A thoughtful piece on President Bush’s present state of mind caught my attention this past week. Written by Peter Baker, a staff writer at the Washington Post, the title asserts “a president besieged and isolated, yet at ease.”
The president is besieged and isolated because of the Iraq war. His approval rating is lower than any president in modern history. And even his own party has turned away from him. In spite of all that, Baker writes, the president is “at ease” with his stand on the war.
How is it possible for the president to be “at ease” when so much seems to be going wrong in Iraq? Is being “at ease” the best place to be?
Michael Novak, a theologian and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute was invited to the White House recently to advise the president on the state of the world. Novak believes that the president is “at ease” because of his faith.
“His faith is very strong,” said Novak. “He seeks guidance, like every other president does, in prayer. And that means trying to be sure he’s doing the right thing. And if you’ve got that set, all the criticism, it doesn’t faze you very much. You’re answering to God.”
Which is fine as far as it goes. Faith is a source of comfort and hope for many people in many situations. After all, the Scriptures tell us that faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But how do people of faith know without doubt that their actions are correct? I mean the Bible is pretty clear about not stealing and lying, but where does it say “bomb Baghdad?”
There are many aspects of faith. Part of it is belief, part of it is commitment, but faith also includes a component of self-reflection. Faith, in the Christian tradition at least, begins with repentance. And repentance is not something we do just once. We may read an inerrant Bible, and pray to an inerrant God, but none of that renders us inerrant beings. Faith does not make us perfect.
And that is true for all people of faith, including people in power. Simply because a person attains a high office, such as president of the United States, does not mean they suddenly possess greater access to the mind of God than the rest of us. Mr. Bush is as subject to error as anyone.
The difference, of course, is that the president’s faith has more than merely personal ramifications. His beliefs send men and women to war. And for that reason alone being “at ease” may not be the best place to be.
The sixth chapter of the book of Amos begins, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.” Amos bemoans leaders who think their country is better than others. He warns them that the failure to consider God’s judgment is an invitation for violence to increase.
Maybe that’s what has happened to us. We have lost sight of the biblical truth that actions have consequences. Our addiction to foreign oil helped create political arrangements in the Middle East that are now used to foment hate against us. Then, in response to an act of hate against us, we attacked a nation that did not attack us. Now we are stuck there with violence increasing.
Maybe being “at ease” is not the best place to be right now. Maybe repentance and self-reflection would be more in order.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.