Politics: Important but Not Ultimate

BY JEREMY TREAT

Politics is tearing our country apart. And you don’t have to be a pundit to see it. Whether you’re watching the news or scrolling through social media, it’s clear that politics has invaded every space and brought with it tension and division.

The twenty-four-hour news cycle pushes the left and right further apart and the widening gap gets filled with mud-throwing, name-calling, venom-spewing rhetoric that only increases the animosity. We see it online: old friends engaged in heated arguments where no one changes their mind and someone ends up unfriended or blocked. Family gatherings have become partisan battlegrounds instead of sources of love, tolerance, and empathy.

We’re trapped in a political cycle that feels like it’s spiraling out of control, with both parties demanding our absolute loyalty to an entire framework of beliefs and policies. Nuance falls by the wayside. It’s either in or out, wise or foolish, good or evil. We’re told to pick a side and vote accordingly.

How Do Christians Respond?

In this hyper-partisan climate, many followers of Jesus have chosen to withdraw from political engagement altogether. Often turned off by identity politics and corrupt politicians, these Christians relegate their faith to the private realm, focusing simply on their individual relationship with God. But while some followers of Jesus seek to be apolitical, many others have become all-political. For these Christians, the ultimate problem in the world is a political one and therefore the only solution is a political one, usually as proclaimed by CNN or Fox News.

Fortunately, Scripture shows us a better way forward.

In the book of Mark, Jesus is confronted by leaders of the Pharisees and the Herodians, the Far Right and Far Left parties of his day. Attempting to trap Jesus, they ask him if taxes should be paid to Caesar. Jesus asks for a coin. Mark 12:16-17 says:

   And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
   They said to him, “Caesar’s.”
   Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

Rather than settling for being apolitical or all-political, the Scriptures cast a vision of being appropriately political, where politics are important but not ultimate.

Politics Are Important

When Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” he is affirming the God-given place of government in society. This shouldn’t be a surprise since government is a part of God’s good design for creation. And while no government is perfect, it’s certainly better than anarchy. We need government to restrain evil and uphold justice. In our own context, without political change, the United States would still have chattel slavery, women would not be allowed to vote, and freedom of religion would not exist.

People often have negative connotations towards politics because they associate it with partisanship. Jesus was political but not partisan. We have an obligation to government but our ultimate allegiance is to God.

Politics Are Not Ultimate

Politics is good for some things, but our society has made politics the answer to everything. It’s overstepped its bounds and is being asked to solve problems it cannot fix. We end up looking for political solutions to spiritual problems, relational problems, and cultural problems.

According to David Zahl, politics is America’s favorite replacement religion. He says, “If once upon a time we looked to politics primarily for governance, we now look to it for belonging, righteousness, meaning, and deliverance—in other words all the things we for which we used to rely on Religion.” That’s why people are placing their ultimate hope in politics. And that’s why you need to be aware of the real temptation of being co-opted by a broader political movement and—as Christians—then fitting Jesus into that.

When Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”, he’s not minimizing the importance of politics, he’s putting it in its place. In other words, give your taxes to the government. Give your allegiance to God.

Your allegiance to the kingdom of God must overrule your loyalty to a political party.

Jesus Is Our Hope

If you give your allegiance to God, you won’t fit neatly into either of the two political parties. Jesus is not a Republican. Jesus is not a Democrat. He’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s not lobbying for votes, he’s ruling with grace. He’s not campaigning for a party, he’s building his kingdom.

The question is, who are you putting your ultimate hope in?

What we need is not a privatized faith or a politicized faith, but a holistic faith which acknowledges that politics is important but not ultimate.

 

BACK TO POLITICS AND THE WAY OF JESUS ➜

Sep 12, 2020