Every Tuesday night a group of members from the church I pastor come to our house to be reminded of the beauty of Jesus, pray together, and discuss that week’s sermon. Recently I asked the group to share their most recent time of discouragement and how they dealt with it. What I had planned to be a night of prayer quickly turned into a lively discussion as the topic of politics arose and became, surprise, a fiery discussion. What is it about politics that seems to make even the most shy of people become so outwardly loud and opinionated?
As I write this, I am aware that there are smarter and wiser men and women writing on faith and politics pretty regularly in this highly charged political season. I don’t believe I am necessarily aiming to solve any problems or be an authoritative voice, but I do hope to create a small change in demeanor among the people of God. For years, as a pastor, I have had to be cautious of what I say about politics because I know my influence matters to some and I don’t want to speak out of emotion or be misunderstood. I realize people look to me to try to better understand what God says about politics, the issues of government, justice, and peace. I’m often hesitant because I sincerely don’t believe that the majority of American politicians are driven by the good of the common man the way they once were. I have watched the polarization of people differing in their political opinions become the end of friendships that should’ve been founded on something stronger. And my greatest sorrow has been watching the way followers of Jesus avidly disobey the commandments of God during elections, somehow in the name of God. Commandments like love the Lord your God and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40) seem to be put on pause during election seasons. Not only have we failed to love our enemy, but many have hated their own blood-bought brothers and sisters who differ in opinion.
I confess that I’ve never seen politics as the answer to the world’s problems. Can they be a means to good, yes. But I also believe the average human being can be more influential in their own neighborhood than a politician can be through a phone screen. I understand that politics do affect things on a local level, but I’ve never seen politics make people a more loving and kind people in their local context. Anyways, as a pastor I get to listen to quite a few people and what they believe the issues are. After years of listening and observing, I’ve noticed that most people are so riled up and opinionated that they don’t actually know what the deeper problem is.
Recently I was talking to someone I highly love and respect. As he shared his feelings, some of the ones I resonated with, and think most people resonate with, were:
- I don’t want my kids and grandkids to grow up in a world like this.
- They (the other political party) are the problem. Their agenda is to ruin our country.
- The agenda of the “other side” will break down and diminish this country’s Christian values (this needs an article of its own).
After listening, I became aware of what seemed to be a common thread in most people I listen to: FEAR. I think most of us, if we will be honest, are afraid of what might happen after this current election. This is understandable. However, it is what we do with our fear that will often tell us where we are placing our trust. In our fear, we either grasp for control or we wait upon the God of all creation.
Some (false) Solutions
One of the ways we can respond to fear is by looking unto a man, a political party, or anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ as the answer. King David, while waiting upon God to help in a time of trouble taught us, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7). I am not saying that we completely remove ourselves from politics, although there may be times for that, but I am saying it is not the supreme place of hope and trust.
If God were to peel back the layers of our minds and hearts, I think one thing that the light would uncover is an unfounded hope that a certain political party or candidate will bring heaven to earth. This is often called over-realized eschatology. It is the error of trying to lasso future realities and wrestle them into the present. I am currently living in the age of my seventh president. As a kid I listened to family members speak about their candidate as if it were a life and death decision. Today, it’s the same. People think this is the end of the world…again. There is nothing new under the sun.
For Republicans there has often been an allegiance to fighting against abortion, and rightly so. For Democrats there has often been an emphasis on welcoming refugees into our country, and rightly so. Both, at their core, are biblical and beautiful. But herein lies the problem: We have woven Christianity and politics so tightly together that we have sometimes forgotten what is primarily biblical and what is secondarily political. This causes some followers of Jesus to mistakenly die on hills that are political, not biblical. For example, I have heard more followers of Jesus get angry about the infringement of second amendment rights than getting upset about disobedience to the second commandment. Why is it that the threat of the removal of weapons seems more serious than the removal of love given to image-bearers of God? It is because we have blurred the lines of Scripture and politics. We have let the Constitution become our authority rather than the Scriptures. We have fashioned a Jesus in the image of Toby Keith, replacing the Psalm-singing Messiah on a cross for a patriot clothed in an American flag. Our allegiance is misplaced.
Many followers of Jesus believe if we can somehow bring justice in its fullness here and now, we will be better as a country. This again is over-realized eschatology. It is a longing to bring perfect justice into an imperfect period of the world. Yes, as followers of Jesus we are to pursue justice but we must also have an understanding of the already-not-yet. This means that abortion, racism, sexual identity, etc. are all things we must speak the truth of the Scriptures into with love and gentleness, but it also means there will still be injustices we witness and experience. In those moments, do the Scriptures command us to look to man or to God? The second most commanded thing in all of Scripture is to wait on God (Ps. 27:14; Isa. 40:31; Rom. 8:23; 1 Thess. 1:10). Are we waiting upon the justice that God will bring or do we use our fear, anger and polarization of others as an attempt to be the sovereign ones who administer justice?
Part of the problem is that we want each presidential candidate to be the promise keepers and the hero of the story. We have believed they will bring heaven to earth here and now. We don’t like to wait. We don’t like fear. And due to these things, we have forgotten who God is, what he has done, and what he has promised to do. In this time of waiting, we have slowly and almost unknowingly shifted our allegiance from the Lamb to an Elephant or a Donkey.
