This problem is bigger than we can solve. No amount of money spent or legislation can stop this. The best we can do is make things a little better.
— No Politician Ever Said This
… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
“Everybody who seeks political office, everybody who seeks governing office, has two motivations in the heart. The one motivation is, ‘I want to use power in the service of truth. I want power so I can serve truth and other people.’ Because you go into political office, you think, ‘I can think of ways to organize society better than it’s organized now, and I want to implement my ideas.’ The other motivation is you don’t want power just to serve the truth. You also want power as an end in itself. You want power to fill the deep need every human heart has for self-affirmation.”
— Vaclav Havel
God has a kingdom purpose which he alone, through Jesus, can pull off. Jesus has the character and competence required.
Politics and Christ
As covered in previous posts (here and here and here), God has political purposes — to exercise power to govern the world of humankind. But it is political in its own way. It stands against the politics generated by a world of humans insisting on living apart from their Creator. His kingdom plan is nothing less than the renovation of the human race. Included in this is the end of all sin and injustice through judgment, and the formation of a new human race that lives under his rule in unity, righteousness, and worship.
Politics and Human Aspiration
I have noted that human political aspirations are often idealistic. They appeal to high moral principles (justice, freedom) and posture themselves as virtuous. And they assert their ability to make things right. But they face immense obstacles.
First, it is impossible for people who are morally twisted to pull it off.
Second, to make matters worse, no one has the chops to make it happen. It is above their pay grade. There is not one member of the human race with the character to exercise power and bring about justice without arrogance and the oppressive use of force. Utopian political visions that involve deploying massive power in the State for purposes of justice have almost always led to the destruction of the many for the good of the few in power. 1, 2
Jesus Kingdom Vision
But what’s wrong with visionary aspiration? Sounds like we should we just quit trying? I will post more on that in my closing comments on this series.
It is true that we could say that Jesus announced a kingdom of utopian and even hyper-utopian dimensions. His teaching about the character of citizens in his kingdom is bold and without any taint of evil. So what’s the difference? Remember, his moral teaching is designed to show us we cannot be that good.
But, what really marks him off is that he alone has the character and competence to bring the kingdom of God to fruition. He does that by targeting the root problem. His solution to the problem did not involve power or money.3 That is the message of the four gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
Let me briefly cite some of the character qualities of Jesus on Nazareth:
- Never, at any point of time, did he live selfishly. His entire way of life was service.
- Nor did he accumulate more than what he needed. He gave away all that he had in order to serve the people around him.4
- He never kissed up to the people in power or at the top of the social ladder. He cut through religious phoniness. And he was never rude while doing so.
- In the face of fierce disapproval, he never pulled punches in defining the kind of life that was pleasing to God. This meant he offended the self-righteous and the immoral.
- He treated each and every person he encountered with the respect appropriate to someone made for God, in God’s image, with the possibility of either an everlasting life in glory with God or an eternal existence in misery and isolation from all that is good.
And there is more
- Whomever he faced, he saw each person with the hope of what redemption could do in them.
- Obedience was his joy. He lived in subjection to God the Father and such submission meant freedom.
- He was kind, gentle, welcoming, tender of heart to the weak of spirit.
- While he had many enemies, he won every conflict with them, not by power or the force of cancellation.
- He refused to allow the political ambitions of his contemporaries to define him. He, not they, were setting the agenda.
He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
The short list
Remember, I am being selective. My selections are based on contemporary concerns. What I want you to see is two fold:
First, there is something appealing about Jesus to everyone. I want to know people like this! Just imagine Washington DC occupied by people like him. What a different world that would be.
Second, you and I don’t get to pick and choose what we want. He is a package deal.
He opposes injustice and sexual immorality. He stood up to people in power and he called the powerless to repent. When he fought for his purpose he never used the weapons of human power or social cancellation.
Faced with enemies, he contended with them to win them over, not to conquer them. His life was utterly consistent with his message. He did not yield to the temptation of power. His fame was not a lever to personal gain.
