Politics: Interest or Idolatry?
We find ourselves in 2016 in the middle of a dog-eat-dog election year, where politicians will once again tear each other apart and spend stomach-turning amounts of money in the name of winning a race for the most “powerful” position in our nation. There is no denying the historical prestige of the President of the United States, as this title rings across the world, bringing to mind images of pomp and circumstance, democracy and progress.
And so, beginning last year, my Twitter and Facebook, as well as many other locations on the internet, have been filled with the constant clamoring of keyboard warriors who desperately want to make their case for a particular candidate. I don’t get my news from the TV — the constant droning and unnecessary commentary on the same issue for hours on end is more than I can handle. But I’ve seen enough clips of debates online to know that things are in full swing and I’m probably just as aware of the pertinent issues of the presidential race as the next guy.
And I’ll be honest: I have a candidate in mind that I believe will most likely stick to principles that most closely align with the Bible, which I firmly stand on as the authoritative Word of God. Don’t get me wrong: I believe the separation of church and state is a very important thing and must remain intact. To abolish the separation of church and state will actually do harm to religious liberty. But that’s a discussion for another day. In my mind, though, there is one candidate that stands out among the rest as one who be most committed to the constitution on which our country was built. Having said that, let me jump to the point, which is not to promote one candidate over another. My point is this:
If you’re looking for a president, that’s great. If you’re looking for a Savior, that position is not, and will not, be vacant for all eternity. We already have one.
Perhaps this took a turn you didn’t expect, but this is where I stand. I have thoroughly and methodically watched and studied the evangelical church for a long time now and what I’ve noticed concerns me. All over the United States I see evangelical Christians, who claim a commitment to Jesus Christ over and above all things. And yet these very same folks, in every election year, speak about their presidential hopeful as if he will be more than the man who sits in the Oval Office. I know that is an oversimplification of the role of POTUS and I do not want to make light of the weight of that office.
But what characterizes much of the church during an election cycle is anxiety, panic, anger, vicious attacks, and many other things that border on, dare I say it…worship. Lives consumed by the worship of one position. What I’m seeing is a church that professes Jesus is all we need,” but then treats a presidential race as if this one person will be the “savior” of our nation, or possibly even the world. The reality of the world, at least through a biblical worldview, is that this simply is not the case.
I’m reminded of 1 Samuel 8, where the people of Israel desperately longed for a king to rule over them. So Samuel prayed to the Lord on behalf of the people and God responded by saying this: “…they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7) We are told that the people were consistently walking away from the Lord and trusting in themselves, casting themselves into wickedness and great sin, refusing to obey the law of the Lord. God’s explanation was that they have rejected God’s kingship over them, which explains their desire for a more tangible, human king. After this, Samuel goes back to the people and explains to them what a human king will look like and how miserable they will be under the kingly authority of a man. He will enslave you. He will enslave your children. He will take your things and make them work for his own good. “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourself, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18)
The story goes on to say that the people of Israel continued demanding a king anyway, so that they could be like other nations and so that they could have a king who would fight their battles. And God said: if it’s a king you want, it is a king you will receive. But with that king will come all of the promises I just gave you as well. The rest is literally history. Throughout Israel’s history, they received king after king, mostly terrible with very few exceptions. And the Israelites, just as God promised, cried out to the Lord for help. They had made their choice, a choice that involved rejecting God as king and putting their hope and trust in earthly kings.
And today, I see the evangelical church doing the exact same thing in a way that might even be worse. Because many people in the church have the audacity to proclaim Jesus as King, while they shelve Him for the year of an election, to worship an earthly presidential candidate. And what has the outcome been historically? 44 presidents deep and we have not found the perfect one yet. Every last one of them have made drastic mistakes in almost every area of their leadership.
As Christians, this is to be expected. After all, we are promised in Philippians 4:9 that it is God who “will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Jesus made it clear that He’s the only source of living water that we can never exhaust. Elsewhere, the Scriptures make clear that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, personal righteousness, will be satisfied in Jesus. We could go on and on with examples from Scripture that our lives were never meant to find joy, happiness, peace, hope, comfort, or anything good, apart from Jesus Christ, who contains the fullness of God and is the central person in a gospel that is eternal and not temporal.
What I am not suggesting is that the presidential race doesn’t matter. What I am suggesting is that perhaps it matters a lot less than we would like to believe. As Christians, we are called to seek first the “kingdom of God,” which means this is a real, abiding, tangible kingdom that is already here, but not here in completion and fullness. If we are going to be biblical with our view of our worldly government, we have to first understand that before we citizens of the world, we are citizens of the kingdom of God, with Christ as our king. If we are going to live rightly as Christians, we first have to understand that our allegiance should be pledged to the King of a kingdom that is everlasting and will never crumble. Before our allegiance is to a flag with stars and stripes, it’s to King Jesus, by whose bloody stripes we are healed. If we are united to Jesus Christ, then our priorities have to match His, and His priorities were never centered on earthly government, but on subverting all earthly authorities by bringing a kingdom whose message is hope and salvation through Jesus Christ and his death, resurrection, ascension and return.
Christians: we are citizens of a greater, better, everlasting kingdom. We are looking forward to “a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). And that kingdom is centered on its king: the Savior of the world, King Jesus himself. He has authority over all things, as we speak. And the kingdom is marching on and moving forward. As we live on earth, we are simply an embassy of that kingdom, representing the kingdom of God to all those we encounter. Our future in that kingdom helps us make sense of what we see now.
And this does not mean we do not care about things in the here and now. Of course we do! But it does change the way we look at it. We certainly do not want to disengage. We always want to be speaking truth to the culture and seeking to affect change in the culture. But we do realizing that America, nor any other nation, is the hope of the world. The hope of the world came in a manger 2000 years ago. We must ensure that any interest we hold concerning the upcoming election does not transform itself into worship. We are natural worshipers, worshiping anything that allures us and draws us in. Being interested in the presidential race is probably a good thing. I happen to believe it matters a lot less than we believe it does, since we’re still dealing with a broken world, a broken nation, a broken government, and…broken me.
By all means fulfill your role of voting and being well-informed. But don’t expect a perfect president and don’t expect that a sinful people in a sinful world are going to stop acting sinfully, until they are saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t buy into hysteria and panic and anxiety and the culture of worship that we live in. Be engaged if you choose, but it is a grave mistake to be enamored. There’s nothing wrong with being informed, but everything is wrong with being inflamed and consumed by a quest for a new POTUS. The world sees nothing wrong with that, but as believers in Christ, we should. The danger is allowing interest to bleed into idolatry.
So no matter where you stand politically, if you are hoping for a President who will very much imperfectly lead the country and will make lots of sinful mistakes (while also doing some good), then that’s great. That’s exactly what you’ll get, no matter the candidate.
But if you are looking to POTUS for a savior, you are wasting your time. We already have one and He’s already sitting on the throne, ruling and reigning over all things. He’s worthy of worship and praise and honor.
Let’s fight any impulse to elevate the stars and stripes as an idol. There’s only one set of stripes that will heal you and save you.
Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”