Joel Belz: Watch out for formulas


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 24th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. WORLD Founder Joel Belz has been thinking about the clear teachings of Jesus and the murky world of global politics.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: Pity poor Michael Pompeo, our secretary of state. And while you’re at it, pity his boss, President Trump.

I don’t mean that altogether facetiously. With all the other issues the administration has to worry about, consider what it must be like to have to develop a coherent foreign policy in today’s fractured world.

For starters, tell me which is the tougher challenge: North Korea or Iran? Where do you apply the pressure points in such a confusing and inscrutable lineup?

It wasn’t so long ago, keep in mind, that we were pouring our influence into Iraq so we could demonstrate—generously, of course—that any expansionist ideas by Iran or Russia would be short-circuited indeed. But now we don’t know for sure just whose friend Iraq is.

It would be nice if there were a few clear-cut and reliable tests to help us decide who our friends are. Maybe you’ve heard one such formula—the one that says, a bit too cutely, that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

But you don’t have to be too experienced in foreign policy—or just about any kind of human relations, for that matter—to know how much trouble that slogan can produce if you follow it formulaically.

Jesus could have included in his teachings, if he had wanted to, a short passage in the Sermon on the Mount to give Mr. Pompeo and his boss just the formulas they need to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. He could have distributed checklists featuring 50 questions about foreign policy, added up the score at the end of the day, and put everybody in the right category.

You might even guess he was heading in that direction when he said in Luke 11:23: “He who is not with me is against me.” But, as usual, Jesus was challenging his disciples to engage in a little more thinking than a fill-in-the-blanks game would suggest. For just a bit earlier, in Luke 9:50, he also said bluntly: “For whoever is not against you is for you.”

Got that one figured out?

Much of the time, Jesus’s teaching is crystal clear. But there are also many times when he seems deliberately enigmatic, appearing to encourage us both cautiously and modestly to think our way through various issues. Especially when we want to find simple ways to cut people off, or to show how good we are compared to somewhat else, he has a great tendency to slow us down. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” he says, reaching deep down into our consciences.

I’m not saying for a minute that God looks at Iranian dictatorships, North Korean tyrants, and an American constitutional democracy and then declares that all three equally reflect his attributes. But neither does he expect us to conduct our nation’s foreign policy with over-simplified slogans. Mr. Pompeo and his colleagues deserve our prayers as they work their way through such complex and weighty challenges.  

For WORLD Radio, I’m Joel Belz.


(AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference on Monday, April 22, 2019, at the Department of State in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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