There has been much concern lately over the rise of Chinese power. They are arming. They are spreading their diplomatic and commercial power throughout Asia and around the world. And they own a frightening proportion of our debt. Citizens Against Government Waste appealed to these fears in a controversial ad (see below). Henry Kissinger, secretary of State under Richard Nixon, offers advice on how to understand the strategic thinking of this ancient people in his new book, On China.
For our part, we see decline that may be passing beyond the cyclical into the irreversible: unsustainable government debt and entitlement obligations; an economy shifting decisively toward the public sector with a corresponding shift in citizen dependency upon government, and a federal tax system that gives a majority of voters the benefits of government spending without a direct and corresponding responsibility to fund it. If we follow this self-destructive path, America as we know it will become a glorious tale from the past.
The thought of American freedom, American prosperity, and American national independence coming to an end fills us with grief. As Christians, we draw some hope from the surprising reversals of history, such as the sudden departure of the Saracen from Vienna's walls, sparing Christian Europe from an Islamic future.
But the great scares of history have not always ended well. The Lord gave Rome over to the barbarians for sacking. While working on his commentary on Ezekiel in his Bethlehem cave, Jerome wept for the fall of that great city. "The world is rushing to ruin," he wrote. "The glorious city, the capital of the Roman Empire, has been swallowed up in one conflagration." Yet though that city of remarkable human glory was laid low, never again to rise to such heights, the Kingdom of God took a different path. For the church of Christ, the fall of Rome brought developments over the centuries that Jerome could never have imagined.
In this respect, Christians have much to learn from the Chinese perspective that Kissinger describes. The difference between the American and Chinese attitudes toward unfolding events, he says in an interview with Time, is this:
"Americans, based on our history, have found most problems soluble. When an issue arises, we think it can be solved, and then it goes away. That's in part because our history has been short and very successful. The Chinese history goes back thousands of years, and in their mind, no problem has a final solution; every solution is an admission ticket to another problem."
The Chinese are patient, and view matters from a broader perspective. We see this in Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai's well-known answer when he was asked what he thought was the significance of the 1789 French Revolution. "It is too soon to tell," he said.
The Christian's perspective on current events should be more like that of the Chinese. Though American history is short and has a record of fairly steady advance, a Christian's citizenship is fundamentally in the Kingdom of God which, like China, is thousands of years old, filled with rise and decline and developments that span centuries.
When we observe the immorality, social disintegration, and national decline in our day, we are tempted to think, "The end is near!" But for a Christian, until the Lord returns, every end is the beginning of a new chapter for the Kingdom that will never end. Every setback is a repositioning for Kingdom advance. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and the subsequent fall of that holy city was a Diaspora of faith to the world. Barbarian invasion, whether by Gauls or Vikings, has meant barbarian conversion. "Plunder me, but carry away my faith," is a Kingdom response to invasion, albeit through tears and bathed in blood.
Would our hopes and fears be different if we thought that perhaps we were still in the early church? Would our behavior change if we were to act not with a view to perfecting our personal and national circumstances, but with a view to the covenant faithfulness and godliness of our descendents five generations from now? That is a more patient, more Kingdom-oriented frame of mind.
America is a good country. It is a blessing to the world and as well as to those who live under her laws of liberty. But the Kingdom of God is larger. It is "an everlasting kingdom which shall not pass away" (Daniel 7:14). Growing in Christ-centeredness and living more fully in faith means becoming ever more confident of those Kingdom certainties that the newspapers do not report, and orienting your life and hopes accordingly.