Is good government an oxymoron?

Originally published in The Christian Science Journal

I arrived in Kano, Nigeria, to begin my first speaking tour, which was to start in Kaduna. My companions were excited about our route - a new highway that made travel so much easier - and the conversation frequently returned to the quality of the road. I asked them, "Have you been praying for a new highway?"

"Yes," they replied. "Oh, yes."

I wondered aloud if they'd considered the connection between their prayer for the betterment of the country and this lovely new highway. My point was not who deserved credit for this example of progress. Rather, it was that this obvious evidence of good, of a government working to meet its people's needs, should be magnified.

Magnify the good?

In countries like Zambia, where I lived for many years, it might seem natural to focus on everything but. There, good government didn't just seem like an oxymoron, it often felt like dream out of reach. The country is facing widespread corruption, poverty, oppression - the list could go on and on. The government is doing its best to bring these things under control, but it is a huge undertaking.

Under such circumstances, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by what's wrong, and by the complexities of fixing it. Cynicism, disillusionment - even a tendency to devalue progress - become the typical responses.

Yet, I've found over and over that gratitude for what's good and right doesn't just gloss over a country's challenges. Rather, it builds on something foundational: the fact that God is All and is completely good. Therefore, what's natural is not regression but progression. Looking to find the good in government, then, becomes a matter of seeing God, who is Principle, in operation, rather than maintaining an attitude of naiveté or unfounded optimism.

Gratitude may start with something small. The beauty in people's faces. A church banding together to pray for a country. Visible signs of progress. But it's a willingness to acknowledge good that moves one toward the mental state of being genuinely grateful. Such an attitude involves a deeply felt awareness of God's care, a faith that the good that's visible is just one example of God's love. And what does gratitude do? It helps one develop a fitness to experience more love - to become so convinced of God's operation that feelings of futility and discouragement eventually disappear.

Many years ago, before apartheid was dismantled in South Africa, my husband and I - both American citizens - used to travel each week from Lesotho to go to church in Bloemfontein, South Africa. We never knew what we were going to encounter at the border. Some Sundays the reception was polite, even friendly. But often we were stopped and questioned, and at times denied entry. In those cases, my confidence in God, and my gratitude for what He was already doing, kept me from getting frustrated. This frame of mind is what I would describe as inner dominion - as being governed by God, and by nothing else. In a complicated political situation where it seemed there was nothing I could do, I discovered I could find peace and maintain calm confidence that God was working, regardless of how things looked.

One Sunday it seemed that once again we wouldn't be allowed to cross the border. Yet, as I prayed to know that God was governing, I heard myself asking the border guard, "What do you want me to do?" The atmosphere changed instantly. It was as though the guards knew that I was no longer seeing them as impediments and that we could work together. As a result, we found a solution that worked for them and enabled us to cross the border.

Examples like this, and others I've seen over the years, give me confidence that solutions aren't impossible - no matter how entrenched any situation may seem to be. Turning to God, magnifying what's positive and progressive, is a powerful way to bring God's government to light. And that government is always good.

O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt
his name together.

Psalms 34:3

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