Our leaders make big promises and announce great plans but the results are always far less than expected. Not so with Jesus. Not only was his character above and beyond any person you have ever known or known about, but he revealed an ability to take on every problem with perfect justice, truth, and mercy.
- He conquered disease and genetic defects and the effects of tragic accidents.
- When faced with natural disasters and climate disturbances, he triumphed.
- No power of darkness, not even in great number, could withstand his command and rebuke.
- Every conundrum he faced was met with light and clarity and justice.
- He was the hope of the marginalized and downtrodden.
His magnanimous goodness
Of all the lies we believe about God, none is more pernicious than the lie that God is mean-spirited. Yet we all tend to believe that God must be in the misery producing business because he refuses to give us what we want. Here is the answer to that: when God took on human flesh and walked among us, what was he like?
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:23-24)
What did he leave behind him?
You can measure someone’s life by their legacy. Look at the immediate effects of Jesus life and ministry.
He came into a world dominated by the truly evil one. The malice of that evil one’s heart revealed itself in the misery he brought to his subjects. Jesus came to put down the gulag of the devil and set the prisoners free.
Village by village, day after day, for more than 2 years, he drove out disease, paralysis, cancer, fevers, and demonic powers. One scholar said it is likely that in the aftermath of Jesus ministry in Galilee that there were no sick persons remaining.
In the midst of this he taught for hours on end, as people hung on his every word. Crowds thronged him. He had few moments to himself. If you want to know how good he is, follow him around and look at what is left after he departs — whole, just, upright, enlightened, hope-filled, remade persons.
Of course he’s not tame, but he’s good
Let me be clear. Jesus character and ways cannot be put into a box. Being God, he said and did things that offended, that perplexed, and that provoked objections. None more so than his path to death on the cross.
He has the capacity to pull it off
The message of the Four Gospels is this: look at the character and ability of Jesus of Nazareth. Consider whether he is someone you could trust to do all that he promised. The issue is not his teaching — but him. Faith is nothing more or less than trust in him.
Nowhere does the Bible call people to a blind faith or a leap in the dark. Nowhere does it call us to throw out our brains and simply believe what God says. No, God shows us who he is — who Jesus is — and asks us to trust him. My question is this: why would you or I invest so much trust in the flawed, weak, morally compromised people who shout at us day after day. Who are they next to Jesus?
Ideologues are people who pretend they know how to “make the world a better place” before they’ve taken care of their own chaos within. (The warrior identity that their ideology gives them covers over that chaos.) 5
The great offense
Jesus announced the kingdom in a magnificent vision of a new human race in a new society. He also showed the character to carry that power and use it with justice and selflessness. More than that, he demonstrated that he had more than enough ability to pull it off. But he pulled it off in a way that no one expected. No, he did it in a way that is deeply offensive. He brings the kingdom to reality by his own powerlessness, weakness, shame, and experience of injustice.
- This, by the way, is why I am a principled classical liberal (small l). I do not find any reason to entrust power to a few. Even with its faults, we do far less damage when power is decentralized and ideologies are forced to compromise.[↩]
- Here is a fascinating description of a visit to the home of Jordan Peterson by Norman Doidge. Peterson collected memorabilia from the former Soviet Union and used it for decoration. Paintings lionizing the Soviet revolutionary spirit completely filled every single wall, the ceilings, even the bathrooms. The paintings were not there because Jordan had any totalitarian sympathies, but because he wanted to remind himself of something he knew he and everyone would rather forget: that over a hundred million people were murdered in the name of utopia. from Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life (p. ix). Random House of Canada. Kindle Edition.[↩]
- more on that in the next post[↩]
- Stop here. Imagine every person in political office giving away their wealth, tearing down their security gates to welcome the immigrants to their home, and renouncing all profit from selling their influence.[↩]
- Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life (p. xi). Random House of Canada. Kindle Edition.[↩]