There is a well-known story in Numbers 13 and 14. The Israelites finally get to survey the land God had promised to their ancestors, but as they scout it out, they find it filled with scary, giant people. They’re afraid, and so even though God promised to deliver them into the land safely, they refuse to go in. Because of their disobedience and fear, God exiled them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
It’s a familiar Sunday school story, but few pay attention to the peculiar verses that follow it. After learning about the consequence of their choice, the Israelites change their minds and try to take the land anyway. The result is utter defeat and a battle with epic losses.
It is in this story a large number of Christian Americans find themselves right now. It’s easy to read this story and laugh at the Israelites. Fools! How could they disobey God so blatantly, and then rush into the very thing He warned them He would not protect them from?
But God makes it clear how He wants His people to live and rule in His world. And when humans distort God’s goodness and design in favor of living on their terms, the result is always removal of the safety and security of home. An exile into a dangerous place we no longer recognize, a place where we are vulnerable, exposed, and scared. It is a road that leads to certain death.
In the days that have followed the breach on the US Capitol, prayers and hymns flood my social media feeds. There are posts of outrage and disgust, pictures of continued protests, calls for the tyranny to end, for justice to be upheld, for hatred to stop, for blessing to be poured out, and peace restored. But America does not deserve these things. America does not deserve God’s blessing.
On Wednesday, I did not join the Christian leaders who called believers to pray for the safety of our congress, our police, our leaders, or protestors. And I’m not ashamed of that.
I will not pray for the safety of those who chose to violate the law and ransack our nation’s Capitol. I will not pray for the safety of congressmen and women who have spent the better part of a year arguing and fighting about their own agendas while hurting people suffer another day. I will not pray for the safety of police officers who have, as a whole, turned a blind eye towards the brutality and unwarranted force they have been accused of perpetuating.
I cannot ask God to bless America. I cannot pray that He will protect us from the evil we have welcomed into our backyard.
I will not ask God for healing during a pandemic while we sit around fueling our disease with junk food and chemicals, willingly destroying our immune systems. I will not pray for wisdom for our leaders while we passively allow them to continue in their lying and conniving behavior, all as we herald the praises of whatever corrupt regime is on the way out or in. I will not pray for peace when violence is the method we employ to gain it. I will not ask God for justice in our elections when our black and brown brothers and sisters receive none in our streets. We cannot continue to bash in the skulls of unborn infants or deport the exhausted and starving immigrant at our border, sacrificing human lives to the god of our own convenience, and expect that God will strike down the evil in our temples of democracy. I cannot join fellow Christians in praying for others to see the truth when our own eyes are glued to our news feeds instead of His word. I cannot ask God to heal our land when our land is drunk on the blood of the innocent.
Whether we admit it or not, in the past year Americans have experienced oppression on their own soil like never before. We have cut off people’s livelihoods and locked down their backyards. We have abandoned people to die, needlessly and alone. Terror has erupted across our cities, our minority neighbors left even more victimized and villanized in its wake. We’ve cultivated new (and perpetuated old) social norms that defy common sense. In deep sadness, we cry out “this is not the America we know,” but it is the America we made. The reality is that we have long nurtured a way of live that robs people of dignity, and now we face the consequences of our dehumanizing actions.
To my praying and patriotic friends, we must recognize that the blood that flows down the Capitol steps is the same blood that flows down Main St. And it is all over our hands. But now we want God to come through for us. Now we want His justice. Now we want His blessings and His promises.
And so we find ourselves in Numbers 14, exiled in a wilderness of our own making. Life in a hostile environment, the bodies piling up around us, souls we doomed ourselves.
The hope, for me and many others, is Jesus. Actively, Jesus invites us to participate in renewal, unity, and goodness on His terms. We may have inherited the consequences of our grandparents failures. And we will undoubtedly pass on the outcome of our present horrors to our children. But every generation is given a chance. An opportunity to partner with God, to do things the way of His son. He won’t bail us out of our misery, and He won’t bless our evil. But He will offer us a chance to change. To seek real peace, to transform our minds, to live in goodness by the power of His Spirit in a world that is killing itself. It is to Him we owe our allegiance.
I cannot join in the petition to ask God for His protection, His blessing, or His justice for this nation. No. The blood of the innocent cries out louder than I, and I am drenched in it.
I can only beg God for His mercy, His forgiveness. I can only mourn this Babylon we’ve built with our own hands. I can only sit with a smile on my face, reading a choo-choo book to my toddler, praying for the strength and wisdom to raise children who can image Jesus in this ever-distorted world. I can only ask “How long, oh Lord?” How long until the City of God comes to transform the cities of men?