The Paradox

The Paradox-b

Today I’m going to be tackling a great paradox. This paradox has befuddled many a Christian and many a people: How is it possible that the development of a nation can be inversely proportional to an exponential growth in religiosity? For example, Nigeria has had an explosive growth in the number of “born-again” Christians, yet corruption and mismanagement of national resources is rife, and the level of poverty keeps rising. How is this possible!

The paradox seems contradictory to the claims of scriptures that righteousness exalts nations. Proverbs 14:34. This raises the question of exalted godless nations. How come they’re ranked high if righteousness exalts nations? The full text of Proverbs 14:34 reads: “Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” If righteousness exalts a nation, how do we explain the low ranking of nations with high percentage of Christians? Or is the poor image of nations with large population of Christians a reflection of religious hypocrisy? Or is the word of God fallible and inconsistent since some of these nations are exalted and others not?

The first thing to note is that the Book of Proverbs from which that quote is taken is a “practical” book. Proverbs makes wisdom accessible. It is less concerned with doctrinal historicism and it is not inspiratory. Contextually therefore the definition of “righteousness” in that scripture is about practical righteousness. There are three types of righteousness identified in scriptures: There is self-righteousness which predicates acquittal from God’s judgment on personal morality. It’s erroneous. There is the gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ. This is the basis of salvation. It cannot be earned. It’s God’s. Then there is governmental righteousness. It relates to governance of nations.

The quotation, Righteousness exalts a nation refers to governmental righteousness not personal righteousness. The word translated “righteousness” in that scripture is the Hebrew word “Tsadaqah”. It’s a derivative of “Tsedeq”. Tsedeq means doing the right thing whether nationally, morally or legally;  it means equity, prosperity figuratively, ethical rectitude, straightness, justice. It also means what ought to be. Therefore when the Bible talks about righteousness exalting nations, it means a nation will be exalted if it does right. This means a nation will be exalted when it does social justice, promotes equity and fairness. It means a nation will be exalted when fundamental objectives of state policy are designed to lift people out of poverty Governmental righteousness is about what ought to be, the pursuit of a national ideal. There is of course the moral component. There are the ethical dimensions of governance. It follows therefore that a nation full of righteous people but with wrongheaded policies will not be exalted.

The opposite is also true though politically incorrect: Proverbs 14:34 implies that a nation full of sinners yet with sound governmental and economic policies will be exalted. And so there is a clear distinction between the righteousness for personal salvation and governmental righteousness. Without governmental righteousness a nation will rank low in global indices, and may even disintegrate. There are thus two genres of salvation in scriptures: There is personal salvation which saves the sinner, and there is political salvation which saves a nation. Now you understand why Paul asks us to pray for rulers and those in authority, that there may be peace in the land. It is our duty as Christians to pray for those in government so they create governmental righteousness for the nation.

Praying for leaders to do what is right policy-wise preserves and exalts nations. And it is our duty to influence governance so government does right for the nation. The nation is our inheritance. Participating in government is even better. Then we get to craft the right policies for the good of the nation. But Proverbs 14:34 also leads us to an uncomfortable logic: Proverbs 14:34 implies the personal religious persuasion of a ruler is irrelevant to successful governance. Follows that an irreligious ruler who crafts good policies and does right with governance will exalt his nation. Follows also that a ruler who is Christian but formulates and executes wrongheaded policies will debase his nation. Why? Because it is not personal righteousness that exalts a nation, it is governmental righteousness.

Another issue Christians grapple with is understanding the global political order vis-à-vis God’s sovereignty. The sovereignty of God has nothing to do with the righteousness or non-righteousness of the people in a nation. God is king of all nations, including godless nations. So says Psalm 47. In other words, even though the then USSR forbade faith in God as state policy, God remained sovereign. State-sponsored atheism cannot affect the political status of God. He will always be Lord of the Universe. God’s sovereignty is not determined by human will since he didn’t attain it by referendum. “For God is the king of ALL the earth… God reigns over the nations”. (Psalm 47:7,8).

God’s sovereignty is not negotiable and cannot be overthrown. That is what David wrote about in Psalm 2: 1-12: “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.  Then he shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My king on My holy hill of Zion” “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’” Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little, blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”

Psalm 47 tells us the people of God constitute a political expression. The Church is a political entity. In Psalm 47:9 we see a general assembly of the nations of the earth. “The rulers of the world have gathered together with the people of the God of Abraham” (Ps. 47:9 NLT). This is a model for the creation of a POLITICAL platform for the interaction between the Church and State. The great commission of the church is the preaching of salvation to sinners. The second great commission is the enthronement of governmental righteousness to preserve and exalt nations. Vote in the coming elections to enthrone governmental righteousness.

© Leke Alder |