State of the Nation
Last night I watched the State of the Nation address in all it’s riotous glory. For those who missed it, our President’s speech had only just begun when his opponents began to derail it. This resulted, after much heated argument, in their violent forced removal which only stirred other opponents into action against the constitutional breach of using armed police inside the parliament chamber. Not to be outdone, they also then left parliament to scenes outside of riots and water cannons, while inside the press were unable to report on any of it due to signal blockers. Then some politicians saw a good opportunity for fine speeches about the liberation struggle, Tata Buthelezi nailing it with his criticism of all this “poppycock”. It was at that moment I was wishing Eskom would turn the lights off.
These events may unsettle you as a South African. But to be honest, I loved it. After all, a State of the Nation Address is meant to, well… expose the state of the nation. And that’s exactly what it did – better than anyone could have planned. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all bad. The President’s speech (as expected) told of triumphs and achievements. But what was unique about this address is that while inside the chamber we heard the good news, outside we saw the bad. It reminded us of the reality that while we enjoy blessings, all is not well. This is a reality not only for our nation, but for all nations… and it is a reality that God tells us to expect in a fallen world such as this.
The bible tells us that because of mankind’s broken relationship with God, we inevitably have broken relationships with each other (as at least one opposition member is reminded of in hospital this morning). Until our relationship with our Creator is restored to what it should be through Jesus, we will live in a broken world. Therefore we should not despair too much at the theatrics of parliament – in fact we shouldn’t expect much better than this given the human heart’s capacity for sin.
However, we do often experience better than this, and as our President’s address reminded us we see national triumphs in spite of our fallenness. This is due to God’s grace… the fact that even in our broken state he hasn’t abandoned us completely to our sin. He still gives us cause to thank him, not only for the sunrise and the rain and the air we breathe, but for the fact that our economy is still functioning at all, that the rule of law still applies (for the most part), and that we still enjoy some order in society.
Rome in the first century AD had a government as questionable as our own, and one which used far more violent means to silence its opponents than we saw last night. The Christians under that government could’ve despaired and abandoned hope for their nation. Yet Paul profoundly instructs them to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established… the one in authority is God’s servant for your good” and elsewhere he instructs Christians to “pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. This reminds us that despite the effects of sin on our nation and its leaders, they are nonetheless used by God to give us a peace and order that wouldn’t otherwise come naturally to us. It also encourages us to take a realistic view – never to expect our society to be as good as it should be, but to pray in confidence that it never becomes as bad as it could be.
Prayer itself is the means by which we can maintain this healthy balanced view of our nation. Because in prayer we confess that we need help, that all is not well, that we long for God’s kingdom to come quickly – but in prayer we also trust that in the meantime God is still in control and that he cares for our nation and its people more than we know.