05 November 2012

when character is kingdom

It has been said that the single most important unknown moment in the history of the United States was when the noble and notable leader within the Revolutionary movement refused to take upon himself the title of "George I of the United States" when it was offered to him by the standing Continental Army in 1781.  Instead, Washington had decided to retire from public life and return to his Virginia home.  Across the ocean, Washington's chief adversary, King George III, was noted as saying, "If he does that he will be the greatest man in the world."

This is character.  It is seldom taught in our culture, perhaps because it is seldom understood in our time.  We are inundated by those who seek power, position and prominence, and we are puzzled by those who do not seek it for themselves.  The ballots are filled with people, even those who are overall well-indended, who are seeking to achieve an influence which can be put upon others.  Everyone who seeks public office ought to be mindful of their own hearts, and those who are the sovereign voters should do the same - first for self, then for candidate.

George Washington once remarked, "Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected."  What our society is so quick to assert is that morality has nothing to do with the public sphere, for it should be left within the home, or the bedroom, or the individual.  Yet, to rightly understand the Founders we cannot divorce their public lives of service from their private lives of faith.  The two are intertwined, which is why Washington believed that there was equal opportunity for him to achieve his high calling in the halls of a new government or in the fields of Virginia farmland.  As we all know, one ultimately became more compelling than the other ... but not because he chose to rise to imperial rule, for his acceptance of the presidency would only last two terms before his voluntary retirement.

History attests to the ongoing quest of humankind to seek power - more and faster - in order to be in control.  This is true even among believers who often consider paths to power to be that which brings about the kingdom of God.  Yet, Jesus himself has shown us how to reject such notions as when he threw off the summons to quick worldly dominance as presented by the devil.  And that is the point, our bent toward power and control over others is devilish in its origin.  Thus, morality has everything to do with those who work and serve in the public sphere.  The morality of men and women will determine if the inherent gifts endowed by our Creator will be used for or against his glory.

Washington shows to us how to act when there is work to do, and when the call of God is placed upon our shoulders.  In his own way he took up his cross and followed the leading of the Spirit, first privately and then publicly.  This is evident not only in mountains of his writings - though many overly secular historians ignore such texts - but also in the very fact that he could have lived the life he did.  This is the character of someone forged in the kingdom of God, and our nation needs more men and women who are willing to take up such a work.

As Washington would later say, "Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government."  Rather than saying this with the disdain for the average American which is on display by many modern politicians and government employees, Washington's perspective is that it will be necessary for a moral life grounded upon Scripture to guide people in self-government.  He continues to be right, and there remains an opportunity for us to take up the work of being men and women of character ... and, men and women that live within the high calling of the kingdom of God.

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