God. But the ultimate cause for which God gave His only begotten son is not any particular nation over against other particular nations, but for the world, Hence, we are--or should be--one world under God. And one nation under God can only proclaim itself truthfully as "under God" if it is existing for the sake of one world under God.

The United States traces its spiritual roots back to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. Why? Why do we not acclaim the Spaniards who came to Florida, the French who came to New Orleans, the Russians who came to Alaska, or the Cavaliers who came to Virginia? The reason has to do with, as George Bush so eloquently put it, "the vision thing." The Puritans were possessed of a godly vision. This drove them here not to establish a nation. They came here, in their own words, to be a light unto the world. They came for the sake of the world.

They came, in other words, to establish a true Christian society. John Winthrop called their project to establish "a model of Christian charity." Back then, "charity" meant "love," as in Paulís 1 Corinthians 13, in which "faith, hope and charity" is now translated, "faith, hope and love." They came, in others words, to create a society founded upon Christian love. And the word, "model" is important. To be a model means that you intend to establish a standard which others can follow, from which others can benefit. Your sacrifice, therefore, is for the sake of others.

New England Spirit

The Puritans meant to create a model for England, Europe, all of Christendom and the entire world, of how a true Christian society should operate. That is, they did not come for their own sakes, but for the sake of the world.

And what they expected was nothing less than the Kingdom of God to arrive in England. Those were heady days. But the dream derailed with Cromwell's military dictatorship, and disappeared with the restoration of the king. At that moment, the Puritans turned to God and in prayer concluded that perhaps God's plan all along was not for them to be a model for the world. Rather, His plan was that they build His kingdom in America.

This is bittersweet. On the one hand, it was a golden moment in the development of this nation. But on the other hand, it was a narrowing of vision. America no longer existed by definition for the sake of the world. The scale of the dream shrank as a competing claim arose, that of a new nation. Americans now existed for the sake of Godís kingdom in America, not Godís kingdom in the world. The era to establish a model for the world turned into an era for the sake of God's work within our own borders. It was then that troubles began: fires, disease, wars with the Indians, doctrinal division, political factionalism. The Puritan divines referred to it as "God's controversy with New England." They anguished to discover its cause.

And so throughout our history we have had the tension between concern for the world and concern for ourselves. To put it into very broad strokes, this has expressed itself as expansionism and isolationism. For most of our history, the American attitude has been: "let us alone." But our inclusive spirit nonetheless expressed itself in our fundamental nation-building institutions. We established into law the means by which literal foreign states could be incorporated into the Union. In the process, these states surrendered a portion of their sovereignty. The states to which I refer begin with New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina, the original thirteen colonies. And this growth continued all the way to the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii.

And then at crucial moments, most importantly in the twentieth century wars against the central powers, the axis powers, and communism, America sacrificed herself, her sons and daughters, for the world.

And in an ongoing way, America has served the world. She has opened her gates to the downtrodden of the world, offering asylum from oppression, and economic opportunity. She has been the silent witness that democratic institutions, supported by religion-based education, morality, and faith in God, are the best way for humankind.

UN: Good News, Bad News

Today we see this historical tension manifested in obvious ways. Our zeal for one world under God, our intention to serve as a light for the world, took the form of the United Nations. But today the UN is rather controversial. The liberal left tends to support it, and the conservative right tends to oppose it. The opposition believes that the UN is anti-democratic and anti-Christian. They believe that the UN represents a major socialistic attempting to undermine the sovereignty of nations. To them, the UN threatens the power of nations to determine their own policies and destiny.

I read that a forthcoming book by evangelical leader Tim LaHaye offers the treatise that the Secretary General of the UN is the anti-Christ and his assistant is the Pope. Indeed, if the UN robs the nation of its ownership, it is the same as the nation robbing the citizen of ownership. Communism took us down that miserable road of ruin. The robbery of ownership is tyranny.

