“Truth stumbles in the public square.” That is the prophet Isaiah’s summary phrase of ancient Israel’s moral situation. He wrote to a post-exile community that was still reeling from losing their land and finding their way among the rule of others. They were not a free people – by a long shot. And their deliverance from Gentile dominance was not coming anytime soon, for a reason. They still had not really dealt with their own problems. They wanted salvation without confession, and freedom without repentance. But Isaiah reminded them that their separation from God was a result of their violence, deceitfulness, and corrupt system of justice. The Jews were neither pursuing peace, nor the common good. There would be no deliverance apart from facing those sins and renouncing them.
Without a virtuous citizenry, truth stumbles in the public square. That is, if national morality and personal ethics are absent, truth erodes and any system of laws and justice devolve into a morass of selfish agendas and lack of concern for all persons. People might haggle and disagree on what is the best way forward for a given nation, but if they do not begin with the foundation of truth and virtue, then violence is the ultimate outcome because people want what they want and do not give a damn about anything else. They will kill and covet, but they will not get what they want since their motives are unethical and immoral.
This is why the spiritual tools of prayer and fasting, confession and repentance, faith and public moral action must be the underlying conscience of a nation. Without virtue, truth may stumble but will always be present to speak to power. Government is designed as an institution to promote the common good of all citizens. If divine intervention is necessary, the proper course of action is acknowledgment of transgressions.
Sovereign God, you are the invisible ruler among the nations. Our sins are many and they bear witness against us that sound judgment has left the room. Christ, have mercy upon us, and grant us your peace through the blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.