God in the Public Square – The Story of Balak and Balaam

By: Tera Ertz

I was scrolling Facebook this morning, and was confronted with the outrage of many of my fellow citizens. Headlines blared “Obama to Christians: Get off Your High Horse,” “Obama Attacks Free Speech at Prayer Breakfast,” “Obama at Prayer Event: Christians Did Terrible Things Too,” “Obama revealed his true colors at Prayer Breakfast, and true ignorance of history.” Those are just a few, but you get the gist. Pundits joined together to scream with one voice, “Oh look, the President threw Christianity under Islam’s bus.” “Oh look, the President insulted all of Christianity.” The outrage was so fierce, so loud, and so focused on a phrase, something inside me cried out for me to do something I have not done now in several years.

When I first began to explore and understand the concept of Spiritual Gifts, and get an inkling of these tremendously precious means of God’s power He had granted to me, they eventually led me to stop listening to the President speak. I could read his words. But, there was a time when the sound of his voice set off a strong enough sense of falseness in me that it grew physically uncomfortable to hear him talk. Sadly, I have found myself in the uncomfortable position of getting that same feeling from many of those on my own side of the political aisle these last few years too. Not usually as strongly, but still, I have begun to take all punditry with a grain of salt these days, and I stick more and more often to the written word for information, where it is easier to sort through the emotion to find the grains of truth. Even so, even the written word sometimes sets off that sense of falseness too, that leads me to look more closely for the truth, and this morning was such a moment. I felt led to first read the whole of the President’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast yesterday, and then, astonishingly, to watch the video of that event to see if his tone matched his words.

What I discovered was that God is rather amazing, and He will use whomever He chooses to speak His words to those who have ears to hear. Yesterday, He chose to use a man who has demonstrated a lack of understanding of His Word over the years rather publicly. He chose to use a man who has demonstrated arrogance in the past, and associated himself with a political ideology that is often in contradiction to God’s Word. He chose to use a man that I personally have often disliked and vehemently disagree with on just about every political position known to man. I sat this morning, listening to President Obama, expecting to hear the voice of falseness and possibly even an evil that I have sensed there before. Instead, I heard the voice of God, moving in the words of a broken, sinful man. And I wept for the message, and the blindness of so many of us to the truths contained there because of how we perceive the messenger.

As President Obama spoke in harsh denunciation of the death cult of ISIS, in clear advocacy of the inspiration of faith to do what is right and stand against what is evil, I wept at the ignorance of those who focused on one or two moments of that speech, taken out of the context of the whole, to rail against the man. I noticed that while this speech did not actually equate Christianity to terrorism, as the headlines claimed, those headlines only addressed his mention of the Crusades and left out the coupled reference to the Inquisition. I noticed that while the headlines screamed insult to Christianity, they left out the credit given to the many Christians who had shared their mission and ministry with those present. I noticed that while the headlines screamed denunciation of free speech, they left out the part where the President referred specifically to the freedom to practice our faith without fear of persecution, and that he didn’t actually condemn free speech but stated that freedom speech and freedom of religion go hand in hand. But, it comes with a responsibility to speak grace and hold ourselves accountable for what we say and do, if we are to remain free.

I noticed too that those headlines failed to account for the President’s call for humility and suspicion of government that comes between us and our faith. That they failed to account for his call to be vigilant in standing for justice, ending human trafficking, his denunciation of sin, and actual use of that word which is so unpopular these days that even the church sometimes hesitates to use it.

I was reminded, as I listened, of a story I have recently studied in the Bible, the story of Balaam’s ass, and please know that I don’t make this comparison as a backhanded insult to the President. In that story, a pagan king called upon a pagan mystic of high repute to curse the people of Israel. Upon prayer, that pagan mystic, Balaam, not only refused to speak curses against Israel, he proclaimed the protection of the Lord upon His people, and prophesied the fall of Balak’s empire and many others. This pagan man received the word of God directly. God uses who He will to proclaim His truth to the world and the powers in it. Yesterday, He chose to use our President to speak truths that we need to hear.

I do not know today if this is an indication that the prayers so many Christians have lifted for President Obama have been answered. I know that I and many others began praying long ago that God would break his heart and draw him into a true walk with Christ. We prayed that God would break the hold of worldly power, pride and false teachings that we sensed in this man who was elected to lead us. We trusted that even though we did not believe President Obama was a righteous man, it is God who grants authority in this world, for His purposes, not ours. So we prayed that His will would prevail, and His purposes would be served. Whatever else I saw this morning, I saw a man, struggling with his own shortcomings, admitting his need for God. I pray God uses that moment of reflection, that He draws President Obama to Him, and that the rest of us will not discount the fullness of God’s message because it came from a source we do not like.

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