The True Solution
By the 700’s B.C., the people of God had experienced a host of political turmoil. They had experienced both the joy of good kings and the terror of evil kings. Part of the problem with the evil kings was that Israel followed suit in that evil. Isaiah 1-5 is characterizing the people of God as an evil and adulterous people. In Isaiah 6, God raises up the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is aware that he himself is evil and needs to be cleansed (Isa. 6:5). Isaiah did not demonize the people but saw himself as one of them. And after God graciously cleanses Isaiah, he sends him to preach the gospel to the people of Israel (Isa. 6:8).
A few chapters later, we get an incredible promise about a good King that would be born to this world centuries later. We read of this King in Isaiah 9:6-7, which says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be calledWonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
The longing we have to bring heaven to earth was partially met when the heavenly One himself took on flesh and was born into this world (Isa. 9:6). He came with a kingdom that had an already-not-yet sense to it. The kingdom of heaven had truly broken in to this world with Jesus (Mark 1:15), but not in its fullness (1 Cor. 15:50-54). Stooping down into this world, the Lord Jesus Christ walked a life of humility. He had opinions about Caesar but was far more concerned with people knowing him and his eternal authority over all rulers and kingdoms. As he stooped low, he had to bend beneath the sins of his people. He had to endure the death sin deserved, especially the sin of allegiance to anyone other than him and the hatred we have had for those who differ from us.
However, in his resurrection he ushered forth the first fruits of his new creation. As C.S. Lewis said, “He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has a picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly strengthens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.”
He truly is the King of the world. In his death and resurrection he was establishing his eternal government (Isa. 9:6-7). This government is upon his shoulders, this kingdom is his to rule and reign over. For those in Isaiah’s day, they never saw him face-to-face. In all their fears and longings they waited. In Christ’s day, people got a taste of this government as Jesus began to restore the order of the new creation as he healed the deaf, blind, and dead! He truly brought new life and many trusted in him.
Notice the endearing names Isaiah gives to Jesus: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Do these names characterize our current political candidates? No, because in this world it is hate and manipulation and false promises that vie for power. But the Lord Jesus, the King of kings, is the Wonderful Counselor who listens and speaks love and truth. He is the Mighty God who created by the power of his word and is mighty to save. He is the Everlasting Father of our faith who authors and perfects that faith (Heb. 12:1-2). He is the Prince of peace who brought a true and lasting peace by his own blood on the cross (Eph. 2:14). This is the character of our God and of his kingdom.
The question is, can we wait for this kingdom to come in its fullness? Can we trust the King who sovereignly puts all kinds of presidents in office? Can we, in our moments of great fear, trust the Prince of peace, or will we manipulate, control, and hate all in the name of trying to bring heaven to earth on our own? Maybe, just maybe, this all resonates with you. My prayer is that we would be a people that confess our fears and lack of trust. My prayer is that we would be honest before God and confess that we are no different than previous generations who have wrongfully put our allegiance in man. In doing so, may we receive his great forgiveness and benefits (Psalm 103:2-3).
We all have this desire for justice. Injustice is ugly and hurts when it affects you or a loved one. The good news about Jesus’ government in Isaiah 9:6-7 is that he will bring justice once and for all. If you read the whole book of Isaiah, you are quickly confronted with an already-not-yet view of justice. Jesus would bring actual justice to certain individuals as a fulfillment of Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4). But Isaiah’s picture of justice is primarily looking forward to the day when Christ established the New Heavens and New Earth (Isa. 42, Isa. 60-66). His justice is more about returning broken things to a new and beautiful state that they were intended to be in. Sexual confusion, racism, false worship, etc. will all be made right…and beautiful. All will be done to God’s glory.
Living in the Already-Not-Yet
When fear shows it’s ugly head again, we must remind one another that King Jesus’ throne will not be abdicated to someone else in another 4-8 years. He will reign forever. A scary thought for some reading this is that America may be falling. That is scary and sad. But if it does, would that surprise you? The Scriptures make clear that all earthly kingdoms will fall (Dan. 2). Maybe that thought alone is what scares you and is an opportunity to trust Christ and his government for the first time. If faced with the decision, would your allegiance ultimately be in Jesus or America at the end of the day? The history of our country has always had some strange overlap of the two but if the overlap was unbraided, where would your allegiance be? The good news is that Jesus can handle your fears and anxieties because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). To be sure, though, Jesus is not any more pro-American than he is Pro-Iraqi, Pro-Germany, etc. Jesus is about his glory and his government. Sometimes we have a valid fear of the government but then turn to an invalid trust in the government to be our Savior. Are you able to see the log in your own eye, or do you tend to see the speck in the eyes of others (Matt. 7:1-6)?
The difficulty I have experienced is actually applying and living in light of these truths. Recently, pastor and author, Scott Sauls, offered some very helpful ways to be a follower of Jesus and be political. He gave these 7 points on Twitter:
• Carefully read the 4 Gospels, Romans, and James.
• Pray and dine with people whose politics differ from yours.
• Name 1-2 weaknesses of your own party.
• Name 1-2 strengths of the other party.
• Vote your conscience.
• Fight evil.
- Advance good.
My main purpose in writing this is love, care, and concern. I myself am often so confused by everything going on in the world. But over and over again I am brought back to this idea that if we are followers of Jesus, we eventually will be hated because he was hated (John 16:1-4). Yet, the Triune God whom we owe all our allegiance to is near to us (John 14:23) so we need not be afraid. We can wait upon Christ’s return knowing that it is not our political allegiance that makes him known but it is our love for one another that will proclaim to others that we are his disciples (John 13:34-35).