For a long time now I've listened to followers of Jesus give voice to passionate hopes that a particular political outcome will usher in a wonderful day for God's purposes in our world. This hope is not unique to any specific political party or viewpoint; it pretty much covers the spectrum. Most of us seem to be desperate for the election of a certain candidate, the elevation of our party, a pronouncement from the Supreme Court that will settle something important, or the passage of some law that will pave the way forward. As naive as it is, we seem to believe that once "our side" is in power, we will have all that we need to usher in a new day of peace and morality and (of course) prosperity.
That hope, it seems to me, is utterly bankrupt. Even more, that misplaced hope denies the power of the gospel and it calls into question God's ability to accomplish his purposes on his terms. Throughout history, the church has done just fine regardless of the political landscape. In fact, the church seems to do better when it finds itself in conflict with the powers that be. On the other hand, when a government attempts to help the church do its work, the church tends to become lazy, careless, and too eager to compromise. Despite what you may have heard, the church is thriving today -- and it is thriving most dramatically in places where it faces oppression and persecution and opposition.
Our dream of a political structure that will uphold and undergird the mission and purpose of the church is misguided and dangerous.
I know that it was a different day, but I'm intrigued by Jesus' attitude toward the political powers of his time. His land was ruled by Rome. I'm amazed by how little Jesus talked about Rome. In fact, many people rejected Jesus as the Messiah specifically because he did not have a political agenda! It was assumed that the Promised One would come and confront the enemies of God's people, but Jesus had interest only in the kingdom of God. And get this: he wanted even those so-called enemies of God's people to be part of the kingdom of God too!
His devotion to Rome was rather tepid. "Give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor," Jesus said, "but make sure that you give God everything that belongs to him." (See Luke 20:20-26.) I read Jesus' comment this way: "Do whatever you need to do to keep Rome off your back, but never forget who you really belong to!"
Jesus had even less interest in the political squabbles of the Jews. Surely, it would have been easy for Jesus to take sides and address the political issues of the day. Instead, he was consumed with a different kingdom altogether. He refused to get distracted by lesser things.
I know. Our New Testament tells us that government is ordained by God. But the same New Testament makes it clear that we answer to a higher authority and that we are compelled to obey God supremely. The clearest political command for followers of Jesus is that we are to pray for our leaders, and even that small thing is a challenge for most of us.
Clearly, this all gets jumbled in our minds and hearts. If our candidate wins, we take that as an indication that God has gotten what God wanted. But if our candidate doesn't win, we can't imagine that God is okay with that -- and yet we're troubled because God somehow let that happen. "God is in control!" we chant (perhaps to convince ourselves), but sometimes we say those words with victorious pride and sometimes with a sigh of confusion.
Well, is God in control or not? And can God accomplish his purposes even if the wrong candidate wins and even if our country goes in a direction that we don't understand?
What silly questions! Of course he is. Of course he can. Most surely, he will.
And all of that brings me to our world today. Who's your candidate? Unless you really are a single issue voter, you have a quite a dilemma these days.
Let's see, what would Jesus say about abortion, about carpet bombing, about character, about honesty, about poverty, about income inequality, about care for the environment, about immigration, about health care, about gun control, about education, about child care, about women's issues, about people with no voice, about justice, about integrity, about violence, about racism, about homosexuality, about torture, about mercy, about military spending?
Yeah, it kind of ruins the conversation to bring Jesus into it. But that's exactly where he needs to be.
And if we think that Jesus agrees with every one of our political views (whatever they are), we are only kidding ourselves.
Do you really think Jesus agrees with you about everything?
I've always been told that one of the clearest expressions of Christian citizenship is the act of voting. I always took that claim at face value and I simply accepted it as true.
Today, I'm not so sure.
You want to vote? Go for it. But hold that ballot very lightly in your hand -- and hold it even more lightly in your heart.
Followers of Jesus are never required to choose the lesser of two (or more) evils. So maybe it is better that we simply tell the truth about the emptiness of our political world and redirect our focus to what God is doing.
Let Rome be Rome.
And let the church be the church.
Let the church be the church regardless of what Rome does. If Rome passes laws that help us do our work, great! And if Rome passes laws that inhibit our work, let's choose to do our work anyway. We don't answer to Rome. What's more, the Rome that helps us out today is the same Rome that will break our hearts tomorrow.
Honestly, when has God ever been threatened or controlled or limited by something as small and insignificant as a government?
I realize that this goes against conventional wisdom and that it probably contradicts common sense. I realize that this will likely cause you some discomfort. But I'll say it anyway: it really doesn't matter who is elected President. And it really doesn't matter which direction our nation goes.
What truly matters is that, as followers of Jesus, we make certain that we are following Jesus. The political realm is neither our salvation nor our downfall; it simply provides the environment in which we get to serve God. And we can serve God -- and we must serve God -- no matter what is happening around us.
We are free to worship. We are free to serve God. We are free to share our faith. We are free to pour out our lives. We are free to follow Jesus.
We are free . . . no matter what the world says.
There is only one thing worse that putting all of our eggs in one basket -- and that is putting all of our eggs in the wrong basket. Let's make sure that we don't put our eggs in the political basket. Politics is never going to be our answer.
God has something much bigger than that going on.