Political Confessions…Political Actions, Part I
Political Confessions…Political Actions
Over the years I have discovered a number of things I do not do very well. When I was younger I learned the hard way that I am not very good at humor through sarcasm. I remember a “put down” battle I got into with a friend. I thought I was doing great. Everyone was laughing. Then he made a comment for which I had no response. My mind went blank. I knew I had come into contact with someone of greater intelligence, wit, sarcasm. I do put-downs poorly.
Another part of life which others far excel my abilities is that of political diagnosis, dialogue and response. In my growing up years I don’t remember talking much about the politics of my day. This was huge since it was during the Civil Rights Movement and that of the Viet Nam war. I now find this especially amazing since my parents had worked for years in a military focused ministry, my father was a weekly reader of Newsweek, and I had one brother and two brothers-in-law’s who had served in the military during Viet Nam. I do remember the daily count of those who had been killed and to some degree some of the protests and rioting. Our focus, as I remember it, was upon knowing the Bible and living a faith that rose above the mud and the muck of a world gone awry.
An outgrowth of being poor at political dialogue was that of being poor at political action outside of the voting booth. To be honest, I don’t remember the concept of being ‘politically active’ even being on my radar. I don’t do political discourse very well. I haven’t really done political action at all. I am a political world novice.
This having been said, I now understand that the Bible is very conversant with politics. What are politics? Here is one definition from Webster’s.
The science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.
One of the realities of scripture is the structuring of a society after the exodus from Egypt. The Ten Commandments and the further defining laws were given to create a godly society. It presented a method of governance, a theocracy. It provided leadership: the prophet and the priest, and regional judges. The Old Testament records the history, the successes and failures of that society, the prophetic words against it when it strayed from its founding order, its praise when it returned and succeeded, and its visions of hope for a prosperous and eternal future.
The New Testament also knows politics. It was a political system into which Jesus was born. Israel was occupied territory under Roman control. The Sanhedrin was allowed political (and religious) control over the population of Palestine and those who participated in Judaism within the empire as long as it did not go against Roman law. The Zealots (of whom one was a disciple of Jesus, Simon) were a political party committed to the overthrow of Roman oppression. Certainly those who followed Jesus and spread his Gospel were familiar with and used to their advantage the politics of the much larger Pax Romana.
Politics and faith have always coexisted. So it is today. How do I know? I read Facebook, I get e-mails, I watch a breadth of news programs, and I read a variety of articles from a variety of papers. I hear people making their comments from the religious right which I often see as wrong. I hear people making their comments from the religious left that is often filled with as much rancor and venom as those on the right whom they criticize. Both claim moral and often spiritual superiority within their political bubble. Both have blind spots within the ideologies they proclaim. I know this is true for me. “For now we know in part…”
What is most difficult for me is discerning where my faith needs to be turned into action. As pointed out above, deep in the DNA of my soul there is a disconnect between the two. Yet, I am pushed by my reading of the Old Testament and the judgement of God against those who did not stand up against ungodly politics. The words of Micah 6:8 are so deeply disturbing:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
‘Good’ … ‘Required’…Ouch! How I wish Micah had said, “Love justice and act mercifully…” instead of “Act justly and love mercy and walkhumbly with your God.” I think I am much better with the former scenario than the latter.
I am also pushed by those simple words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he said,
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
It seems that Jesus is directing his followers to be people of action and not simply observers who critique the action and thoughts of others. You are the salt to be rubbed in the wounds and abrasions of society as a disinfectant, a medicinal technique of the ancient world. You are the light of the world so that the darkness is removed and the path made clear. Be salt and light in such a way that they may see your good deeds and (I think today might want to say ‘but’) praise your Father in heaven. As a Christians from an evangelical background I need to remember the simple adage, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Two additional observations: self-concept and focus. Self-concept. Jesus said, “You are…” Sometimes I sense we Christians don’t believe that statement. Sometimes I sense we are attempting to make ourselves something. No, we are salt and light. The question is will we be salt that has lost its ‘saltiness’ and will the mirror with which we reflect the One who is “the light of the world” be smudged? We don’t need to prove ourselves. We already are salt and light. Sometimes the reaction we get from others when we take a stand for that which is right is because they are being blinded by the light or stung by the salt. We don’t act justly to get the response. We do what is right because it is right. We are simply being who we are.
Focus. Sometimes I think we attempt to upstage God. Like an athlete who showboats after a good play we can make our good deeds to be more about us than about God and God’s kingdom. Yes, people will “see our good deeds” but those deeds needs to be so righteous, so holy that the praise is not turned to us but toward the God whom we serve and whose light we are working to shine forth.
I am reminded of a simple poem I learned as a child which bears repeating. It says:
Only one life will soon be passed.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
I now understand that Christians need to be people of action. We need to be people of action in our homes, in our businesses, in our communities, in our churches, and in the world of politics. But, our political actions need to be about advancing God’s eternal kingdom for God’s praise and glory, not our own. A helpful to to help guide our actions, political and otherwise, can be found in this verse with which I close these thoughts,
“And, whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.” Colossians 3:17.