In case you missed it (how could you?), the newly-minted US President, Barack Obama, visited our nation’s capital on Thursday for a symbolic, but important, meeting with the Prime Minister (as well as the Governor General and the Leader of the Official Opposition).
Frankly, I had a hard time believing the hoopla that went down over this. I’ve taken to calling it “Obamania”, since the ladies squealing in the presence of the President is not unlike what the Beatles experienced in their heyday.
So why the excitement? President Obama is a new phenomenon. He’s different. He’s a change from what we’ve been used to seeing come for official visits to Canada. Now, to be sure, the very concept of “President Obama” is historic, and not to be discounted in any way. But apart from the sense of pride that is rightfully felt by North Americans of African descent, what’s the big deal?
I think it has to do with the fact that President Obama is different. He’s different from what we have on ‘our side of the fence’, so to speak. He’s outgoing and charismatic, and seems very approachable. His unscripted walk through the Byward Market in Ottawa proved that for many people!
There are Canadians who wish that Barack Obama was their leader. But I think that’s just a desire to have what’s on ‘the other side of the fence’. I’m not being political here. Who of us hasn’t had something – say, a car – that was perfectly satisfactory, but as soon as someone drives by with the ‘vroom-vroom’ of another, perhaps more attractive car, we find ourselves wanting that? Fill in your favourite possession; it happens to us all at some time or other.
This was no less true of the people of God in Hebrew Scripture. Many people think the Old Testament is full of blood and violence and rules. If we read it to look for those things, then yes, we’ll find them. But on the whole, the Old Testament is about a totally faithful God and a totally fickle people. God redeems his people, and his people drift away yet again. They are always looking for greener grass on the other side of the fence. They claim allegiance to the Lord, and then turn away after some other nation’s false deity. Then God redeems them again – this is often where the blood and violence come in – and the people show their true colours by wandering again.
But there is great hope: the story of the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, illustrates in brief the whole story of the people of God through the ages. Despite the people’s wandering: “The Lord says, ‘Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon’” (Hosea 14.4-5, NLT).
Despite our faithlessness, God will remain faithful. Despite our wandering, God will redeem us. Should that encourage us to simply keep on wandering, in order that God’s redemption may continue? The apostle Paul dealt well with this question for Christ-followers in Romans 6.1-4: “Well, then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.”
“Obamania” is just a symptom of a greater sickness of wandering from the known and the safe and the faithful, to something new and exciting and, ultimately, not ours. And it applies equally in our life of faith. We are “prone to wander” as the hymn writer of old put it, but only the Lord has everything that can satisfy. Give your total allegiance today.