March 7, 2021
Politics are controversial and challenging to discuss, but the Bible has a message about politics that we all need to hear. Last week we talked about overidentifying ourselves with work, and how it can throw our lives out of rhythm with God. This week, we tackle politics, and how to balance this part of our lives.
More and more people are choosing to identify with politics, and becoming more engaged until it becomes their identity. When their purpose in life becomes a specific political agenda, it can poison friendships, disrupt families, create hostile work environments, and it has people “walking on eggshells.” Politics sometimes makes it impossible to have a civil dialogue with people about different opinions about really important things.
Have you ever heard a person say: “Man, I really love government?” Not even fans of big government would say they really love it.
But the pandemic has shown us that authority and guidance about how to stop the spread of covid-19 was a good thing. We needed a vaccine developed. We had to control how people moved around in our communities. People might disagree about how well everything was done, but we can see that government and politics matter. People drive on roads that are paid for by tax money.
Let’s start with an understanding that in Genesis created order out of disorder. God created us in his image, and that makes us seek order out of chaos. Our governments might be messy, they exist because humans are really after stability. That should help us understand how to get our political lives and our spiritual lives back in balance.
In the Old Testament, Joseph’s story is very familiar. Joseph is the 11th son of Jacob, the older brother of Benjamin. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, who was also called Israel. That favoritism hatched a premeditated plan among Joseph’s older brothers. They wanted to kill him, but instead Reuben had them sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph gets wrongly accused by Potiphar’s wife, and thrown in jail. Joseph interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s aides, but they forget about him. But when Pharaoh has a dream, the surviving aide remembers Joseph.
So Joseph interprets the dream in Genesis 41:1-36. This story is very familiar, but it’s interesting because we often fail to consider the point. God uses Joseph to propose a “big government” solution; a “bureaucratic” solution to the coming famine. Ancient Egypt needed a government solution with politics to handle a big problem! So, when government works for good, it can play a godly role.
Paul also points out that government serves a purpose for God in his letter to the Romans:
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.Romans 13:1-7 (New Living Translation)
The idea is kind of simplistic, that the government only opposes those who cause problems. And you can feel the arguments: “Yes, but…” coming. We don’t know if Joe Biden or Donald Trump had the exact same line connecting him to God like what Joseph had.
But the Old Testament story still gives us an example of what happens when corruption happens in the years and decades after Joseph helped Egypt during the famine. The book of Exodus begins when a new Pharaoh comes to power in Egypt. He didn’t remember Joseph. He didn’t remember the famine. All that was a distant memory. We can see how powerful and intoxicating authority can be. Now, all the Israelites who fled to Egypt during the famine have become oppressed by the new Pharaoh.
This shows the crux of the matter for Christians. How do we understand ourselves? We understand the need for politics but also understand there is corruption. Don’t forget, it was the powers and principalities who sent Jesus to the cross.
Jesus preached about another kingdom, another way of life. It had to do with economics, punishment, justice, and the better good of society. We can’t keep our faith completely private. There are parts that will impact the public sector.
We don’t need another constitution. We don’t need another political cause. Jesus’ agenda is different. It’s what we see in Matthew 5:3-11, in the Beatitudes.
Christians living in America have allowed the politics of our nation to define the political subjects of our world. Instead of allowing Christ to define justice, we have allowed political parties to do that. Instead of being about a matter of justice, we’ve become proponents of a means to get there.
Politics in America is all about “the ends justifying the means.” Christians have tried to justify poor behavior, poor actions, immoral things, because the end would justify it: “Well, that’s just what we have to do to get there.” That’s not Jesus’ message. The means matter.
We should care about justice, and what our nation does to itself and the people in the world. We need to listen to the news differently. It shouldn’t be about agendas, but about things like whether people died, and what kind of toll actions take on society.
Christ offers a different way forward, one where it’s not about “us versus them,” or “finding middle ground,” but about finding the Way that Jesus preached.
Don’t let politics and political powers that be hijack the role that Christ has in your life. Let the Scriptures guide you, and have the creativity to see that a different world is possible.