After the loud and spirited debate, the council moved on to other issues: parks, schools, street repairs and benevolent programs. Immediately, there was a thundering stampede for the exits. The obvious conclusion: many Christians are interested in religious symbolism, but not the hard work of building community.
Few issues reveal our “eye sight” like government and politics. Everything we do flows from the way we see authority.
Which Government Do You See?
When the Bible speaks of the “kingdom” of God, it means the realm of God’s authority; “kingdom” is a synonym for “government.”
Because many Christians are so focused on civil government, they completely miss the greater power and reach of God’s dominion. That causes them to walk in a sense of overwrought responsibility. And, that leads to fear, anger and antagonism toward perceived threats.
That is simply not a biblical posture.
Consider the story of a Syrian king’s attempt to capture Elisha (whom he obviously regarded as a representative of God’s government). One morning at dawn, Elisha’s servant walked outside and saw that their camp was completely encircled by the Syrian army. Clearly disturbed and afraid, he quickly woke Elisha with this alarming news.
The old prophet rolled over and essentially said to the young man, “So what? Our army is larger and stronger than theirs.” And, then Elisha (probably as he turned to go back to sleep) said to God, “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” Instantly, the servant saw that the surrounding mountains were full of awesome military forces – made of flames! [2 Kings 6:8-23]
That blazing army was very real and it had been there the whole time. It was not a convenient apparition. Perhaps Elisha saw it often. At the very least, he knew that God’s government was infinitely larger and more powerful than any political realm on earth.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul referred to Jesus being revealed with his fiery angels. What does it tell you about God’s government that the personnel and hardware components of His military are, apparently, in continuous fireball?
Elisha walked in the clear confidence of superior strength. When we really “see” the reality of God’s boundless authority, we will walk on the earth in strength and courage – not arrogance or audacity – toward all the lesser realms.
But, when we feel threatened by political power centers and social issues, we become reactionary and dangerously antagonistic. Many fall in battle simply because of their pointless hostility and foolish aggression.
Again, consider the saga of Elisha and the Syrian army. After wisely gaining the military advantage, he dealt gently with the soldiers themselves. He also spared their lives and released them to go back to their own king and country.
Because he could clearly “see” the competing realms of authority and their respective strengths, he was free to think rationally and objectively (even ignoring the famous precedents for killing everyone).
Elisha seemed more interested in building long-term stability and peace of Israel than he was in striking a reactionary blow “for God.”
When we see a God too small, we see a world too threatening. Conversely, great strength and confidence release great grace.
Builders and Destroyers
The ancient prophet Zechariah once described a struggle between the “horns” and the “craftsmen.” [Zechariah 1:18-21]. The horns (think: wild bulls) snort, ripple their muscles and paw the ground. They bellow and impale victims on their horns and toss them around. Their purpose is simply to terrify, disrupt and scatter.
The bulls are subdued, not by bigger bulls and not by matadors, but by craftsmen. These artisans, perhaps carpenters, eventually drive the bulls away through the quiet and steady rhythms of wisdom and excellence; quality trumps decibels and commotion.
Zechariah could see the sound and fury which agitate and destabilize society as well as the consistent, often unnoticed, craftsmanship which forges community.
Let me be clear: I believe Christian believers should work for the issues, the causes and even the political races which they care about.
But, that work should be carried out in confidence in God and grace toward all. People are not our enemies. When I worked in Washington, D.C., I knew several Democrats and Republicans who were deeply committed Christians. They could passionately argue their positions in the Senate and House chambers (sometimes even against each other), and then get together with those same “adversaries” for meals, ball games and Bible studies.
Shouldn’t we all work to maintain that kind of integrity and peace with everyone? Should that include those who stand in opposition to what we believe?
Sadly, too much of Christian culture is now just another corral of “horns” in our very polarized and raucous society. Christians are so often reduced to gaudy and loud components of the combat which is so riveting on television (that’s why football and other sports work so well on TV). Media reps call Christian leaders for statements or interviews and they fall right into their framework, their technology and their marketing strategy.
Yes, of course, Christian values are threatened today. And, yes, we should be courageous in standing for what we cherish. But, perhaps the best response to the encroachment is not anger and reaction, but rather serious and long-term craftsmanship.
After all, the prophet Isaiah said of the coming Christ, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.[Isaiah 42:2]”
How Do You See Politics?
What do you see in, assume about and expect from politics?
Do you believe political parties are mills of truth? Can righteousness be enforced through government and politics? Should we enter political battles in order to protect God?
Politics has never been about truth or righteousness; it is about compromise and consensus. At best, it is only the means by which conflicting positions are zippered into some kind of governmental policy or process.
For that reason, shouldn’t our investment in political action be carried out with our eyes on the prize of our higher and nobler calling?
The more we clearly see the real issues and the real power, the more we will be free to walk through politics and government as “secret agents” of another government. We will come into a better understanding of our job as “equal opportunity subversives” – helping men and women, young and old, liberals and conservatives, capitalists and communists and members of every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” [Revelation 5:9] to find joyful sanctuary in God’s government.
If we can get our vision corrected, then we can pass through the great churning debates of our time with a compelling and majestic mission of reconciliation.
Life’s higher call always precede and outlast politics.
We can all respond to the call – even in the midst of presidential campaigns.
Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (firstname.lastname@example.org). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.