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No. 7: The Tragedy of the Reagan Years

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 7
October, 1989
Copyright 1989, Biblical Horizons

When Ronald Reagan was elected to office in 1980, Christians were hopeful that there would be a real change in our national affairs. Reagan was known to be strongly anti-abortion — he even wrote a book against it. He was a fiscal conservative. He believed in Biblical morality. He was going to turn things around.

After eight years we were asking, "What happened?"

When Reagan appointed C. Everett Koop as Surgeon General, Christians were really excited. Here was a strong, self-conscious Christian who had teamed up with Francis Schaeffer to sound the alarm against abortion in our country. Surely this man would take a strong stand against corruption. Nobody figured that under his administration public tobacco smoking would be regarded as more dangerous than homosexual acts!

Again we wound up asking, "What happened?"

Some believe that Reagan and Koop were not really conservatives at all, but pawns of the Establishment. They were plants of the "conspiracy." Once they came to power, they threw sops to the Christians, and then did whatever the Power Brokers wanted them to do.

Others believe that these men, and others like them, simply lacked the moral fibre to stand for what they knew was right. They capitulated and compromised. They chose to listen to bad counsel.

I don’t wish to join the ranks of the Koop-baiters. I am not privy to all the facts, and I cannot make a full assessment of the reasons for his decisions, or those of Ronald Reagan. I believe, though, that the Bible sheds significant light on what we have seen these past few years. I cannot judge these men too severely when I open my Bible and find this in 2 Samuel 24:1, "Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, `Go, muster Israel and Judah.’"

Perhaps you remember this story. David took a sinful census — actually a military muster — of Israel and Judah. It was wrong to muster God’s host in a time of peace. As a judgment on this sin, God sent plagues upon the nation.

What a bad leader David showed himself to be! How could he have made such a terrible mistake? Well, we’ve seen the reason: God was angry at the nation and caused David to make this mistake. David was a man after God’s own heart. Yet in order to punish the nation, God withdrew His restraint on David’s sinful nature, and allowed him to sin.

This chilling story reminds us that "the king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1). If He decides to bless a nation, God can take a sinful ruler like Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar — or Constantine (or Gorbachyoff?) — and convert him (Genesis 41:37-45; Daniel 4). But if God decides to send judgment upon a wicked nation, He can take a good man and cause him to do foolish things by withholding His restraint.

I sometimes imagine that in a couple of years, Reagan and Koop will think back over their years in office and suddenly say, "How could I have let all these opportunities pass me by? How could I have been so foolish?" The answer is in 2 Samuel 24.

Christian activists need to bear these truths in mind. We can elect Christian after Christian to high office, but until God becomes pleased with us as a Church, those Christians will make one foolish decision after another. It is only "when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord" that "He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7).

I am not arguing against Christian involvement in politics. After all, who knows when God will choose to bless us? And also, political action can do a little good in restraining the tide of evil, if God blesses it.

But by far the most necessary Christian work is the rebuilding of the Kingdom of God. We have "bad" rulers because we are a bad people, and judgment starts at the house of God. Rebuilding the Church and the lives of Christians will do more to ensure good government than all the political activism in the world. When our ways please God, He will give us good rulers — and not until then.