BABYLON 2020: The Morning After
I don’t lose sleep over who’ll win the election. What keeps me awake at night is reflecting on the misplaced hope Christians put in the outcome. Will it matter who wins the White House if Jesus followers lose their way?
The Visigoth Déjà Vu
When Visigoths sacked Rome, panic-stricken North Africans rushed to St. Augustine. Pagans complained that Rome fell because she abandoned her old deities. Christians lamented that the Roman state was no longer there to protect the church. The venerable bishop responded in a towering masterpiece, The City of God. In it, he refutedpagans by arguing that Rome would have collapsed long before if Christians hadn’t been her salt and light. He rebuked Jesus’s followers by asking, “When did the Church ever depend on the State for its security?” Augustine would calm our fears the same way on the eve of the 2020 elections.
Babylon on the Potomac
He spoke of two kingdoms: The Earthly City and The City of God. The Bible calls the first Babylon. Its number is 666. In Hebrew numerology, six is man’s number, and three is God’s. 666 is man declaring himself to be God. Babylon presents herself as creation’s alternative to the Creator. She offers everything that God has promised: prosperity, protection, pleasure, and peace—a man-made utopia masquerading as the paradise Adam lost or the one that the King of kings will bring when he returns.
The earthly city is also called the Beast in Scripture. Though her princes promise utopia, Babylon is a predator who prowls the earth in search of prey to devour. Thomas Jefferson said of her, “A government big enough to supply all you need is big enough to take all you have.”
Yet, because of our insatiable longing for paradise, the promises of Babylon are too seductive for most to resist. The Book of Revelation says that the Beast has a fatal wound. She dies, only to rise again: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottomans, Britannia, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and other empires. What is Washington D.C. if not Babylon on the Potomac?
Beware of 666
St. Augustine reminds us that we are not citizens of Babylon. We belong to The City of God. Jesus calls it the city on a hill which lights up the world. His Apostles refer to it as heavenly Jerusalem. It is the Bride of Christ in this world; real Christians who live as salt and light in Babylon. We must never forget that our citizenship is in heaven; that our Savior comes from there—and not Babylon [or the current USA version].
We live as exiles or sojourners in Babylon, but we do not belong to her. We are not to act like Babylonians, or share their values when they conflict with our Lord’s. We can never put our hope in Babylon’s promises to protect or prosper us. We must not fall prey to her politicians who promise to bring us some utopian paradise if we vote for them. Evangelicals dare not be fooled by those who appeal to our religion, promising to turn Babylon into a faux Jerusalem. If we swear our first allegiance to any political party or politician, we might as well have 666 stamped on our foreheads.
How Then Should We Live in Babylon?
In Jeremiah 29, the prophet writes a letter dictated by God to God’s people who’ve been carted off to Babylon. These exiles desperately long to return to Jerusalem, just as we long for the coming of the New Jerusalem — an everlasting paradise ruled by our Savior and Lord. But God tells them to embrace His plan for their lives: to remain in Babylon as sojourners; to build homes and gardens there; to raise their kids as children of heaven in a pagan society; to work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon; even to pray for the pagan rulers of that rapacious city state.
Fast forward some 2600 years later. We American evangelicals live one of the latest reincarnations of Babylon. Though we are bound for our heavenly homeland, we should pray for the prosperity of Babylon on the Potomac. We ought to work tirelessly for her peace and prosperity — not only for our own good, but also that of our families and neighbors. That means we should weigh carefully the character and policies of those who vie for our votes, and then vote for the best candidate possible. Like ancient Daniel, we can even be involved in the government of Babylon. Yet, like Daniel, we must think and act as our Lord commands, even if it lands us in a lion’s den. Those whose names are written in The Lamb’s Book of Life will never wear the 666 of Babylonian ownership [Revelation 20:4].
The 2020 Idolatry of Exiles in Babylon
Now for a word to heaven’s exiles on the eve of the elections. Many evangelicals have turned this into a referendum on the Christian Faith of those who are voting for the other candidate. They point out the bad behavior or bad policies of the other contender versus the better character and ideas of their man. Sadly, they excuse their candidate’s Babylonian behavior or policies as acceptable in the light of the other contender’s even worse persona or agenda. Some evangelicals are even convinced that their candidate is going to tame the Beast or, better yet, turn Babylon into a spiritual Jerusalem. They speak of their politician of choice almost in Messianic terms.
