Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4.17)
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14.34)
I’m not easily offended. I’ve inadvertently offended enough people in my time to grant license to others, assuming it’s never their intention to offend. The other day, however, I saw a t-shirt that truly galled me. “Designated Driver,” it said, with this below: “(I drive people to drink.)” The pun worked on a literal level, but it didn’t sit well with me. It seemed to indicate sober, responsible people are dull, boring, unpleasant company, etc. In this instance, I took offense for very personal reasons. My father lost his only sibling to a man who was too drunk to know he was driving full speed, lights-out, down the wrong side of a two-way highway. As often happens, the other driver lived. After serving time for involuntary manslaughter, he reunited with his family. Meanwhile, our family lives in hope of the day we’ll see Cyrus again. Had the t-shirt said I save lives or I protect families, I’d have hugged the guy who wore it. But picturing designated drivers as dull enablers rubs me the wrong way. Given my family’s tragedy, I find them uniquely exciting disablers. They perform a civic duty of highest importance.
With numerous national celebrations slated in July (Canada Day, Independence Day, Bastille Day), civic duty merits sober consideration for people of all faiths. God appoints us as His surrogates, to protect and care for His Creation—all of it. We serve as stewards of righteousness in our homes, our communities, our nations, and our planet. We’re essentially designated drivers. Our task consistently boils down to disabling potential harm to others by shouldering responsibility for their travel. To push the metaphor a bit, we’re charged to maintain sobriety, vigilance, and concern for the greater good. Sometimes this requires bold action to take keys from people reeling under the influence of popular poisons. Sometimes we forego indulging in our favorite intoxicants—behaviors and attitudes that make us high—to remain clear-headed so we can help the staggering and disoriented around us safely find their way home.
Separation of church and state is a divinely ordained principle. The Gospels record a well-known episode in which the Pharisees and their political allies attempt to trap Jesus with a civics question. First, they butter Him up, saying, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” (Mark 12.14) Then they come in for the kill. Having implied Jesus’s sole concern is obedience to God, they ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Their hypocrisy is transparent to Jesus. The group challenging Him verifies Israel’s religious and civic leaders have bedded down together. Their purpose is luring Him into a policy debate. Jesus doesn’t falter for a second, though. He shows them a coin and asks, “Whose face is on this?” They tell Him it’s Caesar’s face. That settles the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Jesus says, after which Mark notes, “And they were amazed at him.” (v17)
Jesus teaches politics and faith are mutually exclusive—but He stresses we’re to honor our duties to both. As followers of Christ and members of society, we hold dual citizenship. The laws of God’s kingdom govern our participation as individuals in human affairs. Paul brilliantly encapsulates divine governance in Romans 14.17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Our sacred and civic duties as designated drivers synch up in our commitment to righteousness, peace and joy. We embrace religious and political policies ensuring justice, amity, and personal happiness. On the other hand, we abhor all policies—church or state-mandated—that poison with deceitful rationales for injustice, strife, and human suffering. Our obligations as dual citizens of God’s kingdom and His world demand this of us. We’re ever aware service to God is service to others, and service to others is service to Him.
Righteousness Flows Up
Contrary to received thought, politics and faith don’t intersect in the public arena. They don’t meet in personal life. Their paths cross in the privacy of one’s heart. It’s there we retain the knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil. This holds true for everyone, regardless of faith or civic conviction. In Romans 2.14, Paul explains human beings’ instinctive capacity to know what’s right and good shows “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” Thus, righteousness flows up. It cannot be legislated top-down. It must grow in obedience to laws inscribed in our hearts, where desire to please our Maker is born and dwells.
Should we override our hearts, we can easily forget our responsibilities as Christians and citizens. While this is unfortunate in human terms, in God’s kingdom, it’s a prosecutable offense. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” James 4.17 warns. What’s more, the ramifications of neglect cross all borders. They shame God’s people and our fellow citizens. Proverbs 14.34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” In the midst of this month’s fireworks and anthems, as our pulses pound with patriotism and our lips recite idealistic platitudes, we hear our hearts call for righteousness. When that call drives our thoughts and actions, we’ll become worthy Christians and citizens, the designated drivers God would have us be.
It's our duty as people of God and citizens of the world to uphold righteousness and help those who’ve lost their way safely home.
Writing today’s post brought to mind a favorite Carole King song—“I Think I Can Hear You.” This is the only video I found of it, and its imagery appears chosen for personal significance. But as I watched it, the pictures still spoke to me as random images of life and how listening to our hearts leads us to righteousness. I hope you enjoy it. (And for my American friends, have a safe and happy Fourth!)