In one week from today the U.S. electorate will choose one of the two major party candidates as their next President. Whoever wins will take office as the least admired and the least respected President in our history. Whoever is elected will lead a nation deeply divided, with over half the population disillusioned, disgusted and despairing over its top leadership. If this is an overstatement, many are making it.
I have written several posts on political questions. I want to end this series with a post on political answers. Here are some answers to questions that are not often posed but should be. While I certainly acknowledge that our current situation does seem as dire as I describe above, I am not without hope and far from despairing. These answers are the most important reason why.
ANSWER: To the question: What “nationality” do followers of Jesus claim? Our citizenship is in “the Heavens,” as Paul put it (Col. 3:20). “In the heavens” is shorthand for the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, embodied and offered in his ministry. It is the kingdom for which he died and which by dying and rising he claimed to have established once and for all. It is the counter claim and allegiance signaled by the earliest Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord!’ Which meant exactly and precisely that King Herod, Caesar Augustus, nor any of their successors, nor any other earthly or heavenly authority that has followed was/is not lord!
If that is so, as most followers of Jesus would say it is, this suggests that the kingdom is not future but present and it is not experienced elsewhere but here and now in our present world. That this kingdom awaits it full and final manifestation, which it does, in no way means this kingdom and its claims are not profoundly decisive in shaping the whole of our lives—just as the place and people among whom we are born naturally does. So our “nationality” belongs first and foremost to the Kingdom Jesus brings into our world.
Now, most followers of Jesus today have also been born into or become citizens of other nations and realms, all of which are both good and bad. As I’ve suggested before whenever and wherever these governments are good that is blessing to enjoy and to share with others in praise to God. And when not, that is woe and evil against which we must stand and witness, and seek to change in the direction of kingdom justice through the Spirit of God in accord with the way of Jesus.
ANSWER: To the question: What do we rightly expect from an election in a government wholly of this world? Not much, and little if anything of eternal significance. The election of one rather than another, or a decision made by the electorate on some issue may or may not bring blessing and may or may not bring woe. And, in fact, will likely bring both, and both the blessing and the woe may be different than we might think.
Therefore, we thoroughly reject salvation by government, by merely human government. No matter what government you talk about, no government can and does save us. Often governments have confused and complicated salvation. And sometimes it is from government that people have needed to be saved.
Can governments do good? Of course. Do they? Sometimes. But here is an important reality often not realized or factored into electoral responses. For the most part, governments serve their own ends. They do what they think is best for them. It may be good for the world but earthly governments do not do things only because it is good for the world. A government might well do something good for the world, when it is also good for itself. Often governments justify the things they do for their own good by claiming it is good for the world. And usually that is simply a form of self-justification. As a matter of fact, no earthly government sacrifices itself for the sake of others, and certainly not for the sake of enemies. There can be no salvation by government, at least not in any terms that we could call biblical or broadly Christian, not least because the very nature of merely human, earthly kingdoms is to serve self, preserve self, enhance self and save self. Of course, in the light of the only Savior and Lord we recognize “serving self” and the rest moves in exactly the opposite direction of the salvation God offers us and the world.
(By the way, here is why it is simply wrong headed to regard any merely, earthly government as a Christian government! Because to be Christian is to submit to Jesus as Lord, which inevitably means denying self, bearing the instrument of shameful death, and walking steadfastly and directly toward that death, and through it to life that is back-from-the-dead-Life, full of glory. A government could conceivably adopt laws that are more or less compatible with the way of Jesus, but it would still be fundamentally incapable of shaping its national life according to the discipling demands of Jesus. At least no government seeking to be democratic ever could this.)
If there is no salvation by government then we should never expect such from any election or leader. Most campaigns promise the world, which when translated into spiritual terms truly amounts to promising salvation. The wise as serpent and gentle as dove followers of Jesus know better. They may well be disappointed by an election outcome. This will no doubt happen for many people next week. But when they next worship their Lord, and recall whose they are, and what government claims their full allegiance, and what ultimate mission and provisional goals their Commander in Chief has given them, they will “sleep it off,” rise to a new day full of glory and press into their work and play and worship as the people of God. They will remember what the Lord has asked of them—to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. They will seek first the right ways of the Kingdom of Jesus, and trust that all the things others worry and obsess over will be added in time. They will know on the strength of what God has done before, that God is at work in it all for the good of those enthralled and governed by the love of this their God and Lord.
ANSWER: To the question: Is there anything critical and eternal at stake in this election? No, and yes. On the one hand, no because the election before us and our future leadership in themselves have no critical or ultimate significance for citizens of Kingdom of Jesus. Salvation and the ultimate wellbeing of the world and its people are not dependent on such outcomes.
On other hand, however, yes we do face a critical time in our world and the US. We have the ongoing invitation and urgent opportunity to be true people of God and sincerely engaged in the mission of Jesus, which in Jesus’ estimation will play a critical role in God’s plan to restore the world from the ruin of human idolatry in service to the evil one.
I have put it like this in these posts: we must decide whether to be part of the problem or to accept the call of our Command in Chief to join in working out the solution that will bring blessing to the world, including the U.S. The plan of God is to bring all of reality to its God-design and destiny under the gracious, loving and powerful rule of Jesus (as in Eph. 1:10). And the people of Jesus must be front and center here and now actually demonstrating what that would look like, advocating for Jesus’ way of life in every sphere of influence, and applying their best gifts and abilities towards these ends beginning in Jerusalem and extending out to the ends of the world.
Here is a modest list of ways communities of Jesus could be part of creating a counter culture.
- In a world of racial, tribal and communal anger, division and strife, followers of Jesus could be agents of reconciliation, seeking to know people who are different, befriending them, defending them against aggressors, and watch what God will do. We could demonstrate that the lives of those different from us matter supremely, period. In our current day, if we are white, as I am, that would mean that black lives matter supremely, period. Likewise, persons of other religions, even Islam, matter supremely, period. On the latter, as we seek to know and befriend we might recall that the most virile and violent enemy of the first communities of Christ was a man named Saul.
- In a world of deepening poverty and scandalous vulnerability for so many, not least the unborn, and not least the born but abandoned to cold institutional care-taking, and not least many who die from lack of the simplest of provisions of health care and nutrition, we could commit to a more radical stewardship of the resources we have to offer loaves that Jesus could multiply. In the earliest church we read there were no poor among them. They cared for people as though they had no other business. This saved lives and caused outsiders to wonder.
- In a word of anger and violence that spins into scary vengeful cycles, terrorizes the world and cannibalizes humanity, we could practice what Jesus taught about loving enemies, praying for persecutors, and doing good in return for evil. In a world where teenagers inadvertently train to be our protectors by playing violent video games, and without knowing it develop habits of thinking and reacting that imply Jesus was a fool and his teachings unpractical in the so-called real world—and many of them are children of Christians—in that kind of world we could calmly and prophetically remind our world that war has never brought peace, just a prelude to the next war. Alternatively, we could seek the grace to love peace and to make peace, even if it killed us, trusting Jesus’ word that making peace marks the makers as children of God.
Modest things indeed.
Like a young lady’s unexpected and unexplainable pregnancy.