My concern is that evangelicals should not treat the Bible as a smorgasbord where we can pick and choose which of God’s commands we will ignore, compromise, or shrug off. The truth is: both candidates leave much to be desired when it comes to biblical behavior or policies. We may choose to vote for that flawed candidate because we feel, on balance, he will better promote the peace, prosperity, and better goodness of Babylon, but we should recognize and admit his flaws, lest we lose our own moral compass. Above all, we should never be seduced by the idea that either contender will produce some facsimile of spiritual Jerusalem [or a truly Christian America]. Only Jesus can do that. To think otherwise is to fall into Babylonian idolatry.
How evangelicals go about promoting their candidate of choice is of great importance. When we take to social media to bash people who disagree with us, or cut off family members who take the other side, or debate in ways that are not Christ-like, we have lost our way. If we are citizens of heaven, we cannot resort to the beastly ways of Babylonians. Our Savior is worthy of much better from those who represent Him in Babylon.
So, please don’t act holier-than-thou about this election. Avoid accusing your brothers and sisters of being unchristian if they vote for the other Babylonian prince. Remain humble, realizing that your candidate [though you believe he will best advance the good of this Babylon] is not without serious flaws. Above all, never fall into the trap of seeing your candidate as a savior or the guarantor of God’s blessings on America. Realize that history is His Story, and He sometimes raises up good princes only to bring down their realms, and elevates the basest rulers to bless a nation. God’s ways are inscrutable to mere mortals, but always perfect.
What’s at Stake?
Ultimately, it’s not the White House, State House, Court House, School House, or Congressional House. It’s the Church House, your house, and my house that are at stake. If the heavenly Jerusalem or its citizens lose their salt and light, if they abandon their Lord for the ways of Babylon, then the salt will no longer preserve the country our children will inherit. Light will be replaced by darkness and the Beast will surely be unleashed.
Our faith is at stake. Jesus said that not one part of a single letter of God’s commands will be done away with until He fulfills everything. Our Lord doesn’t give us the option of deleting or excusing anything in the name of social or political expediency. In his City of God, St. Augustine said that how heaven’s citizens think and behave in troubling days is more important than what becomes of the temporary Babylon in which they live.
Our children are at stake. They watch us worship Jesus as Lord in church. They hear us belt out hymns and praise songs that proclaim God’s sovereignty and provision. We tell them the stories of martyrs who stood tall in past reincarnations of Babylon. Then, they watch us come unglued at the prospect that our Babylonian savior de jour might not be elected — and then wring our hands at the prospect of a crisis that will take away our benefits, bring about even more perverse cultural changes, or force us to face some sort of persecution for our beliefs. Chinese Christians in labor camps and Christian martyrs throughout the ages, must surely shake their heads in embarrassment at our fragile faith. Certainly our children and grandchildren do.
Finally, bigger things are at stake. There are many reasons for the polarization and rage that have swept through both Babylon and heavenly Jerusalem. It’s as if hell has unleashed legions of demons to stir us up. Nothing could please the devil more than Christians battling each other instead of him. Imagine his delight at our spending far more time and energy in trying to turn Babylon into Jerusalem than in worshipping our Lord, living for His kingdom, and reaching our kids and neighbors for Him. His demons must howl in delight as the Church is compromised and corrupted by Babylonian politics, and our disillusioned children become Babylonians.
“Come Let Us Reason Together”
Jesus said to a wayward church in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” He wants back into the church and your lives as the Lord of our thinking and behavior. Every square inch of the church, our soul, and even Babylon belong to Him. Come January of 2021, the person that best fulfills history’s inexorable march toward his return will be in the White House. We will cast our ballots, but He will decide the outcome.
Those evangelicals who are in a dither about November 3rd, do well to hear the words of John Piper: “One day America and its presidents will be a footnote in history, but the kingdom of Jesus will never end.” Isn’t it foolish to battle for Babylon, to obsess and fear over who wins on November 3rd, when the New Jerusalem — the real and eternal paradise — awaits us? So, go vote your conscience. May the least-worst Babylonian win. May America, in spite of her sins and injustices, continue to experience peace, prosperity, and the freedoms that our Founding Fathers envisioned. And, may our Savior return even sooner!
In the meantime, dear 2020 exiles, try to hold on to the promises that God gave those discouraged sojourners in Babylon: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Dr. Bob Petterson