America is going through hard times economically, socially, and politically. Does Jesus have a message for Christians in America? And if so, what is it? The best place to look is the word of God.
In some respects our situation resembles that of Israel in the late sixth century B.C. whom the LORD addressed through the prophet Haggai:
You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. (Hag 1:6)
Thirty years earlier the Jews had returned from exile to the promised land and were trying to reestablish their life as a nation. But it was rough going. Not only did they face economic problems, but Samaritans were constantly hindering their efforts to rebuild the temple through intimidation and political machination. The people were discouraged.
When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty (Hag 2:16).
That sounds a lot like our stock portfolios and the value of our real estate!
What was Israel’s problem? The LORD explains:
I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD (Hag 2:17).
An alternative translation of the Hebrew reads, “yet you brought nothing to me.”
Israel’s problem was its failure to turn to the Lord, its failure to put God first in their lives in very concrete ways. They needed to repent. They needed to put worshiping God and obeying his word above the other concerns in their lives. An earlier prophecy in Haggai explains that the people’s economic hardships were due to misplaced priorities:
You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce (Hag 1:9-10).
God’s people were focusing on their own affairs—their houses, their livelihoods, their families—all legitimate concerns, except that they were neglecting God’s affairs, the temple that lay in ruins.
In America’s present difficulties I have noticed that most Catholics and other Christians have primarily sought human political, budgetary, and investment solutions to the problems in our personal lives, government, and church.
While prudent human responses are necessary, they are secondary. The primary solution is to turn to the Lord and to put building his house as our first priority.
Jesus is saying, “Seek me. ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you’” (Matt 6:33).
The restoration of our personal and national wellbeing won’t be achieved by the next election, no matter who is elected. It depends rather on prayer, fasting and a change in our priorities that is expressed by a change in what we do.
Part II of this post will explore the solution in greater depth drawing on the prophet Malachi.