Give to God what is God’s

The General Election is over. The people have spoken. A new government has been elected. In our parliamentary democracy we have been able to vote for the people and party we want to govern us. It is a great privilege and blessing to live in a democratic country; a privilege denied to many people in our world today. In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln said the war was a struggle for the preservation of the Union and democracy, that he defined as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Jesus lived in a country ruled by a Roman governor where Roman soldiers enforced the so-called “Pax Romana”. It is interesting, therefore, to see how Jesus and his followers responded to the Roman Emperor and his absolute power. Jesus was once asked a question about paying Roman taxes, which were deeply resented by his fellow countrymen. Some religious leaders asked him, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” Jesus replied, “Show me a coin used for paying the tax. Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

The early Christians lived under totalitarian Roman rule and experienced cruel and unjust persecution. Men, women and children were imprisoned, crucified, and killed by wild animals in the arena to “entertain” wealthy and privileged Roman citizens. Yet Christian leaders, who were themselves eventually executed by the Romans, encouraged Christians to obey the authorities and to pray for kings and rulers. The apostle Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.”

So whichever party governs us, it is good to pray for them. Ultimately they are accountable not to the electorate but to God for the way they rule. Each of us must also face the challenge of giving to God what is rightfully his because he is the ultimate ruler of us all.

What happens when we forget God

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln approved a Senate resolution to proclaim a day for National humiliation, fasting and prayer on 30 April 1863. The President and the Senate “devoutly recognised the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations.” They affirmed, “It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.”

They acknowledged, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

This all seems far removed from Britain in the 21st century. We give the impression that we have outgrown the Christian faith and rejoice that we are a “progressive” secular society. But the reality is that we have “forgotten God” and are proud of our “superior wisdom.” This may explain why we are facing so many serious problems in every part of our national life. Some politicians have been dishonest in claiming their expenses; some banks have acted without integrity, threatening the financial stability of our country; sexual immorality is commonplace and accepted as the norm; the appalling abuse of children by media celebrities, and some church leaders, has come to light; the neglect and abuse of vulnerable people and the elderly in care homes has shocked many.

The Bible teaches us wisdom, which is practical instruction for life. This wisdom applies to us both as individuals and as nations. The book of Proverbs says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” It would be good for us to humbly acknowledge, both as individuals and as a nation, our sin and disgrace. Like Abraham Lincoln and his people we, too, need the blessing of the living God.