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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

ISIS, America, and the Kingdom of God

Paris. Belgium. San Bernardino. These events are etched in our collective memory as recent events in which our worst fears briefly became a reality, the moment the violence of ISIS impacted the lives of the unsuspecting Western world. As we watch the images of civilians being pulled away from carnage and wrecked subways, we wonder which city will be next, and if it might effect our own all-too ordinary work commutes.

As our presidential election carries on, our candidates make promises and outline plans to assuage our fears. They tell us ISIS isn’t as strong as we think, or list all of the allies we can organize to aid us, or they say they’ll said American troops to do what they do best, kill the bad guys and make American great.

While it is wise to have a plan of defense for our people, what is troubling is the American people’s response to these promises. They cheer, excited at the prospect of America causing the death of more Middle Easterners, even those that are innocent. They puff out their chests and say, “Yes, we’re America, the one that puts down all evil in the world and we’ll stomp out anyone who dares to oppose us.”

Too many in these crowds profess to be Christians, and it has to make the thoughtful observer ask, “What kingdom do these people actually belong to?” It is easy to say that ISIS is one of the kingdoms of this world, marked by violence, especially towards Christians, but our response has often resembled the Crusades rather than the biblical narrative that should define the Christian life.

The biblical telling of Christ’s incarnation sets up a stark contrast between His Kingdom and the kingdoms of this world. The story of Christ’s birth is surprisingly political. The familiar details of his birth in a stable in Bethlehem and his slumber in a manger occur because of a census handed down from the emperor of Rome that had forced his parents to travel to their home town of Bethlehem (see Luke 2:1-3). Now, He is not referred to as “Jesus of Bethlehem” because of another political event. Herod, who served as king over the land of Judea under the authority of the emperor, saw the birth of Christ as a direct threat to his own political power (see Matthew 2:3), and he ordered that the young child be killed, forcing Jesus and his parents to flee.

In Christ’s ministry as an adult, His battle with the kingdoms of this world took on added spiritual significance. “Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:31-32 NIV). St. Paul provides additional details that are helpful in identifying the prince of this world: “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). This prince that Christ has come to cast out is the evil one, the accuser, the serpent who first tempted mankind in the garden with the allure of power (see Genesis 3). It should not be assumed that this is merely spiritual, disconnected from what occurs in our political world. The prophet Daniel blurred the lines between the devil and the literal kingdoms of this world when he recounted the words of an angel in a vision: “But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia” (Daniel 10:13). Daniel presents a spiritual battle that involves the ruler of an earthly empire, showing the connection between the two figures. These kingdoms are the outworking of the serpent’s original temptation, to entice humanity to set up its own rule against God.

Christ’s own battle with the kingdom of this world is brought to a climax in His trial and crucifixion. He is brought face to face with a prominent, but corrupt religion and the great empire of His day, Rome. He stands before them and is found guilty of blasphemy against their understanding of God and of treason against the kingdom of this world. Though they find Him guilty and put Him to death, on the cross He bears the wickedness of this world and three days later is raised again, victorious over the evil forces that put Him to death. In the last day, He stands as King and Judge over the empires that set themselves up against His rule. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:11-15 NKJV), fulfilling the vision of Daniel 2, in which the empires of this world are overthrown and God’s Kingdom is established forever.

The current prevalence of patriotism in the face of ISIS has no place within this framework. As Americans, we have looked at one kingdom of this world and have turned to another for aid rather than the Kingdom of God. That America is just another kingdom of this world is easily proved; we are a nation that has endorsed and institutionalized what God hates; we allow the murder of unborn children, oppress the poor, reward and encourage greediness, perpetuate racism, and have been redefining sexual ethics for a century, things we should stand against as people of God. And these are not just anomalies; these things have been part of the DNA of America from the beginning, a nation that has been built on the backs of slaves and marginalized immigrants. America has never been anything other than just another kingdom of this world.

As we witness the threat of ISIS, and the threat of America, we should not place our trust in other earthly kingdoms. When the young nation of Israel was threatened by the Assyrian empire, they turned to Egypt, another empire that had enslaved them years before, but all these kingdoms failed them. In the end, the only response they could have was to turn to God in repentance and prayer (see Isaiah 36-37). We are called to place our full trust in our King, and join in the prayer of Hezekiah; “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God” (Isaiah 37:16-20 NIV).

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