Several states have passed laws legalizing marijuana use and same sex marriage. The Affordable Care Act and the HHS mandate have ruled that Christian churches, schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations will be forced to either pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs through their insurance plans or be fined out of existence–even though those “medical services” are contrary to the teachings of their religion. Christian employers are faced with the same dilemma. The moral fibre of the nation appears to have declined to the point that the majority of Americans are now willing to mortgage the futures of their children and grandchildren. The county’s spiraling debt is unsustainable; yet people seem entirely willing to vote for ever increasing benefits to themselves out of the public treasury. The continued trend of borrowing more than we generate to finance this debacle will eventually lead to either skyrocketing inflation and/or the eventual collapse of the economy. Alexis de Tocqueville said it best: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” You can’t run a household forever by borrowing more money than you take in. You can’t run a country that way either. Eventually, the household–and the country–will collapse into financial and moral bankruptcy.
So, in reading the signs of the times, aren’t we justified in giving up? As a young man in my twenties, I used to believe that the United States would endure for ages to come. But now I wonder. Our country is the most powerful, greatest nation of its age. However, other great nations have declined–in spite of their wealth, their culture, and their power. The Roman Empire endured for hundreds of years. It is no more. Greece was at one time the cultural and political center of the world. Where is it now? No, now I believe that it’s entirely possible–likely even–that our great nation will not last even another fifty years. The decline has already started; and it’s accelerating at an alarming rate. If it does survive, it will likely be in a form unrecognizable to us. The temptation to despair is almost overwhelming.
Except for one thing: as Christians, we have a dual citizenship.
That’s right. We are citizens of this country; but we are also citizens of another Kingdom–one that will never end. We were promised by our King that He would be with us always–“even to the end of the age.” And the gates of hell “will not prevail” against His Church. So far, history has proven that to be true. His Kingdom on earth has outlasted every oppressive government that ever persecuted it. Many empires, kingdoms, dictatorships, and governments over the centuries have long since been consigned to the dustbins of history. Only His Kingdom endures–and remains unchanged.
But the question remains: how are we Christians–with our dual citizenship–to deport ourselves in this land?
The answer partially lies in an obscure letter written by an unknown author to Diognetus, who was presumably the teacher of Marcus Aurelius. Diognetus was a pagan but desired to know more about the Christian religion. This letter was written sometime around the second century A.D.–during the heighth of the Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians.
“The Christians…” it says, “dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers. They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is foreign…They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives. They love all, and are persecuted by all…In short, what the soul is in the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused throughout all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world but are not of the world…Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body; so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven…This lot God has assigned to the Christians in the world; and it cannot be taken from them.”
I have only quoted parts of this remarkable document. It’s called “Epistola ad Diognetum” and is worthy of being read in full. You can find it on the internet.
So, should Christians despair? I think not! “Be not afraid!” Pope John Paul II continually exhorted his flock. It’s good advice. What we should do is what the second century Christians did. Live! Participate as citizens! Be active in this world but not of this world. And “live upon the earth,” but be “citizens of heaven.”