This weekend, Christians all over the country will attend services in their churches and hear a simple message: God loves you.
It’s an important message, make no mistake. It’s the basis of our faith. Understanding that we’re loved by God gives us hope. It keeps us from despair, encourages us to persist in the face of great challenges, and helps us to appreciate that life has meaning.
It’s so important that many pastors assume God’s love for us is the only truth of which we need be aware, and so they package that message in one way or other just about every week.
The problem is that the message is incomplete. If all we hear is that God loves us, it’s easy to assume that we’re in pretty good shape — that, for instance, the only thing required for our salvation is to be a “good person” and to “get along with everybody.”
This can leave us living by a very low standard.
What we don’t hear — or at least don’t hear often enough — is that because God loves us, he wants what’s best for us, which is that we live in the best way possible. As Jesus put it:
“Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
That’s tough. It requires us to strive after a certain level of virtue. And how often do you hear about virtue in church these days?
Yet virtue is absolutely indispensable for living in society, especially a society based on the principles of democratic self-government, as ours is. The Founding Fathers understood this.
In his first inaugural address, George Washington exhorted his countrymen that there is:
“an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity…”
He insisted firmly that Americans:
“ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”
That link between “the solid rewards of public prosperity” and what “heaven itself has ordained” was spelled out in the foundational documents of our republic, which make clear that it is God who gives us our rights. The Declaration of Independence holds it as “self-evident” that:
“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Despite the religious skepticism (and outright atheism) currently in vogue, our nation is premised on the dual facts that God exists and that he cares about how we conduct our lives and pursue the affairs of society.
Because our rights come from God, not government, and it is God who guarantees them, God is at the very heart of our politics. That’s why we owe him our efforts at virtue — as individuals and as citizens. It’s why the message of God’s love requires more than just a cursory mention in church.
If your pastor is not talking about the connection between politics and God, he’s failing you. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the great confusion that’s taken hold in our society — confusion about:
- the importance and responsibilities of citizenship;
- the requirements for genuine economic justice;
- the conditions that justify national defense and police authority;
- the balance of powers between different divisions of government;
…and much, much more — right up to the fundamental human realities of sex and gender, over which society is rapidly stumbling into a kind of madness.
God loves you. There’s no question about that. But there are implications of this truth. The most basic is that a loving father makes demands of his children. He does it because of his love for them.
If he didn’t, his love wouldn’t mean very much. And, left to our own sad devices and human frailties, what kind of society would we have then?
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals.