Dealing with the Debt Ceiling Disaster

“The alcoholics in Congress, after much deliberation, have decided to cut one of their nightly 14 beers.”

So posted Jeff, a friend of mine, on Facebook after details of a deal to raise the debt limit finally fell into place.  Jeff raises an important question about stewardship: how can we feel good about small improvements made on a runaway train needing massive correction?

While Congress and the President sigh in relief after avoiding a self-imposed disaster, we are left confused about how we should feel.  Should we be proud of the old guard who couldn’t get it together until the last second?  Can we celebrate the not-so-brilliant leadership of the President and a White House who turned out to be almost entirely dependent on an old hand from the Senate?  What does this near-crisis mean for those who saw the Tea Party’s unwillingness to compromise as our path toward political renewal?  What will keep our world together?

At this point I imagine Christians are disheartened about, “taking back America,” for Christian values, and I think that’s probably a good thing.  The course of debate over issues like abortion, gay marriage, wise stewardship, and principles of education has highlighted the fact that our leaders do not have God’s desires in mind.  We see clearly that the true front lines of morality are human hearts rather than the halls of power.

And yet we watch this crisis and ask if there is a better way.  What should we demand from our leaders?  Are we allowed to feel anger?  What is the role of a sojourner and an ambassador in a land that is not our own?

These questions are not new.  When Plato imagined his ideal republic, he placed its governance in the hands of the philosopher king: the one who both seeks knowledge and has power.  More accurately, one who loves wisdom and wields authority.

These two components, wisdom and authority, get to the heart of our political longings.  We desperately want governmental leaders to make the best choices, efficiently and effectively.  When we cry out for justice, we seek neither the foolish, self seeking power of the dictator nor the wasteful, life sucking void of the impossible socialist state.  Instead, we ask for balance that gives full credit to each ideal without stealing the blessings of the other. But as negotiations between Democrats and Republicans failed and failed again, we were forced to admit to ourselves that representative politics has less to do with balanced leadership and more to do with power consolidation and public perception.

Thankfully, the Christian outlook compels us to consider a better way. In Christ, wisdom is no longer a path in a dark wood, traversed by a few starry eyed old men.  Instead, it is a blessing bestowed upon mankind in a myriad of ways, available to all who would seek it.  Carl F.H. Henry says wisdom, “focuses on a connection of a wise and good life with a regard for the givenness of the world and of life, as an orderly context for human decision and deeds.”  In other words, Christian wisdom is still to be sought, but it is sought with an absolute trust that it can indeed be found, because God provides it in ways that are within our grasp.

That is one among many reasons the church is so important.  Though individually we are weak creatures lost in a confusing world, together we are a repository of experiences, stories, blessings, gifts, sorrows and joys. For the church, no challenge is new and no wound is too deep.  When you invest and immerse yourself in the body of Christ, you access deep wells of godward wisdom you might never find on your own.

Authority, too, is changed by the good news.  While we once sought a definition of authority to suit our time and context, for the Christian, authority is a simple matter of God’s right to declare what is and is not for His glory.  True authority is found not in the creative energy of the strong, but in the humble hearts of the meek. That is why the church must constantly compare our leaders to the witness of Scripture.  Though we are all broken and full of mistakes, still our collective demand of leaders great and small is this; “Give me Christ, or else I die!”

America, despite its many blessings, is not our home.  Instead we long for and believe in a land where Justice is the fullest expression of love, compassion, strength, and righteousness.  We look to a time when all wrongs will be made right and all crooked ways made straight.  We trust in a God who provides endless wisdom and complete authority on the basis of his person and character. And to an increasing degree, we look closer to home for pictures of His reign.

Each morning, when my son wakes up, he looks to his leaders for wisdom and authority.  Sometimes his leaders argue and debate.  Sometimes they are overly harsh and sometimes they are overly permissive.  But each little step is important, because it will form the basis for who he becomes and how he lives later on.  And as my wife and I participate in his life, we pray desperately for God to give us compassion, wisdom, and clarity in pointing our son toward Jesus.

As Christians, we see things differently.  At one time we placed our hope for the future in the hands of our political leaders, asking them to handle governance with wisdom and authority.  But now we see real wisdom and real authority as derived from our loving and active Creator.  And maybe it is little stories like yours and mine that truly tell us what His kingdom is and will be like.

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.


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