Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
I try to limit myself to only one blog per week, but the excitement in the air about Barack Obama’s coming to power as the 44th president of the United States has forced me to, as it were, “take pen and paper” and say something. I know that to say anything that is less than totally optimistic and excited about Obama’s presidency in the USA today is to be viewed as a wet blanket and a betrayer of Africa. The continent has been gripped by Obama-mania because “an African” is now president of the most powerful nation in the world. Celebrations are everywhere and in literally every nation.
When I ask why this excitement and optimism, what dismays me is that it is nothing more than the fact that Barack Obama is a black man—or, as they say in America, an African-American. He is one of us. I must readily admit that this is a strength in African culture. We have a very strong sense of belonging that goes beyond the nuclear family. Our brothers and sisters are not just our blood brothers and sisters. Our fathers and mothers are not just those who gave us birth. We look after and pride in our own beyond the immediate family. In that sense, we are proud that “one of us” has made such an achievement. Up to that point I can understand the sense of pride in Africa today. However, this strong sense of belonging often clouds our thinking. For instance, when it comes to issues of discipline and justice, this same sense of belonging tends to crowd out the real issues and we fail to be objective. “He belongs to us” becomes more important than “he is has done wrong”.
This is what I am seeing in the excitement about Obama. Hardly anyone is talking about Barack Obama’s character, convictions and past record. Very few Christians are asking any questions about whether he is godly or not. It is almost as though issues of regeneration and doctrinal convictions do not matter. What matters is that he is an African. For instance, the little I have heard concerning Barack Obama’s views with respect to the rights of the unborn child make my hair stand on end! But who is willing to pause and listen to this? What matters is that “one of us” is now on the throne of the most powerful nation on the planet. Let us kill the goat and celebrate!
I am reminded of the excitement that filled the air in Zambia when Frederick T J Chiluba and his Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) came into power in 1991. The excitement even in the church was as if Jesus had come! Church leaders were coming to church with badges of the MMD symbol on their shirts and jackets, and they were greeting church members with the phrase, “The hour has come!” Those of us who were cautious and cautioning fellow Christians were seen as die-hard UNIP-ists. No one was willing to listen to basic Christian caution. Well, within the first ten years the optimism was conspicuous by its absence. Corruption had become endemic in the nation. Recent court cases have revealed that the nation was being plundered while we had a ours closed in prayer.
Back to Obama. There is an unspoken wish in many African hearts that many of our woes in Africa will now be over because our calls for help will be handled more expeditiously from the USA since “one of us” has ascended the throne. Here is my question: Why should Africa look to America for answers to its problems? The Christian faith, if taken seriously, teaches us that all human beings are made in the image of God. We all have the capacities of creativity, moral judgment, etc. Under God, we should take charge of our situation on the African continent and deal with it. For instance, why should Obama across the Atlantic deal with Mugabe in Zimbabwe? African leaders on African soil should be outraged by what is happening and say, “Enough is enough” and deal with him!
I am not a prophet, and neither am I a son of a prophet, but let me say just one thing to those who are “over the moon” with what has happened in the USA. It is that disappointment is awaiting you. Let us meet in just five years’ time and I am sure disappointment will have sobered all of us up. It should be clear to every Bible-believing Christian that the hope for Africa, for the USA, and indeed for the whole world is in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of the Holy Spirit, mediated through the preaching of the gospel, that transforms hearts and, consequently, transforms societies and entire nations. That is what we should be “over the moon” about.
Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that politics are not important. They have their place in ensuring law and order, especially in the protection of the vulnerable. What, however, I am saying is that until human hearts are changed, the world can only get worse. Politicians will promise us a better world tomorrow, but they are powerless against the tsunami of human fallen-ness. Therein lies the world’s chief problem—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We only cheat ourselves when we trust in politicians to turn our world around. They cannot do it because the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart!
This is why the verse that heads this blog is so important. Let me give you the rest of the passage. It says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:5-9).
The message from this passage of Scripture must be abundantly clear! African Christians, let us not celebrate as the world is celebrating because our hope for a better world is not in Barack Obama—nor in our own local politicians—but it is in the gospel of God and in the God of that gospel. Amen!