GUILT BY ASSOCIATION - Week of October 30th

By Judy Nichols

October 30, 2016


    We so frequently hear political candidates try to discredit their opponents by associating them with others. One says electing his adversary would amount to "more years of the same failed policies." The other says his rival shows poor judgment by the unsavory people or groups he is connected to. It’s called guilt by association, and it is a prevalent campaign tactic on both sides.

    Also during election cycles we often hear 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted. "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." It is a wonderful promise, but I wonder if we ever truly live up to the conditions it sets. What exactly would it look like for us to humble ourselves? In Old Testament times people would tear their clothes, pull out some of their hair, or wear sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their humble repentance or mourning over sin. Our society is much less demonstrative, and people who did that would probably be recommended for psychiatric treatment. We do pray and seek God’s face, but how can we who know and trust God turn our nation from its wicked ways when we don’t participate in them and have very little influence over the culture at large?

    No one would deny that our society is in desperate need of healing. Our sins have mounted up to heaven. But part of our problem is that we have excised the vocabulary of God from our speech. We call murder "choice;" we call adultery "having an affair." We call covetousness "upward mobility." We call idolatry "self-actualization" or any number of other things. We call stealing "redistribution of wealth." We call lying "plea bargaining" or "stretching the truth." We have accepted breaking the Sabbath, dishonoring parents, and taking God’s name in vain as part of normal life. A first step in humbling ourselves before God is to recognize that we are not dealing with social ills or bad policy or dysfunctional behaviors but with sin, and sin is utterly repugnant to God.

    I’ve never had an abortion or an affair. I’ve never been one to strive for upward mobility or self-actualization. I don’t steal; I try not to lie. I do my best to honor the Sabbath, God’s name, and my parents. But because I am part of a nation that violates these standards of God’s, I am guilty by association. And my complicity is evidenced by my failure to act to try to prevent or reverse such actions. My proper response to this should be grief over this great sin and repentance before God.

    It may seem silly to repent for sins I haven’t personally committed, but there are more than ample Scriptural examples of that very thing. Near the end of the seventy-year exile in Babylon, Daniel began seeking the Lord with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. He prayed, confessing the many sins of the Israelites, acknowledging the righteous judgment of God against them, recounting God’s goodness and mercy in His previous dealings with them, and imploring Him to forgive not on account of any merits of their own, but on account of His great compassion. (See Daniel 9:1-19.)

    Nehemiah was instrumental in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after the exile, but his plan began with repentant prayer. "I am praying . . . on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You" (Neh. 1:6-7). Later when Ezra the priest learned that the Israelites had intermarried with the surrounding nations, he "tore [his] garment and [his] robe, and pulled some of the hair from [his] head and [his] beard, and sat down appalled" (Ezra 9:3). And he prayed, "O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens" (v6). He then recounts their history of unfaithfulness to God, their captivity and plunder, God’s goodness in allowing them to return and rebuild the temple, and their present failure to observe His command to not align themselves with the uncleanness and abominations of the surrounding nations (see vv. 7-15).

    These three men all felt a strong sense of family or national identity. As part of a whole that was corrupt, they also felt corrupt. Another problem with our relating to the sinfulness of America is our sense of independence. We don’t feel strongly related with the whole of American culture. Even smaller communities sometimes have only a vague sense of unity today. If we can believe that we are identified with Christ as a member of His body, then certainly we should be able to identify ourselves as part of the whole of our very broken society.

    It is fair to say that there is more than enough about 21st century America that is offensive to God, whether we personally are involved in any of it or not. It is also an understatement to say that God has blessed us abundantly and has thus far "requited us less than our iniquities deserve" (see Ezra 9:13). Isn’t it time that the church of the living God began to mourn our national abominations and seek His mercy and forgiveness? In the end, it is our belief in the truth of Jesus’ words that spurs us to this action. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 18:18-19). What we do and say in the here and now has consequences in the heavenlies and on earth. This is the greatest tool we have at our disposal by which we can turn our nation away from its wicked ways. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but Jesus said it, and it’s time we believed it and followed through.

    Can’t get worked up about other people’s sins? Ask God to let you know how He feels about abortion, divorce, corruption, greed, or the many idols we put ahead of Him in our national priorities. Believe me, He is able to communicate this to you. And when He does, you will know that he is correct in His judgment. Do this: read through Romans 1:18-32 substituting "we" and "us" for "they" and "them" wherever they appear, and pray this passage back to God. We are guilty by association and we need to repent on behalf of our culture and cry out to God for His mercy. Those who disregard God’s principles and are dragging our nation into the gutter won’t, so who else will?

© J.H.Nichols 2008

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