Sometime around the Fourth of July or Memorial Day, you might see a sign advertising a “God and country” rally or prayer breakfast. I can almost guarantee that, if you attend, you will hear, at least once, 2 Chronicles 7:14. For those of you who don’t know it, this passage reads: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will heal their land.”
Often, the way this verse will be preached in many evangelical pulpits is as a rallying cry. In so many sermons, the “people” referred to in the passage are the American people, and the “land” is the American land. The meaning of the text is understood as an invitation to 21st century America to “return to God” and then enjoy God’s blessing once again. It’s no wonder one scholar said that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is “the John 3:16 of the American civil religion.”
If nothing else, the question must be asked of this kind of sermon: Where should we “take America back” to? Do you mean back to the era of the Founders, or back to the 1950s, or 1980s? When, exactly, in America’s blip of an existence did everything fall apart?
But the fact is 2 Chronicles 7:14 isn’t talking about America or national identity or some generic sense of “revival.” To apply the verse this way is, whatever one’s political ideology, theological liberalism.
This verse is a word written to a specific people–the people of God–who were coming home from exile. They were coming home from a time in which they were dominated and enslaved by a foreign power. At a time when they needed to be reminded of who they were, who God was and what he had promised to do, this passage was given to them to point them back to Solomon’s reign, reminding them of what Solomon did when he built the temple, the house of the Lord, the place of the gathering of the worship of God.
After all, it seemed as though the house of David was gone. It seemed as though even after a new temple was built, it wasn’t the “real” temple, because it’s not what it was before. The questions that God’s people were asking at this point were, “Where is God? What is our future as the people of God?”
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Russell Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.