I typically end all Carryin Fire post with the simple phrase:
“Grace and Peace to you.”
This quote is a take on a greeting Paul often used in his letters, with this post, I will begin with this simple phrase, because if you are like most American’s when the topic of politics arises, the two things we desperately need are Grace and Peace. Most families have a rule around the holidays, AVOID POLITICS. I like this rule. As a personal rule the last few years I’ve listened to as little political talk as possible (which is hard anywhere these days). Let’s make a few things clear before we proceed.
- I will not endorse a candidate or a political party with this post.
- I will not tackle any political or social issues in this post.
- I will not proceed to tell you how you should vote in any election.
- I do not claim that the views in this post are the only views which other Christians should hold. This is simply a perspective on politics and our world as a whole.
- There are Christians I deeply respect as being Biblical in their Political views that have a more aggressive political view of Jesus than I do. That does not mean they are wrong.
- I am writing this post, not because I enjoy talking politics, I am writing it because I believe God has asked me to do it.
- I hope that through this post we are challenged to view God in a different way than the Religious Political Machine forces us to think about God/Politics.
With that in mind, let us begin…
Grace and Peace to you.
Eugene Peterson, the Pastor behind the Message Bible, once said, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more political than anyone imagines, but in a way that no one guesses.” The depth of that statement has caused me to wrestle with my thoughts about Jesus and politics. I’ve lived most of my life trying to convince myself that Jesus was very un-political. After all, Jesus shows up at a time in Israel’s history where they are under occupation, and the people began to look to Jesus as a way out from under Roman rule. Yet, Jesus continually tells people the kingdom he had come to build was not a physical kingdom, but a kingdom that was inside of one’s self. While I always convinced myself that this was a sure sign that Jesus was unpolitical, it never gave me answers as to why he has chosen to use very political terms to associate his mission with.
Kingdom, Throne, Lord, Son of God, and Savior, were all terms that quite politically charged in Jesus’ day, yet Jesus didn’t avoid using them. He knew there was something bigger at work than Caesar, Herod, or the Religious faction, his politics were not non-existent, his politics transcended what everyone else had in mind. In that sense, I don’t think our views on politics as Christians is too large, I think our view is much too small. I hear people on one side say the church should be less political, and the other side pushes back that we should be more involved in politics. My response to both trains of thought is: “You couldn’t be more right.”
I lost most of you there, right? I could spend a thousand words here trying to explain what I mean, but I think we should just look to what Jesus had to say for a possible explanation of how we could all stand to be more and less political in our lives. This brings us to John 19. This is just one of many moments that Jesus displays, what I like to call, “Kingdom Politics.” And while we won’t look at all of them, I encourage you to dig into scripture and find all of these moments. In this particular moment, Jesus is caught in quite an odd struggle for power. The religious movement wants Jesus out of the picture and they are using both Herod and Rome to get what they want. We see Jesus has been arrested and passed between several leaders. Pilate becomes the central figure in this passage. Pilate seems content to stay out of what he presumes to be a very sticky situation, but the religious leaders know just how to play the political card (they always do.) By insinuating that Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of God” (a popular political title adapted by Emperors at the time) is a direct threat to Caesar, Pilate is forced to act to protect his place of power.
Pilate retreats to the privacy of his quarters to question Jesus alone, and this is where things get interesting:
“He (Pilate) entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:9-10, ESV)
Here, Pilate has reached his breaking point with Jesus. Until now, it seemed that Pilate was trying to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt, or at least trying to avoid be wrapped up in a religious scandal. Pilate has already stated to the people that he has found no fault with Jesus, but now to avoid his own demise Pilate presses Jesus for answers, yet the answer that he finally gets is not what he was expecting, and this is a very important concept for us to grasp. So let’s get to it:
“Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.” (John 19:11)
After all of his silence, Jesus finally answers a question that’s not with another question. His response is possibly the greatest one liners or “mic drops” in political history, and Pilates response is priceless. Pilate freaks out and tries to release Jesus, but ultimately he succumbs to political pressure. In the following verses, he turns Jesus over to be executed, but that was kind of the point. It was part of the plan, not just a political plan, but a plan laid out from the very beginning of all things, Pilate wasn’t acting outside of the plan in having Jesus killed. Pilate was playing his role in what had been orchestrated all along. God was in control of it all. That last thought is what caused Pilate to freak out, in the end he realized the man standing before him had more political power than anyone in Jerusalem or even Rome for that matter could ever dream of.
Jesus looked Pilate in the eye and tells him, you only have power because my father has given it to you for HIS purpose. Do you feel the weight of Jesus’ words echoing through the last two thousand years? Do you understand that Jesus response was not simply a response to one question, but the response to THE QUESTION! What question would that be? Who is in control? What do we miss when we read things in scripture like:
“God is King of all the earth… God reigns over the nations.” Psalms 47:7-8 (ESV)
So what does this mean for all of us? What does this say to us as a culture that tends to loose their minds over politics? On the eve of every election we fill our minds and news feeds with stories of fear and conspiracy, and brace ourselves for our team to win and all to be right with the world, or for the “other side” to win and an expected total collapse of the world. We, myself included, can be so dramatic. We live with a misunderstanding that the political powers that be, have or could possibly wrestle control of the earth away from its creator, or though we don’t word it this way, that the God of all things will relinquish complete control to a created being. We couldn’t be more wrong.
Paul Echoes Jesus stand in Romans:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1, ESV)
I am not trying to convince you, nor is Paul stating, that every political leader is doing what is pleasing in the sight of God, I’m just telling you what Jesus told Pilate, there is no political leader who has any control that God has not allowed them to have. More importantly there is NO political leader, movement, or legislation that has or will take God by surprise or overthrow his authority as the “King of kings.” He is allowing and working through each election, legislation, and leader to bring about HIS purposes. This is where we can’t venture too far without remembering God’s ways are “higher than our ways” and his “thoughts are not our thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) In other words, we don’t always know what God is doing, or that he is even at work, but he is, and always will be in control. So what have we to fear?
This election season, as you consider your options, I pray that you vote with discernment, that your biblical convictions speak loudly through your political dealings. But the one thing we can not afford to do is walk in fear. If your “team” wins or looses this year, if your cause gets made into law or trampled under the foot of popular opinion, let us not loose heart. God is not dead.
I hear Christians singing popular songs that declare things like “God’s not dead,” we make movies and merchandising that rake in huge revenues, but all of this does us no good if we don’t actually believe it. We have to make up our minds if we actually believe the things we say about God, if we actually believe what the bible says about God. He’s either in control or dead. Which do you believe? If you believe he is dead, then you are only reading this because you are not a believer and you want to find argumentative points with Christians. If you do believe in the God of the Bible, which I hope you do, then let’s start living like we do. It’s only when we view politics and the world as a whole through the lens of what Jesus says to Pilate that we can live without fear. Come what may, God remains our shelter in the middle of the storm, and only in realizing this can we feel the freedom when the world is not going our way to quote that great hymn from R.E.M. (wink!):
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
Grace and peace to you.
*For additional thoughts from a completely different perspective, I highly recommend Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book “Jesus For President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals”