About a year before she died, my great grandmother Baker gave me a clipping she had cut from our local newspaper, the Port Huron Times Herald. Titled, “To Whom to Pray?” it had been submitted to the paper by someone signing themselves N. H. Collins. My father had recently given me a sturdy box he made in wood shop while in junior high school. I put the clipping inside. It was still there this morning when I went to get it out. As you read this, keep in mind that it was written in 1967.
“If religion isn’t making quite the progress that it should, perhaps its because government is beginning to replace a Supreme Being as far as prayer is concerned. What people used to pray to the Lord for years ago now comes from Washington, D. C., like `our daily bread,’ forgiveness of debts, and good health in the form of Medicare and Medicaid.
Just last week we got ahold of something which just about typifies the attitude of many today. It goes like this:
`The government is my shepherd; I need not work. It alloweth me to lie down on good jobs, It leadeth me beside still factories, It destroyeth my initiative. Yea, though I walk through the valley of laziness and deficit spending, I will fear no evil, for government is with me; Its dollars and its vote-getters, they comfort me; It prepareth an Utopia for me by appropriating the earnings of my grandchildren; It filleth my head with baloney. My inefficiency runneth over. Surely government shall care for me all the days of my life, And I shall dwell in a Fool’s Paradise forever.’”
No doubt you are all aware by now that our nation is in the midst of yet another political season. Indeed politics seems, these days, to be one sport (Mike Huckabee once called it a “blood sport”) that never has any off season. But for now let’s forget there is a campaign on. Let’s also forget any arguments you may have with the foregoing piece and look at the central issue it raises, for it really does invite us to ask ourselves the question: Which do we trust more to solve our most pressing needs, God or government?
Let’s consider what government has to offer. Of most concern to you, I would guess, is its numerous education programs. Government funds vast public universities and many smaller colleges across the land. By doing so it has kept the cost of education (comparatively) low. It also offers you student loans at reasonable interest to help pay the part of the cost left to you. It offers you a wide variety of jobs to apply for after you graduate as well as programs to help you rind work should you not wish to be a government employee. It offers a plethora of programs to help and protect you once you graduate and go to work. If you lose your job it will pay you unemployment. If you become disabled it will send you a Social Security disability check every month. If you need money to start or sustain a small business, it will loan you the money. If you become poor it will train you to do another job, pay your medical bills, give you a plastic card you can use to buy food, provide you with a small check for living expenses, and any number of other things. However I would advise you to remain in the “middle class” since, as of the past January, the middle class receives more government money per capita than do the “poor.” When you are old it will provide you with a monthly check and pay most of your medical bills. Throughout your life it will make strenuous efforts to protect you, both from the local gang-banger down the street and the terrorist on the other side of the world. What’s more, if you are so unfortunate as to be in the bottom 50% of earners and have a family, you will probably get all this without paying any income tax!
But if your education gains you a good-paying job, then pay taxes you will. Government will force you to repay your student loans (by deducting the payments from your income tax refund if it needs to). You will spend the equivalent of years of your life filling out its paperwork. It will compel your obedience not only to a vast and incomprehensible law code, but also to a myriad of regulations that rule every kind of work and many other of our daily endeavors. If you dare talk back to it, you will be told, as I was once told by a federal official, “Hey, we’re the government: You do what we tell you,” and all this notwithstanding Lincoln’s remark that this is a government, “of…by…and for the people.” All its medical programs will not guarantee you health. All its educational programs will not guarantee you a job, all its grants and loans will not guarantee you success, and it will not always (just watch the news) protect you from the gang banger or the terrorist.
God, on the other hand, offers you eternal life. That may not seem very important now, but believe me, the time will come when it does. I’m always amused by those ads that tell us that if we just do (or don’t do) certain things, we can reduce our chances of dying by 20%. Of course unless your name is Enoch (Genesis 5:24) or Elijah (II Kings 2:11), since Eden mortality has been 100%. Through His Son He promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20) and to never leave not forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He promises to meet our needs, both physical (Matthew 6:25-33) and spiritual (John 14:25-27). Indeed while He offers us no assurance that we will not face various kinds of adversity, He does make certain promises we can trust even when things aren’t going well. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” and gives the answer;
“My only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watched over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in Heaven. In fact all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly ready and willing from now on to live for him.”
If you want to look at a more complete list of all that God does for us, read Philip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. It was a bestseller, so there are sure to be plenty of copies around.
What’s more, it’s all free. You’ll never fill out any kind of Form 1040 for God. Everything can be had by trusting in His grace. And while He used to ask His followers to give 10%, he doesn’t even do that anymore, telling us instead that, “Each one should give what he has decided in his own heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion…” (II Corinthians 9:7). He even assures us that when we do have troubles, He will bring good out of it (Romans 8:8).
My wife and I have a friend named Scot Wrighton. An experienced city manager and professor of local government, Scot is also the administrator of Lavasa, a new city in India which is seeking to address many of that nation’s urban problems. He once said to me, “Dave, there are some things government can do for you. It is pretty good at policing and regulating. But don’t give `em your money.” I can think of two reasons for this. The first is that the cost of administration, waste and corruption is so high that relatively little of that money gets to the places where it is needed. (The government could learn a lot from Christian mission agencies here.) The second is that government is not very good at delivering on its promises. If the grandchildren of the 1960s generation are still paying off that era’s overspending, how much more will our own grandchildren be oppressed (immorally and unjustly) by paying for all the things we want our current crop of politicians to buy for us. Make no mistake: This is a moral issue. “Thou shalt not steal” means, among other things, “Pay as you go.” Besides all that (and I don’t have space to elaborate here) often big government causes more problems than it solves.
So during this election season, remember where our true hope lies. If we don’t, then it’s easy to foresee a time when big government doesn’t just ask us to trust it, but demands the allegiance that properly belongs only to God.
For Further Reading
Keller, Philip; A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (1970; Grand Rapids, Zondervan)
Levin: Mark R. Ameritopia: The Unmaking of American (2011)