The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders

This morning, I was in Washington DC, spending half a day with my good friend, Doug Mikkelsen, an Army chaplain (the Guard) who had been called to duty to provide support for the inauguration. It was stimulating to walk amid this epicenter of history and power. The city still buzzed with energy and excitement (yes, hope). Streets were still closed, bleachers still out along the parade route. In front of the Capitol, thousands and thousands of chairs still sat. Litter and porta potties everywhere. Vendors hawking Obama/Biden wares.

I welcome hope, whenever and however it comes. I wish President Obama well. More than that, I pray for it. And I believe that President Obama has a unique opportunity – if he will take it – to move our country toward a third way, past some of the polarization that has gripped our political psyche for the past two decades.

However, I must be quick to say that I don’t believe – not for one moment – that the deep healing our world needs can ever be found in a man or a government of men. We can do much good in this world (and we ought – by God, we ought). However, we can never do enough. History stands littered with the cycles of human peace and violence. For every shining moment, a shameful page offers a dark balance. Hear our human story: hear a recurring saga of promise and disappointment, achievement and disaster, peace and savagery.

Some will say that this is the invetible path forward, that we will keep trying and will (hopefully) one day get it right. I wish it were so, but I don’t believe it. I believe we keep self-destructing because something is wildly amiss, something we simply can not fix. Something has gone tragically awry within us – and we need One to heal us, One to return us to our intended design. Might our unflagging hopes hint to us that something is deeply good and true about us? And might our persistent failures to grasp and maintain this hope hint to us that we are simply lost and will never – on our own – find our way?

I pray that President Obama will be an agent of justice in this world, but I also resist the notion that any woman or man (or nation or league of nations) will ever be able to bear the burden of making us right again. Only God can do that.

Bishop Wright put it about as well as I’ve heard it during his Christmas message:

We have of course just witnessed a kind of secular version of Isaiah 9. The election of Barack Obama has been hailed with wild delight around the world. …The whole world was hungry for hope, and now Obama, who is indeed brilliant, charming, shrewd and very capable, is being told that the government of the world is upon his shoulders, and we expect him to solve its problems. Poor man: no ordinary mortal can bear that burden. Nor should we ask it of him. The irrational joy and hope at his election only shows the extent to which other hopes have failed, making us snatch too eagerly at sudden fresh signs. And that can only be because we have forgotten the Christmas message, or have neutered it, have rendered it toothless, as though the shoulder of the child born this night was simply a shoulder for individuals to lean on rather than the shoulder to take the weight of the world’s government.

P.S. I know that about eight months ago I said I would tell a bit about my interview with N.T. Wright. And I will, I promise I will. But not today.

3 Replies to “The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders”

  1. Thanks for saying with a lot more grace and articulation what I have been struggling to come to grips within myself.

  2. Winn, very good thoughts that I hope I can borrow as I converse with those who know I voted for Obama. They seem to think I have placed my hope in him … no, never. My hope is in Christ alone. I am concerned also at the extreme amount of responsibility that is being placed on Obama as I am certain he will fail at carrying that burden. My hope is to follow in THE Way of Jesus no matter.

  3. Thank you, David and Cynthia. It’s so easy to put our faith in other places. I hope to resist that. I’ll join you.

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