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September, 2020 ~ written by Bill McDonald, an Elder at Highlands

“No, but I indeed come now, captain of the hosts of the LORD.” – Joshua 5:14

THESE are the times that try men’s souls.

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

(Thomas Paine, The Crisis No. I, 12/23/1776)

Thomas Paine penned these words in a time of great crisis in America. The Continental Congress had earlier that year declared independence from Great Britain, and the outmatched Continental Army was in the midst of a dual to the death with England’s finest troops. There is no way that Thomas Paine or the men who signed the Declaration of Independence could have known the ultimate outcome of their struggle. Nevertheless, they staked their future and based their calls to action on a faith in God’s providence for whatever the result might be.

So it was with Joshua and the young nation of Israel on the eve of their campaign to occupy the land God had promised them. There was no turning back. They had crossed the Rubicon (actually, it was the Jordan, but indulge me). They built a monument to mark the occasion. They circumcised the new generation that had come out of the wilderness, and they observed the Passover. The stage was set; they had done all the right things. And then came this strange encounter. Reading in Joshua 5:13 –

“Joshua . . . lifted up his eyes and looked . . . and a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ He said, ‘No, but I indeed come now, captain of the hosts of the LORD. . . . Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ ”

Today, it seems as though America is in the throes of another death match, but not with a foreign power that seeks to control us. Americans are in a struggle with one another. Rarely has there ever been such fundamental hatred and vitriol directed by Americans toward other Americans. I’m on the right side; you’re on the wrong side. How are we as Christians to behave in such an environment? What does it mean to follow Jesus’s admonition to be salt and light? How do we know which side is right, or which side God is on?

For many Christians the answer seems clear. God obviously is on our side, because we’re Christians. He clearly supports our candidates, i.e., those who favour prayer in schools and traditional marriage and who oppose abortion. Right?

Perhaps we should take a lesson from Joshua.

As Christians, we might be inclined to view God as being ‘on our side’, particularly when it comes to matters of social or political ideology. God is on my side, because I oppose this policy or support that position, or because I vote for this candidate and reject the other one. Make no mistake, we should vote our conscience and support causes consistent with biblical principles. But God’s providence is not subject to partisanship or identity politics. God is not a spectator of human affairs, who surveys the options and chooses which side to support. He is not driven by circumstances or institutions, and he does not take his cues from noises off. He sets the stage; he makes the rules; he directs the players.

This was his message to Joshua; God was not there to take one side or the other. Rather, he was in sovereign control of the entire affair. The question was, “Are you, Joshua, going to get on board with me?” (my paraphrase). This is the same question the LORD posed to Habakkuk, when the latter cried out for justice to be restored in the land. God’s reply to Habakkuk was basically, “Ok, I’m coming to restore justice and righteousness, but I’m not sure you’re going to like the outcome” (Hab.1:5).  Without a doubt, God is with those who trust in him through faith in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, he will bring about justice, righteousness, and peace. It’s just that how he does it may not be how we would expect; and, the result may not be exactly what we want.

As Christians, we must decide how we are going to respond in today’s environment of political discord and social unrest. We must choose which candidates to support and which causes to champion. But, remember also that our struggle is not with human forces. Ours is a spiritual fight, and Thomas Paine’s admonition over 200 years ago is just as relevant today for the Christian citizen of the United States. There may not be much that I can do to effect immediate change on the national political stage, but I can pray. And this has to be the present call on every man and woman in America who professes to be a follower of Christ.

  1. Pray that we as individuals and the church throughout the United States would be agents of peace, understanding, and reconciliation (you know, a redeemed community, reaching out at the intersections of life and culture).
  2. Pray that the common and special grace of God would prevail and that in his providence he would bring about peace where there is violence, and grace where there is hatred and vitriol.
  3. Pray for our leaders of all parties to exercise wisdom, judgment, and diplomacy; that they would be like the sons of Issachar, “who understood the times, with knowledge of what (their nation) should do” (1Chron. 12:32).

Our five-year old granddaughter started kindergarten a couple of weeks ago. At breakfast on her first day, this was her prayer – “God, thank you for my first day of kindergarten, and God please just be with me, and I’ll be with you.” As Christians in this chaotic society, we can be assured that God indeed is with us, no matter the outcome; but, before we’re too quick to pick sides and take action, let’s first make we sure that we’re with Him.