The False God of Political Power

Matthew Oswell

It has been said that the two things you should never bring up at the dinner table are politics and religion. 

Today I want to examine the religion of political power that was on national display in 2016 and continues to eat at people’s hearts today.  No one in America was able to avoid the scathing rhetoric and toxic political mudslinging that engulfed our country during the last presidential election.  The character assassination fired back and forth often left voters feeling like they were in a political war zone. This was never more clear to me than January of 2017 when I was flying home from a week long church mission trip to Mexico.  As the jet descended onto the foggy runway of Portland International Airport every passenger on the plane was buzzing with talk about the political protests that were currently blocking Interstate 5 throughout the metro area. In God’s providence, I was only catching a connecting flight and so I never was able to witness the feverish protesters engulfing the streets of Portland.  Whether you align politically as a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or somewhere in between, you have seen the political polarization in our country that seems to be at an all time high.

I will leave the societal commentary to other much more qualified men because my aim in this article is to discuss the hope Christians so often place in political power. Coming on the heels of the polarizing 2016 presidential election this is as clear to me as it has ever been.  It saddened me to watch God-fearing, Jesus loving, Bible believing, Christians react in visible fear at their own perceived outcome of the election. Many Christians talked as if God might suffer a great loss if the outcome of the election did not go a certain way. Franklin Graham’s many political remarks post election reveal this viewpoint.  Rev. Graham said in a speech in Mobile, Alabama that it was clear "God showed up,” in the election outcome of 2016. I do not dispute that claim, but would God have been absent if the election went a different way? Furthermore did God fail to show up in the past? The Bible speaks of a God who causes rulers to rise and fall according to His divine plans.  Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;he turns it wherever he will.” God’s presence should not ever be disputed in 2016, 2012, 2008, or any other time when we cannot clearly understand his purposes. No matter who the American President is God is greater still and his plans will always be accomplished!

Christian pastors endorsed candidates who 20 years ago I believe they would have railed against.  Yet fearful of losing, as if an American election could defeat the plans and purposes of God, pastors stood in their pulpits and endorsed men and women who could not even pass a background check at their church to serve as a junior Sunday School teacher. The cry from the evangelical camp seemed to be “the sky is falling unless our candidate wins!”  

I grew up during the height of the Moral Majority movement when Jerry Falwell Sr. was calling all evangelicals to vote their values on election day.  I was told to always vote for the candidate who best represented Christian values. Yet, when presented with a chance to make our voices heard and stand against wicked candidates in 2016 evangelicals seemed to shrink back out of fear of losing power.  It seemed as if many Christians believed that spiritual victory would occur at the polling place if America could only get it right Obvious character flaws in political candidates were pushed aside in hope of political victory.

I suspect that 2018 and 2020 will bring a new wave of this kind of fearful voting without regard for character.  Political candidates will smell this fear and prey on it in order to grab votes. In no way do I want to downplay the effect that a Godly leader can make in the White House, the state house, or the county courthouse.  We need Jesus loving men and women in positions of power in our country in the worst possible way! Yet, increasingly in many parts of our country it is harder and harder for men and women with biblical integrity to hold public office.  

What should Christians do?  After all it is true that if un-Godly candidates make up the majority of our political leaders, the decisions they make will not be the best morally for our country.  Do we find our hope in the best available candidate out there? Do we settle for the least wicked candidate? Do we pick the best of two evils? Perhaps. The Bible is full of story after story about God’s purposes being achieved through wicked men.  God does choose to use imperfect vessels to carry out his perfect plan. I do not want to come off sounding as if we should only elect well rounded theologians to political office. What concerns me is not so much how people voted but why they voted.  What concerns me is voting in fear, not faith in a holy God.

Jeremiah 2:12-13 speaks to this issue.  God’s servant Jeremiah wrote, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me,the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

A cistern is a large tank for storing water in.  In the desert of Israel water was a precious commodity.  The Jewish people built cisterns to hold rainwater for hot summer months.  Owning a broken cistern would have been a household tragedy. You could dump as much water as you wanted into a broken cistern, but it would all seep out.  A broken cistern was nothing more than a hole in the ground. In this passage, Jeremiah is telling the Jewish people that placing hope in anything but God is like trying to store water in a broken cistern.  It is an exercise in futility. Placing hope in anything but God will let you down 100% of the time!

We can place our hope in fallen men to guide our country, but be careful because men will always let you down!  I fear that many Christians place way to much hope in politicians who are nothing more than finite and fallen people.  Christians hoping that prideful, self promoting, sinful, politicians will push Christian values is as silly as dumping water into a cracked cistern.  I find no hope in the American political system to enact lasting eternal change in our country. That is the work of the Gospel of Jesus.

This is why in John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.”  The work that Jesus came to accomplish was something far greater than the establishment of a worldly kingdom.  If Jesus wanted to establish an earthly kingdom ruled by God’s law the last thing he should have done was die. He should have mustered all his followers to stage an uprising against the pagan Romans and take back Israel.  Instead He went meekly to the cross and died a criminal's death so that mankind’s sin might be paid for. Jesus’ kingdom is not made up of buildings and land but, instead an eternal kingdom in the hearts and minds of God’s people.  

Jesus did not come to reform the morality of the country of Israel. He came to change the hearts of people.

 I fear that the mistake modern day Christians often make is to advocate for a moral kingdom while missing the Gospel.  A godly politician can advocate for moral law. He can vote against ungodliness and attempt to promote Biblical morality and he would be right to do so.  I hope that many Jesus loving men and women are elected across all areas of American government! God can and will use his people to promote moral change that benefits communities, states, and nations.

 But in light of eternity moral law changes no one.  The problem with mankind is not our system of political laws.  In the Old Testament the Jewish people were ruled by God’s law and we see how poorly they were able to follow it.  Their problem and our problem today is not an issue of law. It is an issue of the heart. Jesus died to reform men’s hearts not their politics.  As followers of Jesus we should be just as zealous for heart change brought on by the Gospel as we are for political change brought on by voting.

The question that is constantly causing me to reevaluate my heart is this, “Am I as concerned for Jesus’ eternal kingdom as I am for American politics?”  Sadly it seems that some Christians are much more concerned about protecting the longevity of the American kingdom rather than promoting the Gospel of the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom will be around for eternity while America has been around for a few hundred years.

The broken cistern of politics is leaking water at a rapid pace.  Drinking from the cistern of politics is leaving people increasingly thirsty.  Hoping for moral help from a system created by sinful men is risky business. Drinking from the eternally satisfying waters of Jesus who promised, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again (John 8:14), is a much safer bet.  The Gospel of Jesus will transform our society in a way that politics never will.  The Gospel is where American Christians must find hope in a country ruled by politics that continually leaves us feeling hopeless.