President Barak Obama

Yesterday President Obama and Vice President Biden came to Beckley (the town I was born in) to eulogize at a memorial service for 29 West Virginia coal miners who died three weeks ago in an explosion.  I’m told my great-grandfather worked that mine many years ago and I have closely followed the developments there since the disaster occurred. 

There are times when community tragedies are bigger news than others.  There may be bigger issues to consider, such as mine safety, that work their way into the overall story.  When we, as a nation, see the images and feel the loss and pain of a town full of strangers, we grieve along with them.  That’s our national conscience at work. 

And it’s our national conscience that needs the words of our leaders to comfort at times like this.  Our president and vice president were present to express the nation’s sorrow and bring some sympathy to this hard-hit community.  It was the right thing. 

The texts of the remarks of Obama and Biden are inspirational, respectful, somber yet hopeful.  Biden, who has experienced the personal loss of a wife and daughter in an accident, had great credibility and ethos in his speech.  Their words let the miners’ families know how most of us in America felt. 

But the remarks also reminded me again that we must pray for our leaders according to 1 Timothy 2.  Not only are we told in this passage to pray “for kings and all those in high positions” (verse 2), we are also told why.  “God our Savior desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (verse 3b, 4). 

When leaders address a memorial service or prayer breakfast, sometimes even a floor speech or national address, they may include spiritual themes.  The danger is that what they say is believed to be true by many undiscerning hearers, even if their words are not biblical.  We shouldn’t wish for our leaders to leave God out of their public speeches (although some in America would love that), but when God is invoked we should pray that true things are said about Him as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.  

It matters what we say and believe about God and our leaders can play a crucial didactic role for the country when they refer to God and spiritual matters. 

Examples from Sunday’s service in Beckley include this comment by President Obama: “We cannot bring back the 29 men we lost. They are with the Lord now.”  This feeds the idea that we are all God’s children (another common belief) and simply by the fact that we are created, live and die that we all go to heaven.  That has no support from the Scriptures.  The fact is that we don’t know if all of the 29 miners are with the Lord, but those of us remaining here have a choice left as to what we will do with Jesus and His gospel of salvation – a fact the president can’t say out loud in our pluralistic structure. 

Vice President Joe Biden

Biden stepped over the line when he said, “To paraphrase a communion hymn in my church, I have a wish for all of you, all of your families:  May He raise you up on eagle’s wings and bear you on the breadth of dawn, and make the sun to shine upon you.  And until you’re reunited with those you lost, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.  For you know this band of 29 roughneck angels watching over you are doing that just now, as they sit at the right hand of the Lord today — and they’re wondering, is all that fuss about me?  (Applause.) ” 

Anyone grounded in the Scriptures will see several red flags of error in that paragraph.  There may or may not be a reunion with these family members in eternity.  We don’t become angels when we die and we most certainly won’t sit at the right hand of the Lord.  Those are just three of several flags.  These comments simply are not grounded in the truth of the Bible.  They may sound good to our world that grasps for purpose and meaning in a time of grief, but how helpful is it to reinforce unbiblical notions?  

An example of an appropriate spiritual thought at this time was made by Obama:  “If any comfort can be found, it can, perhaps, be found by seeking the face of God, who quiets our troubled minds, a God who mends our broken hearts, a God who eases our mourning souls.”  Seeking God at a time of mourning is right and good, but it cannot be a God of our making and our mental comfort level. 

One of the main reasons the Church is in this world is to teach.  If God desires all to be saved and know the truth, His didactic plan is through the Church.  

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 

We should pray for a day when a leader hands a speech back to a speechwriter for a revision for the only reason of removing an unbiblical thought, or better, change the thought to a biblical one.  How is that going to happen?  Only by the church taking our Bibles and running toward our culture with the truth, sharing the gospel in all of its fullness and power.