The last few weeks I have been caught up in the TNT worthy drama in Washington surrounding the passage of the. As the final votes were tallied in the House and Senate, I was saddened – though not surprised – by the decision of Congressional Republicans to vote almost unanimously against the package. In an attempt to defend their actions, Republicans have fallen back on their well-worn and counterproductive mantra of attacking government and labeling as wasteful any spending not done on behalf of the military. To be frank, I am sick and tired of hearing it. For the last eight years they have had the opportunity to demonstrate that their arguments for a deregulated government and a laissez faire economy are effective and it is safe to say that the experiment has failed. But what troubles me even more about this argument is that it is coming from the very same party that for so long has appealed to God as a justification for many of its policies. Yet now, when the party of the faithful is faced with legislation on the economy instead of abortion, God’s relationship to this bill seems to have been given no consideration at all. This omission has prompted me to wonder, “What does God have to do with the stimulus?”
Let me be clear, I am not saying that God has ordained this stimulus package. I am not saying I believe Jesus has a particular stance on whether we should spend millions on teachers’ salaries rather than tax cuts. Christians can have very legitimate disagreements over how government can best help its citizens. But I do think it is theologically flawed for those of us who believe that God is maker and sovereign of all things seen and unseen to think that God has nothing to do with the stimulus. I am concerned that as Christians, when we buy into the argument that there is no role for government in steering us toward recovery we are limiting God and denying a possible avenue of God’s grace.
There is a modern day parable that most ministers have used at least once as a sermon illustration (in fact I heard it again this past Sunday). A river is flooding and the surrounding area is under an evacuation. Retreating from the steadily rising water, one resident climbs onto his roof. A neighbor in a row boat, a Coast Guard boat, and a helicopter all come by offering rescue. To each one the man responds, “No. I believe in God. I have faith. God will save me.” The man drowns. Meeting God, the man lodges what he believes to be a just complaint that his faith was not rewarded. God responds, “I sent you a row boat, the Coast Guard, and a helicopter. What more do you want?”
Millions of Americans are suffering. They are being forced out of the homes where they have built their lives. They are putting off surgeries and doctor visits. They are wondering from where their next meal will come. They are praying for a miracle. Government has the tremendous capacity to transform lives on a scale that private citizens and charities never could. Every number in the stimulus bill translates into a life. A $2,500 increase in tax credits for higher education is tuition for the girl who is the first person in her family to go to college. $30 billion to energy initiatives is a green job that cannot be outsourced for the father who was laid off. $100 million for Emergency Food and Shelter is a life line for a mother and her children with nowhere else to turn. $2 billion for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program is a home for the young couple just starting out.
In church I was taught to sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Tuition, a job, food, a home – each of those is a blessing to me. Now, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ascribe the will of God to any bill. But, I also believe that it is an incomplete Gospel that does not permit government to be an instrument of God’s mercy and compassion. Government is not the answer to all our problems, not by a long shot. It will take all of us working together, private sector and public, faith-based and secular, activist and entrepreneur for our nation to come out on the other side of this crisis. But to deny that government can have any role in transforming human lives is to limit grace.
As I hear about the debates in Washington and the discussions happening around kitchen tables, I cannot help but wonder, were we to bring a complaint against God for the struggles of this time, would God respond, “I gave you an historic election to choose bold leaders for the challenges you saw coming, the ingenuity to discover how your political, civil, social, and religious institutions can work together for the common good, and the capacity in these dark times to choose hope over fear. What more do you want?”