President Obama has told us, and we can scarcely disbelieve him, that he is a Christian. At a recent prayer breakfast, Mr Obama said:
[The prayer breakfast is] a chance to step back for a moment, for us to come together as brothers and sisters and seek God’s face together…We can all benefit from turning to our Creator, listening to Him…
But in my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems, in keeping us going when we suffer setbacks, and opening our minds and our hearts to the needs of others.
We can’t leave our values at the door. If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries, and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union.
This is no different today for millions of Americans, and it’s certainly not for me.
I wake up each morning and I say a brief prayer, and I spend a little time in scripture and devotion.
He also said, “The Bible teaches us to ‘be doers of the word and not merely hearers.’ We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives.”
In his speech, Mr Obama both acknowledged and quoted from the main historical source of his faith, the Jewish-Christian Bible. This book has, to the modern Enlightened mind anyway, some frankly embarrassing passages.
And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. (Job 1:7, KJB throughout)
Now, to those of the Jewish, Christian, and even Muslim faiths, these are sobering, even chilling words. But they are not rare ones. St. Mark tells us that Jesus himself spent forty days in the wilderness “tempted of Satan” (1:13). Luke says that Jesus saw “Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (10:18). Where he fell to is not in doubt.
In Acts we learn that Satan filled the heart of one Ananias, who then cheated a man on a business deal (5:3). Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church (7:5) again mentioned that Satan tempts. Paul warned the Corinthians again in his second letter (2:11), naming Satan as an agent of evil.
And there are many more. However, perhaps the most frightening passage—one which Mr Obama has surely read; it is well known to all Christians—is from another letter of Paul, this to the Ephesian church:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places] (6:12).
The meaning of that is plain, its implications clear, there is no doubt that “powers” and “principalities” refer to Satan and his fallen angels who, as is obvious, are engaged in mortal combat, in constant spiritual warfare with us.
It is not our place to scorn or scoff at Mr Obama for making it his practice to read such material regularly, nor is it wise of us to castigate or ridicule him for believing it. And this is so even if you yourself do not believe it. This is because there is more to the words quoted above than first meet the eye. Indeed, it is from passages like these from which, over two millenia, a deep and careful theodicy (a theology of good and evil) has been built.
How can a God “allow” evil in the world? Well, the world is broken. There is evil because this world is ruled by powers and principalities, that is to say, Satan. The best articulation of this recently, incidentally, can be had in David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea (extending his essay which first appeared in the Wall Street Journal after the Indonesian tsunami in December, 2004; Hart avoids the “S” word, knowing it is distasteful to modern ears). Or, for “lighter” reading regarding the same subject, try The Brothers Karamazov.
Mr Obama, as all Christians have, has at least considered this theodicy; indeed any reader of the bible cannot avoid speculating on these matters. Even for those who do not believe the theology, at least for any reader of history, it is still an understandable view to say that mankind is “broken.”
President Obama, perhaps it is needless to say, is just another in a long line of American presidents professing belief in God and who were admitted Christians.
Oh, and yesterday we learned that Rick Santorum, in a prayer-breakfast-like speech to the Ave Maria Catholic University in 2008, believes things similar as those which are well familiar to Mr Obama. We can thus be grateful that political unity has been reached on at least one topic.