The Bible instructs us to pray for those in authority over us, including people like the president of the United States. Often we do this almost by rote, praying for God to provide health and strength and particularly wisdom. But, just as we should pray about the specific needs of those we know, so we should pray about the particular needs of those at the top, as best we know them.
There's the rub-we often don't know the specifics. But about Bill Clinton, we do know his tendency to avoid taking responsibility for problems. Here's a section from WORLD'S coverage last April of a meeting Bill Clinton had with Tony Campolo and three other evangelicals who have been spiritual advisers to him:
"The meeting turned to a discussion of the problems the president was having in gaining acceptance among evangelical Christians. One of the church leaders told him, Most of our people are conservative Republicans. They ask me a very simple question: Is the president a good man? What can you tell us that would convince them that you're a good man?
"Mr. Clinton reacted strongly and explained that he was trying to be a good man. The church leader stood his ground: Are you a good man? What do I tell my people? And the president continued to insist, without going into specifics, that he was good.
"There was a standoff. Then one participant said quietly, I don't think any of us can say that, that we're good; he had in mind the biblical understanding that 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.' Mr. Clinton, however, responded politically, arguing that some Republicans were trying to bring him down, and that their methods were often unfair and evil."
The discussion went on that way. Sometimes there seemed to be progress, but then, as Tony Campolo recalled, "the president started up again with they, they, they. We kept saying, 'We're focusing on you.'" There was no real resolution.
At a Renaissance Weekend gathering this past New Year's Eve, President Clinton smilingly answered easy questions thrown to him by a liberal audience, but responded to the one tough question he received with harsh scorn directed at his political opponents. I ran into our mutual friend a few minutes later and said, "Tony, he's going 'they, they, they' again. Doesn't look like you're making much progress with him." Mr. Campolo, almost always effervescent, this time nodded grimly.
So we do know one thing specifically to pray for concerning President Clinton, whatever he has done: that God give him an awakened conscience. Instead of claiming goodness, he and each of us should say, as did Martin Luther, "This is my character-I do evil. I have sinned, I do sin, and shall sin." We need to pray for a glimpse of God's holiness, because only then do we grieve for and hate our sin, turn to God, and endeavor to keep his commandments.
Since all of us, including President Clinton, do sin, we certainly can pray that the president, whatever his specific thoughts and actions, will have a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), with the weight of sorrow that would drive a person crazy if it were not for heavenly relief-because that is the sacrifice God will not despise.
If there are particular sins for which Mr. Clinton needs to repent, what a great blessing it would be for him and this country if he did so, privately and publicly. Maybe, during his four days of silence following the initial Monica Lewinsky news, he was thinking about confession, but then fell back into guns-blazing, politics-as-usual, "they, they, they" denials. If that is the case, what a shame! But there is still time.
Here's the basic procedure: When we sin, we should confess privately to God but also declare our repentance to those we have offended. They in turn should respond by receiving repentant sinners in love; that could still happen to Mr. Clinton. Deep down he knows what is right to do, on both partial-birth-abortion and what he may have justified to himself as only partial adultery. What a good president he could be if he started to follow God's Bible rather than the politician's playbook! As Charles Spurgeon said, "Reclaimed poachers make the best gamekeepers."
Note, however, that David did not by himself come to the realization of his sin. God used a human instrument, the prophet Nathan, to confront the king directly: "You are the man" (2 Samuel 12:7). Who, among President Clinton's spiritual advisers, is a Nathan?