On the other hand, the UN represents the wonderful ideal of world peace. The left believes that the way to achieve this is through professional global management by well-chosen experts. Who can disagree?

The root question is the role played by God. The American founders agreed that if a sparrow cannot fall to the earth without Godís involvement, how can a nation arise without Godís involvement? To what extent is God involved in the UN? Where is Godís sovereignty? Through what religion does He speak? When it comes down to it, how deep is our faith in God's control of human affairs in general? What about our own lives? To what extent to we allow God authority over our lives?

God and My Marriage

One good place to examine this question of "Godís authority over my life" is right in the marriage bed. Simply put, where does my human scale of love end, and where does Godís divine love begin? Or, it may be better put, how can my human scale of love create a base for Godís love to enter? I gained a very helpful insight upon this from an unexpected source, a book by a young couple that details their conversion from Protestant to Catholic faith.

Scott and Kimberly Hahn are the co-authors of Home Sweet Rome: Our Journey to Catholicism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993). The Hahns were a young Protestant couple, very active in their church. In his early years as a Christian, Scott tells us, he went out of his way to attack the Catholicism, the whore of Babylon. Then, in Kimberly's Christian ethics class at an evangelical seminary, the topic of birth control came up. She chose to research the Catholic position on the issue.

Expecting to find dogmatism and oppression, she was surprised to discover a persuasive, God-centered argument against birth control. And folks, it has persuaded me as well. In the interests of ecumenism, I share it. But more importantly, in the interests of true love between husband and wife, I share it.

First I would mention that one Sunday morning, during his Sunday sermon, Reverend Moon looked at me and asked me if I use birth control. What he literally said was, "when you love your wife, do you use control?" Now, that was a difficult question, because I usually lack control once the love-making sets in.

Then the interpreter clarified that his question was, "do you use birth control?" I answered, "No, of course not," but I said that with a mental reservation. I did use a form of birth control, the "rhythm method." That is, I try to time relationships according to the fertile or infertile times of the month. But that, I realized after reading the Hahns, is not ideal, and here is where I was illuminated by them.

First, they explain that marriage is not a contract but a covenant. A contract is an exchange of goods and services, while a covenant involves "an exhange of persons." In marriage, I am giving myself, my whole being, and I am receiving my wifeís personhood, her entire being. The Hahnís learned that every covenant has an act whereby it is enacted and renewed, and the marital act, the act of love, is the covenant act in marriage. "When the marriage covenant is renewed, God uses it to give new life. To renew the marital covenant and use birth control to destroy the potential for new life is tantamount to receiving the Eucharist and spitting it on the ground." That is to say, the creative power of God is purposely destroyed.

"All the other covenants," they continue, "show Godís love and transmit Godís love, but it is only in the marital covenant that the love is so real and powerful that it communicates life. Ö So when Ďthe two become oneí in the covenant of marriage, the Ďoneí they become is so real that nine months later they might have to give it a name! The child embodies their covenant oneness.

"I began to see that every time Kimberly and I performed the marital act we were doing something sacred. And every time we thwarted the life-giving power of love through contraception, we were doing something profane.

"Scott and I," writes Kimberly, "were already committed to each other and to the Lord. The question was, Could God be trusted to plan the size of our family? The spacing of children? Would he know what we could handle financially, emotionally and spiritually? Did he have the resources to enable us to handle more children than we thought we could?

"At root I knew what I was wrestling with-the very sovereignty of God."

To this, I would add a further reflection. If I believe that God is the source of love, including the love I feel for my wife, then should I not allow God to be the initiator of the relationship? I realized that I was counting the days, deciding from my human perspective when I could love or not love my wife. This truly was an artificial approach, I realized. It prevented the spirit from moving. And I recalled many occasions that had revealed to me that my wife was not "keeping track." So I decided to let God be God and let love be love. Mentally and spiritually, it has made a big difference.

So, the question of Godís sovereignty applies not just to nations and the world. It begins with His sovereignty over my marriage and family.

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