Two Scripture passages jumped out at my from my sermon this past Sunday that go in the face of some popular thinking amongst American Christians. The first was Joshua 5:13-15. The Israelites have just entered the Promised Land after their 40 years of wandering and are preparing to do battle against the wicked civilizations within and take the land as their own. Joshua is talking to the commander of the Lord’s army (someone whom Joshua speaks to as if it’s God himself) and Joshua asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” We would all expect this commander (speaking as God and/or on behalf of God) to reply, “I am for you of course! You are the Israelites, my chosen people!”
The commander’s reply in verse 14 is surprising: “Neither…”
God is not pro-Israel.
I’m not trying to make a political statement here, I’m making a theological truth statement. God isn’t necessarily anti-Israel either. The point is:
God is pro-God. And he is pro-justice. He does not have a nationality and does not show favoritism to one nation over another.
Joshua is not a hero, God is a hero.
You don’t believe me? Will you believe Moses, whom God spoke through in Deuteronomy 9:4-7? Deuteronomy was spoken by Moses to the Israelites just prior to his death and their heading in to take over the Promised Land.
Deut. 9:4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
7 Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD.
The Israelites were used as an instrument of God’s justice because he chose to use them in this way, not because they earned it. I don’t think wickedness is a competition (i.e. well they were “less wicked” than the Canaanites so God chose them); what I know is that they were wicked as well, as the Old Testament plays this out time and time again (including God’s judgment on them for their wickedness by way of the Babylonians and Assyrians).
But God was never pro-Israel. Yes he had a covenant with them. A covenant that they broke. A covenant where they were supposed to show the rest of the world God’s reality, drawing the world to the true God. A purpose they failed miserably at. A covenant the New Testament now calls “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13) as it’s been replaced with the new covenant under Jesus.
It’s dangerous to think God is pro-Israel. For one, because Scripture is clear that this isn’t the case; look no further than the following two passages above. But it also leads us to think God is pro-America (just like the Roman Catholic emperors thought when they launched the Crusades, one of the biggest black eyes in Church history). As if everything America does is godly or that we have some special kind of favor on our land: it isn’t and we don’t. America is just as corrupt and greedy and sinful and plenty worthy of God’s judgment as Israel is, or any other country is. God is not pro-America. (nor is he necessarily anti-America) God is pro-God.
This seeps down deep to how we do church on the local church level. Churches continue to be segregated along racial lines. White churches have the vast majority of the resources, but continue to only plant new white churches, using white methods. Meanwhile sociologists believe white people will be an ethnic minority in the United States by the year 2050 (Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah). The global church in China and Africa is growing at a much more rapid pace than it is in the United States. Ethnic minority churches such as Latino and other immigrant churches are growing the fastest in America while the Western Euro-centric church continues to shrink.
It seeps down even deeper because let’s face it: white Christians (like myself) think we do church the best. We never really notice that we aren’t reaching people who aren’t white or that people who aren’t white have anything to offer us. When culturally volatile situations happen such as the riots in Baltimore or the Ferguson shooting and subsequent protests, our responses are formed by the white stories we have been raised on, rather than listening to our black brothers and sisters that we are supposed to be in community with, but aren’t.
White Christians go to other countries to bring them Jesus, thinking we do Jesus the best.
It’s wonderful to go to other countries to tell people about Jesus, but to think we do church or Jesus the best is to think God is a white European, which is arrogant, wrong, and foolish.
God is pro-God. He turned the moneychangers’ tables over in the Jewish temple in Matthew 21:12-13 and you can bet there would be plenty of tables he would be turning over in the American Church if he were walking in the earth today.
My point here is not to throw stones or to condemn, it’s to ask us to humble ourselves and to question what we have defined as the “acceptable” way to follow Jesus in America. It’s to honestly and humbly ask, “What tables would Jesus turn over in the American Church?” It’s for us to stop thinking our ethnicity has the corner on the best way to do things or that minorities need to adopt to our style rather than us adapting to theirs or that we have no blind spots or that it’s good if we continue to segregate our “superior” selves from others. My point is that when it comes to painful issues like race or immigration, we as white Christians only listen to white voices and preset white knee jerk reactions, rather than humbling ourselves and listening to God’s voice. A voice that speaks clearly in the Scriptures, but we typically can’t hear or see because we’ve applied too much ethnocentric glaze over top of it.
Praise God that he isn’t pro-Israel or pro-American or pro-Western Euro-centric thought. Praise God that he is pro-God!
What are you pro?
- Ep. 87: Dr. Peter Sung on the Post-Church Church - September 20, 2023
- Ep. 86: Cameron Horner on Disability in the Church and if God Still Heals - August 25, 2023
- Ep. 85: Dr. Terence Lester on how confronting buried racial history can build racial solidarity - August 9, 2023