State of the Union: Do Christians Place Too Much Hope in Government?

The Story:

“The audacity of hope has become the reality of limits,” said BBC news anchor Katty Kay when describing President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address. The president’s tepid speech, a modest and uninspiring retread of past proposals, is aptly described by one simple word: “forgettable.”

President Obama is understandably frustrated that a Republican House has severely constrained his vision of an ever-expanding and intrusive federal government that would take the primary role in caring for citizens from the cradle to the grave, through public education, public health care, and entitlement programs, among others. As a result, President Obama is intent on pushing through his agenda with his phone and his pen (i.e., by executive order) regardless of any obstacles a democratically elected Congress or the Constitution might present.

Big government threatens individual liberty and saps private enterprise of its energy, limiting economic growth and crowding out the space between the individual and the state, which is where human flourishing occurs. The more people depend on government, the less people depend on traditional social institutions like the family, the church, and neighborhoods, where individuals help one another, provide for one another, teach one another, encourage one another, comfort one another, and help one another grow in virtue. Big government ignores the spiritual and social nature of man, replacing the family and the church with an impersonal force that robs them of their liberty and makes them dependent on governmental support.

President Obama’s speech was infused with this governing vision, which is characterized by a belief that people’s problems are best solved by government action. Although Americans want Congress to prioritize deficit reduction, President Obama made no mention of reforming entitlements, which consume 45 percent of the federal budget. Instead, the President focused on increased investment in infrastructure, research and development, and education. Although these investments are important, they will only add to our $17 trillion federal debt.

Even though Americans want Congress to help create jobs, President Obama said nothing of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, President Obama is lifting the minimum wage $3 for federal contractors and is hoping to raise minimum wage by the same amount across the board. Of course, employers, who are already dealing with a heavy regulatory burden, will be less likely to hire when labor becomes more expensive. The key to lifting people out of poverty is to generate growth in the economy, which will make more jobs available. After all, according to the Editors at National Review, the poor “are poor because they have no employers: In the lowest-earning households, 68.2 percent of the people are unemployed.”

Although the theme of the President’s speech was opportunity and upward mobility, Mr. Obama said nothing about expanding school choice, which would make education more about the students and less about the teachers, thereby creating an environment in which students are most likely to succeed. Instead, the President voiced his support for expanding universal pre-K.

The American people long for opportunity, for hope, for a better education system, and for a more unified country. After five years in which the economy has struggled, Congress has been unproductive, and a sense of sustained pessimism has plagued our neighborhoods, Americans are starting to tune out the high-flying oratory of our president. Since people are losing confidence in government solutions, we Christians have an excellent opportunity to remind them of the one true source of our hope — Jesus Christ. Through a winsome public witness, we can show that living in accordance with the biblical worldview will transform our families, our neighborhoods, and even our government, producing the unity and happiness for which we all strive.

Sermon Insights:

A Hope Set on God Transforms Our Lives (Psalm 78:5-7)

“For he issued his decree to Jacob; he gave his law to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them — even the children not yet born — that they in turn might teach their children. So each generation can set its hope anew on God, remembering his glorious miracles and obeying his commands” (Psalm 78:5-7).

Hope for the jobless is not derived from unemployment insurance. Hope for the uneducated does not come from more federal funding for education programs. Hope thrives in our communities when we understand that a God of faithful love paid the price for our sins and has granted us new life in Christ (Colossians 3:1). As new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), we can revivify our families and churches by heeding God’s call to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4), to take care of the least among us (Matthew 25), and to teach the commandments of God (Matthew 28:20).

Through mentoring, teaching, and modeling the Christian life, we can give hope to others and, through our efforts at school, the workplace, and the public square, we can create a culture that is consistent with God’s revelation through Scripture, which presents us with the truth concerning the nature and destiny of man, the beauty of creation, and the existence of a loving, personal God. This is the reason for our everlasting hope (1 Peter 3:15).