“I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Adolf Hitler
“…the weight of German exceptionalism and the spiritual veneration of military valor were not easy inheritances to disown. In nineteenth-century Protestant Prussia, no less a philosopher-patriot than Hegel resolved that his beloved Machtstaat (the ‘power state’ that was the German imperium) had been chosen by God to rule the nations by example, fiat, or force. It was God’s nature to manifest his will in superior and powerful nations, which demonstrated their providential purpose by imposing their will on their neighbors, as the ancient Hebrews had done. By the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of Germany as such a ‘world-historical nation’ had become as hallowed as the historicity of the biblical narratives. …Seeberg believed he was fulfilling his spiritual vocation by helping the German people discern the powerful hand of God in the new forces gathering to propel Germany to greatness. Among the professoriate there were precious few willing dissenters from this conviction. German Protestant theology from Schleiermacher to Harnack and Seeberg presumed the providential blessings of the warrior God. …In Protestant faculties and congregations, churchmen of fixed and iron-hard purpose who called themselves the Deutsche Christen, the ‘German Christians,’ were pedaling their loyalty to the fatherland. They claimed that God had chosen a new Israel, the German Volk; that the Christian doctrine of revelation had brought about the disinheritance of the Jews and that Jesus Christ had abrogated Israel’s ancient covenant. They wanted a strong church of muscular virtues–a manly church, eine mannliche Kirche–unified by German ideals. They even convinced themselves that Jesus was not a Jew. They boasted of their mission in the most inspiring terms imaginable: as the completion of Martin Luther’s work.” Charles Marsh
“What are nations without justice but large bands of thieves?” Pope John XXIII
“give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and give to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus in Mark 12:17
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- National “exceptionalism”, God’s “new Israel”, “muscular values”– even “the providential blessings of the warrior God”–we’re hearing these kinds of themes again. What is your response?
- Do you believe it’s “God’s nature to manifest his will in superior and powerful nations which [demonstrate] their providential purpose by imposing their will on their neighbors?” What’s the danger is such a view?
- Hitler claimed to serve God, and most of the church supported him. What can we learn from this sad story?
Abba, help us discern your hand in power and in weakness. Ground us in reality, truth and courage.
For More: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh
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“Amos wrote 2,800 years ago, but his prophecy reads like today’s newspaper. He lived under king Jeroboam [whose] kingdom was characterized by territorial expansion, aggressive militarism, and unprecedented economic prosperity. Times were good. Or so people thought. The people of the day interpreted their good fortune as God’s favor. Amos says that the people were intensely and sincerely religious. But theirs was a privatized religion of personal benefit. They ignored the poor, the widow, the alien, and the orphan. …Making things worse, Israel’s religious leaders sanctioned the political and economic status quo. They pimped their religion for Jeroboam’s empire. Enter Amos. Amos preached from the pessimistic and unpatriotic fringe. He was blue collar … neither a prophet nor even the son of a prophet in the professional sense of the term. Amos was a shepherd, a farmer, and a tender of fig trees. He was a small town boy who grew up in Tekoa…. The cultured elites despised him as a redneck [and]… an unwelcome outsider. Born in the southern kingdom of Judah, God called him to thunder a prophetic word to the northern kingdom of Israel. And that’s what this rough hewn prophet did. He opposed the political powers of his day and the religious stooges who supported them. With graphic details that make you wince, Amos describes how the rich crushed the poor; the affluent with their expensive lotions, elaborate music, and vacation homes with beds of inlaid ivory; sexual debauchery in which a man and his son abused the same woman; a corrupt legal system that sold justice to the highest bidder; predatory lenders who exploited vulnerable families; and religious leaders who sanctioned it all. …To the priests who defended, legitimized, and justified Jeroboam’s corrupt kingdom, Amos delivered an uncompromising word of warning. After Amaziah the priest informed Jeroboam that Amos’s preaching was unpatriotic and seditious, he tried to run him out of town. …Then Amaziah said something that reveals how completely he had identified religious faith with political power and economic gain. It ought to send a chill up the spine of every religious leader who ever thought about sucking up to political power: ‘Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.’ (7:13). With those words, the religious justification of political empire is complete, and faith is reduced to patriotic cheer-leading. But Amos wouldn’t be bullied. He had a word of his own for every priest who pimped religion for empire:
Moving From Head to Heart
- Is your vision blurred by “good times?”
- Do you hear a “religious justification of political empire” in your nation?
- Is yours a “privatized religion of personal benefit?” Benefits upheld by injustice?
Abba, help us recognize those who speak for you in our day.