Every day, I watch the news on television - the oil spill ruining our seashores, the war in Afghanistan, the problems on America's borders, millions of people out of work, our outrageous national debt, the polluted government. It's time to pray for America. I would refer to the Bible verse from II Chronicles 7:14: "If my people which are called by my name will humble themselves, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sins, and heal their land."
- P., Raleigh, N.C., via e-mail
My first advice to you is to stop watching the news.
There is what one newspaper calls the "pessimism bubble" that's been inflated by the depressing events in our country and the world.
I've often written about the way faith and the community of faith provided by organized religion can help each individual overcome personal despair. Your letter reminds me that faith can also help cure our collective "malaise." God's word helps us keep the hope alive that no matter how bad things seem, the sun will shine again over our troubled country and our broken world.
The key to this hope is faith that God will not abandon us if we work hard to fix our country, and if we remain humble in the fixing.
People who aren't religious sometimes erroneously think this hope in God leads some people to sit back and wait for God to fix our national problems. That is not what God promises.
God has shown us the way to personal and collective salvation, and that way involves sacrifice, humility and personal moral virtue. If we live "good," we will find a way to live "well." And in our struggles, God is with us every step of the way, reminding us that freedom will not fail and that the beliefs upon which our nation was founded - based on biblical hope - cannot be defeated by an oil slick, psychopathic terrorists or economic downturns in what, let us remember, is still a $15 trillion economy based on merit, innovation and the dignity of each human being made in the image of God.
These are not just the naive rantings of an incurably optimistic rabbi. Listen to the words of Abraham Lincoln, which echo the words from the Hebrew Bible you so wisely quoted.
Now that the fireworks of July 4 have faded, let Lincoln's hope, born of God's words in the Bible, give our country new hope for the hard work ahead: "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness."
- From the Proclamation for a National Day of Fasting Humiliation and Prayer, April 30, 1863
You are the one who is a true loser. Jesus is the true Messiah . . . born of the Virgin Mary and Holy Ghost. You cannot get to the Father God except by his Son, the one who took your sins upon himself and carried the weight of the world. So we all shall be saved should we make that choice. You are a loser when you don't acknowledge Jesus and what he has done for you and all humankind!"
- M., via e-mail
Here is the reality of faith in our time that you and I must confront: Either there is a way for all people of faith to stand shoulder to shoulder and bring God's compassion into the world, or there is no way. If our standing together is interrupted by name-calling and theological bickering, then the promise of faith will remain unfulfilled.
My first and foundational belief is that the prophet Micah was correct in teaching in God's name that all God really wants from us is to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. If I am wrong, then Micah is also wrong, and it's not just I who am a loser. My second belief relates directly to your core beliefs, and I state it with love and humor: Jesus was a Jew, and if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me. May God enlarge your heart.