“At the end of the days I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?””
— Daniel 4:34-35
No affection Christians may feel toward their political communities can compare to their allegiance toward Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
David VanDrunen, Politics after Christendom (p. 30). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
In my last post, I said that a Christian Mind views our history of racism through the lens of the existence and character of the One true God. Before I move on to other theological reflections, I want to expand on why knowing the true God changes how we see everything. This is especially relevant in these times.
The Burden of Being Ultimate
Our present moment is a serious one. As a result, many have become very serious, not to mention angry. A pandemic is serious. The election is serious. Racism is serious. The Supreme Court is serious. Global warming is serious. I hear the exaggeration of every issue as a “if we don’t do something about it now, all will be lost.” What a burden we carry.
The Apocalyptic Moment?
We are told we live in an apocalyptic crossroads. Let me give a few examples:
Christians insist that this election is our last chance to preserve our religious freedoms and end abortion.
Progressives say that this is the last chance to rescue us from the tyranny of Trump and racism and environmental destruction.
There are people across the political spectrum who say this may be our last chance to preserve the republic from civil war.
What do each of these have in common? A sense of the exaggerated importance of the present time. We are in an apocalyptic crisis. The end of history is upon us.
Apocalypse leads to worship
When we sense we live in such times, where everything is ultimate, we need a god.
Take any of the hot issues of our present moment. Listen to the speeches and read the feeds. What you will hear in all of this is the language of religion and worship.
Politicians and media scions are amplifying the noise of contention into the language of ultimacy. We have ultimate problems. This leader is the solution. He or she is our last hope. Let’s encircle our candidate, our expert, our street protests and give our souls to them and their cause.
Political worship is not new.
We engage in political worship for a reason. If the world is in chaos, then the question is: Who can set the world right? That must be someone of exceptional power. To them we give our everything.
God says that when that ultimate person and ideology is found, the host of humanity will erupt in the language of worship.
And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it. (Revelation 13:7-8)
Or, to put in another way, we say to our savior-leader:
“Worthy are you . . . to receive power and honor and strength and wealth.” (Revelation 5:12).
What does that mean? It means we find the cause or leader who will fix the whole mess and we say to them, “You are the One to whom we give power and money and prestige, because you will lead us out of the chaos.” That is politics and it is worship.
Worthiness and politics
This sure sounds to me like present day politics. Political conventions are acts of worship (yes, comic worship to be sure). Our streets are filled with worshipers of justice, of anti-racism, of court appointments, or of pro-American ideology. As long as we treat these issues, no matter how righteous they seem to be, as our gods, we are worshiping false gods.
I know many Christians who are as wound up about the present election as an atheist is.
The language of ultimacy is on the lips of Christians too. I know many Christians who are as wound up about the present election as an atheist is. The problem is that I and my fellow Christians have joined the throng at the feet of the “worthy one” — whether that is a leader or an ideology or even a moral cause.
But, we are not ultimate. Our leaders are not ultimate. Only God is ultimate.
Don’t give them your passion
A friend sent me a very thoughtful article yesterday. It was the advice Swiss theologian Karl Barth gave to the German Christians as Hitler rose to power. Remember, the Fuhrer used the language of ultimacy to stir up the masses against injustices. He was the solution to the problems. His party and their ideology would fix the deep issues in German culture.
The article (a serious one) is worth the read, but let me give the author’s summary (emphasis added):
Barth’s recommendation extends beyond ideology and politics to those who participate in them. Deprive them of their pathos; don’t give them the endorphin rush of their righteous indignation. Don’t buy into activists’ insistence that ______ issue means we must, as Barth put it, “storm the heavens.” With good cheer — the love of neighbor — refuse to grant the premise of their rhetoric; that is, refuse to accept that this or another political issue is an end of such ultimate, consequential stakes that any means of success are thereby justified.
Same song, new verse
Here is what I did with this article. I read contemporary issues into that blank space. Racism? BLM? The Supreme Court? Environmental dangers? Trump? Biden? Then I purposefully said – out loud – you are not getting my pathos, I am not joining you in your righteous indignation, I refuse to accept that this time is ultimate in the purposes of God.
Forgetting our God and his purpose
So why are we Christian caught up in the drama? I think we have forgotten who our God is. Perhaps we think that a good moral cause cannot become a cause that we worship. It is also possible we are bullied into thinking what if we do not join in the cosmic hand-wringing and rage, people will think we don’t care.
I think we have forgotten who our God is
I most certainly do care. I care so much that I refuse to be caught up in the raging mob worshiping their gods of ideology, expertise, and power. I even refuse to join the Christian right-wing resistance. But why?
Who the true God is and what he will do
Does that mean we do nothing? Certainly not. But what we do to make improvements is done with a view to what is the final resolution. God has told us what that is. Here is what I know:
God rules over all. The true and Living God is so ordering the events of history that nothing is outside of his purpose. Evils may prevail for a while, but he will write the last chapter. And here is what will be in the last chapter: no one will get away with anything.
no one will get away with anything.
All secrets will be revealed. All motives and secret purposes in the light! We will finally know whether the strings were pulled by George Soros or the vast right wing conspiracy.
All wrongs will be righted. ALL. Disease will be vanquished. Truth will out. Justice will be rendered in exact proportion to the crime. No plea bargains. No missed verdicts by the Grand Jury or the jury or judge. No qualified immunity. Every excuse and rationalization will be blown up. All acts of racism, oppression, corruption, murder, and injustice will be negated.
Righteousness and truth, love and mercy will prevail. Through Christ we will see that God offered something more than raw justice. Justice will be absolute and executed upon a substitute for us. That substitute is Jesus. Those who cease to worship themselves and their powers, who receive and rest in all that Jesus is and has done for them, will be pardoned, but without compromise of the law.
Only God is Great and Worthy
Since I know the end, I have perspective. I do not need to be drawn into the loud mob worship of their gods of power and ideology. That means I can refuse to bow the knee to the anger and rage and power-mongering of these months. I can do the small things that help. But I know it will all be set right in the end.
From the perspective of the true God, our political, scientific, and medical leaders are fools.
I do not take seriously the demagogues on the right or left. My hope is not in political processes. Experts do not impress me. From the perspective of the true God, our political, scientific, and medical leaders are fools. They are too arrogant to admit what they do not know or to acknowledge the limitations of what they can do. Rather, they stir up the mob into a frenzy of anger and false hope – all so that they can grab the levers of power for their own benefit.
Beginning with God changes everything
I will carry on with my posts about our history of racism. That will be done knowing that God gives us perspective on both his greatness and on our sin, especially the sins of his people (the church). But I cannot reflect on these things accurately if I am an idolater, worshiping the gods of political parties, critical race theories, constitutional principles, or power. Utopian visions are also objects we worship.
The best humankind can do it mitigate, and even that we do poorly. Government is not a solution. It causes as many problems as it solves.
But I can be part of forming an alternative city – the church. I can call the church to cease allying itself with politics and begin to be an alternative people, under the singular rule of Christ our Savior. My personal life can be one of showing loyal love, justice to the powerless around me, and the humility of serving.
I can also be part of preparing the church for whatever lies ahead. Might we lose some of our civil rights? Sure, but so what? Our civil rights do not matter in the least in the purpose of God to advance the Gospel. And remember, no one will get away with anything in the end.
The end is certain and glorious
Because I know the true God, I know the end of all things. That shrinks the hysteria of the present moment. I am not to give my pathos or soul to any present-day cause, no matter how righteous it seems or how loudly the mob shouts.
And I can reflect further on racism – without expecting or demanding justice now, but knowing God will set all things right in the end.