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Community of Faith: Whose side is God on, anyway?
“Dad, why are we losing the war if God is on our side?” So went my earnest question at age 15 as I tried to get a handle on Vietnam — the Big Topic consuming my family with two draft-resisting brothers and conventionally patriotic parents.
My dad paused to think. He didn’t punt and he didn’t patronize. He looked me in the eye and told me gently that it’s not so easy to know whose side God is on. I don’t think he said much more than that, but it shocked me — the possibility that God might not be on ‘our’ side. And what a gift, this theological shock, from my not-at-all-pious Republican father. The take-home for very pious me, even then: A little humility is in order here.
This question of God’s allegiance survives and thrives in our contentious political culture. God is enlisted for all sorts of causes with great certainty and pride, perhaps most blasphemously in support of absolute gun rights. “We believe in God and guns. If you’re trespassing, you’re about to meet both,” goes one popular meme. “Anti-gun = anti-God” states another. “The Second Amendment…guarantees our God-given right to defend ourselves, our families, our property and our freedom,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (Missoulian, June 20, 2021).
Of course there’s nothing new about taking God’s name in vain. The commandment about that one has been on the books for about 3,500 years. We humans are prone to hitching our favorite passions to Divine Authority, aiming to slam-dunk arguments. But it is still blasphemy because it reviles the holiness and integrity of God. How else can God be made an accomplice to murdering trespassers and defending private property rights with the threat of violence? The God of Christians and Jews orders us to forgive trespassers (The Lord’s Prayer), welcome the outsider (Deuteronomy 10), love our enemies (Matthew 5), return property to the original owner in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25), and turn the other cheek in response to violence (Matthew 5). There’s simply nowhere that Jesus tells anybody to turn an AR-15 with a bump stock, or a little pistol for that matter, on an intruder.
Who is the god being invoked here, anyway? My theological father Martin Luther has a pretty basic take on the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods: “A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need…. The trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol….That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God,” (Large Catechism).
Sisters and brothers, if your god is a gun, be honest and say so. If you would rather follow the God of Moses and Jesus, go for it. But you can’t do both. Read the Book.
The Rev. Jean Larson is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She can be reached at [email protected].
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