What is to be made of China’s rise?
The challenge for Christians – in China and elsewhere in the world – is to think biblically about geopolitical phenomena, and not to let raw emotion or patriotic fervour blind us to the Divine economy.
Unless you are a deist or hypercalvinist, the ‘Divine economy’ means the interactions between God and his Creation; for the purposes of this article, we are focused specifically on His interactions with nations.
Nations, not Globalism
The first principle of relevance is that the rise of a particular nation is not necessarily problematic for Christians in the way that globalism is problematic.
Monolingual communities were established by God at Babel to divide people, and are, as such, Divinely ordained. Although nationality is of no import within the church (see Colossians 3.11, Galations 3.28, Romans 10.12), nations are repeatedly referenced as natural entities in Scripture, and the concept of nationhood has specific Divine endorsement. The King of Babylon, a type of the Antichrist, in Isaiah 14:12 is condemned thus:
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations!”
Attempts to politically unite all of mankind, meanwhile, is specifically condemned. Unless it is the promised Millennial Reign of Christ, it is a specifically Satanic deception to seek to unite “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4.5). God alone is to be revered as King of Kings.
What is condemned in the case of the King of Babylon is seeking godlike control over all Creation:
“But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.” (Isaiah 14.13)
Satan sets himself up as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4.4), seeking for himself the worship due to the Lord Jesus Christ.
An Interlude: Governing Authorities
Christians are specifically warned that we do not struggle against other people, but against the forces of darkness.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6.12)
Christians are also to submit themselves to “governing authorities” (Romans 13.1), certainly inasmuch as what is commanded by those governing authorities does not contradict what is commanded by God.
Christ Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” This was perhaps a reference to the Jews being ordered to accompany occupying Roman soldiers. However objectionable being asked to do this was, it did not specifically contradict any command in Scripture. So Christ admonished his fellow Jews to go above and beyond in serving those with authority over them.
On the other hand, in Daniel 3.8-18, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were asked to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Statue, something that is specifically condemned (Exodus 20.5), and were honoured by God in refusing to obey a sacrilegious civil injunction.
The Divine Economy
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14.34)
It is important for non-Chinese Christians to understand that the rise of China is not problematic per se. Instead, discerning the Divine economy is key.
A theme to which Scripture returns over and over again is the spiritual state of nations. For Christians coming from cultures that prioritise individualism, this can be a difficult concept to grasp, but certain principles from an understanding of individual responsibility are transferable to the understanding of collective responsibility.
As all people are sinful, so no nation is without iniquity. When God’s people, the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it was not because of their righteous, but because of the Canaanites’ wickedness, that this was allowed to happen.
“It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you…” (Deuteronomy 9.5)
In the case of an individual, what is demanded by God is faith in and a turning back to Him.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2.8-9)
Likewise, nations are told to put their trust in and turn back to God corporately:
“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7.13-14)
When a people refuses to do this – particularly a people that has known God’s mercy, blessing and deliverance in the past – then nations may be used to punish nations. A more wicked nation may even be used to punish a less wicked one.
“‘Therefore, I will bring the worst of the nations, and they will possess their houses. I will also make the pride of the strong ones cease, and their holy places will be profaned. “(Ezekiel 7.24)
However, as the case of the Assyrians shows, the instrument of God’s judgement, in their turn, are often punished with sudden destruction. As was prophesied on several occasions in Scripture, the Assyrian Empire’s fall from global superpower to non-existence as an independent political entity came very suddenly (see Nahum 3). When one considers the breathtaking cruelty of the Assyrian regime, one certainly sees God’s mercy in this.
On the other hand, when a people repents and turns back to God, He will honour their change of heart:
“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 1.3)
There is no such thing as a permanent pariah nation:
Yet you may ask, ‘Why should the son not bear the iniquity of the father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right, carefully observing all My statutes, he will surely live. (Ezekiel 18.19)
To recap, no nation is righteous in an absolute sense, and all are in need of God’s mercy.
There are however gradations in wickedness, and individual nations at different times in history have differed in their degree of righteousness or wickedness substantively.1
Also, greater righteousness is expected of a nation where there is widespread knowledge of the truth of the Gospel.
Christians in China, the United States and in Western Europe should be sobered by the spiritual state of their nations. To different degrees, these nations are engaging in: a failure to honour the Lord; idolatry; persecution of the righteous; the withholding of justice; the unconscionable destruction of millions of unborn children; attacks upon the prerogatives of families; financial corruption; a failure to care for the widow and orphan; sexual immorality; and to cap it all, pride.
It is terrifying to me when I hear Western Christians speaking as though their nation’s cause was a righteous one. Few are the nations today marked by their relative righteousness, although they do exist. (Some of the Pacific island nations come to mind.) Christians elsewhere risk being caught up in acting as the object or instrument (or both!) of God’s righteous judgement.
It’s clear what must be done.
Intercede before God that the people to whom you belong (i) humbles itself, (ii) prays (iii) seeks the Lord’s face, and (iv) turns from its wicked ways!2
A China that does so will be blessed abundantly by the Lord (perhaps to the chagrin of some Western neocons!); the fate of a China that does not will not.
- It is worth noting that collective responsibility does not supersede individual responsibility: if you are a North Korean pastor being tortured to death in a concentration camp, or a faithful Belgian widow praying for the redemption of her nation, then God has promised a crown for you in heaven, regardless of the cruelty or faithlessness of your people.
- Christians, bear in mind that as the end draws near that this economy will change! (Rev. 22.11.)