During his inaugural address President Trump stated that “we are protected by God”. But, is that true? What does it mean?
President Trump’s speech has already been widely discussed. Rightly, these discussions have focused on the politics of his speech, rather than his theology. The Christian-based media seem to have simply reported this claim without comments. Rev Giles Fraser has already written about some of the problems with Trump’s theology of ‘blessing’ and the ‘prosperity gospel’. But, what about Trump’s claim that “we are protected by God”?
The Bible tells us: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
There should be no fear – we are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.
Trump quotes Psalm 133:1 to call for unity. But, it’s worth noting that the this unity is seen as God-given, while biblical unity in general is that of being focused on God, of using our diverse God-given gifts to worship him. It’s difficult to see how this can be meaningfully and with integrity be applied to any political programme.
However, Trump then goes on to talk about the protection given by God. There are, of course, biblical promises about protection, with Psalm 91 being one of the more comprehensive. For example, Psalm 91:9-10 reads:
If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
Note that this is about people rather than nations. Kidner (1975:333) is fairly typical in cautioning that this is “not a charm against adversity” and draws the parallel with Romans 8:28, where even in the midst of that “sweeping promise”, ‘nakedness, peril, the sword’ are not excluded.
A number of the psalms however extend these promises of protection to the city of Jerusalem. They are often called the Zion psalms, as that is the name they often use for Jerusalem (Grogan 2008:16,100-103). A good example is Psalm 48, with verse 8 summarising the psalmist’s conviction:
As we have heard,
so we have seen
in the city of the Lord Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure
But, having explored the promises and hopes of these psalms, Grogan (2008:289) concludes:
It was right for the people to rejoice in the place God gave them, for the gifts of God should always be celebrated with joyous thanksgiving, but wrong for them to view it as completely secure no matter what their attitude was. It is important to recognize that the Zion psalms were written in a spirit of praise, trust, and obedience, not of arrogant triumphalism.
Instead, Grogan argues, promises of guaranteed, unconditional security were part of the Canaanite worship of Baal “a religious system at whose heart stands a manipulative cult” (McConville quoted in Grogan).
The prophet Jeremiah also spoke out against these sort of triumphalist, complacent, manipulative beliefs, which, Brueggemann (1998:77) argues, had become the dominant theology of the state. In Jeremiah 7, the core of his message, Jeremiah contrasts the beliefs of the people living in Jerusalem (particularly the political and religious elites) with what God was saying. Jeremiah accuses people of acting how they want and then invoking ‘the temple of the Lord (v4) to claim that ‘We are safe’ (v10).
But, says God (v12):
Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.
Shiloh is ruined and forsaken, and what God has done before, he will do again (v14).
This sermon, Brueggemann (1998:78) argues destroyed the ideology of the state, which claimed that:
the unconditional promises carried by the temple establishment limited God’s judgement in response to Israel’s action. In such a view, obedience is not a crucial dimension of faith.
But, obedience, shows Jeremiah, is exactly what we are called to show. This covenant, these promises, require a response from us. Jeremiah 7:3:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.
Are ‘we protected by God’? Yes, in the sense that Psalm 91 and Romans 8 means. We are held secure by God, even when terrible things happen to us. In the midst of horror, God is there.
But, in the sense that Trump claimed? No. That theology is the manipulative theology of Baal, which led to destruction. It is the complacent folk religion of the Jerusalem elite, which led to the Exile.
Instead, we are called to reform our ways and our actions, to live as God calls us, for God’s love to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Brueggemann, W. 1998 Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming.
Grogan, G. W. 2008 Psalms. The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary
Kidner, D. 1975 Psalms. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries