Thursday, September 20, 2012

Utopians on Their Knees


       Another blogger recently put to me the following question:
  
      In your book, you call some Christians ‘secret utopians.’  How is that contrary to what Christ promoted and how can our prayers reveal that aspect of our lives?

Christians ought to be utopians in one sense.  We believe that Jesus is ruling at the right hand of the Father and it is only a matter of time before his kingdom becomes fully manifested on planet earth.  This hope animates us, or should, in all that we do in our public discipleship.  What I mean by the term ‘secret utopian’ is something different.  The secret utopian is the person who thinks that we can ourselves bring in God’s good society by our own efforts and strategies and is therefore driven to make it happen and fearful when the ‘bad guys’ seem to be getting their way.  This sort of utopianism can show up in bitter and impatient praying—“God, get rid of that Senator!”  It can show up in the failure ever to thank God for one’s leaders or to pray humbly for them, understanding how very difficult it is to govern given all the frustrations and temptations of office.  It can show up as well in triumphalistic praying: “Oh God, thank you that your man is in the White House!”  The praying of the proper sort of utopian (the one I mentioned first) will be earnest, grief-stricken, humble, and hopeful:  earnest because we know that no human being or group of human beings can solve our nation’s deepest problems, grief-stricken because this is our country and we are responsible for what is wrong with her, humble because we ourselves can only guess at what the best solutions are, and hopeful because we know our Father hears us, his triumphed in Jesus, and will in the end put everything right.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dealing with Political Panic


Well the conventions are over.  It is easy to be cynical about the hoopla but I choose not to be.  I look at Syria and remain deeply grateful that we can still have clash culturally in this country without bloodshed.  I do not want to take this for granted. Nevertheless we still get too angry with each other, even in the church.  That anger is often the result of fear, and fear arises more often than we think from idolatry.  Below are my answers to some questions a blogger recently put to me on the subject.  

1) Why are Christians so prone to panic during the political process and how can we avoid panicking?

I think Christians are prone to panic, at least in part, because they have made an idol out of political solutions.  Idolatry happens whenever we put our deepest hopes in anything created—whether it is our vision for America, or a particular candidate, or a particular law we hope to see passed, or a particular platform we hope to see established.  There is nothing wrong with having a vision and a strategy for seeing that vision advanced.   The problem arises when we put our deepest hopes in such things.  And anger, fear, and panic are good signs that we have.  Christians need to see that making an idol of political solutions is more than frustrating for them (idols have no life in themselves).  It is deeply wrong, for it is false worship (“Let all be put to shame…who boast of idols”—Psalm 97:7). 

We can avoid panicking, or we can at least reduce our panicking, by repenting of our idols and renewing our trust in God.  As part of the process of repenting we may find it helpful to note how weak political power actually is:  Very few people get to exercise it, and when they do, they discover huge obstacles to exercising it in a democracy like ours where Congress can hold up legislation for years.  And more than likely their power is short lived—as Democrats discovered in the 2010 mid-term elections.

2)      Could you explain what you meant by “the idol of too much hope” in politics?

Some Christians just want to be left alone.  But others have rightly discovered that in our democratic system they have a voice.  We have discovered, rightly, that we need to exercise our voices in the public square.  We have more hope when it comes to exercising political influence than do many people in our world, both now and down through the ages. 

The problem as I see it is when we put too much hope in the political process.  Politics is made up of people, and people are weak, fallible, and self-centered.  Our power, if we ever get any, is short-lived, our political solutions are imperfect (often with unintended consequences); if we succeed in passing a good law this time around the likelihood is that it will be reversed by the ‘bad guys’ the next time around.  Thinking that there exists a ‘magic bullet’ politically is, for these reasons, na├»ve, and it sets us up for disappointment, frustration, and anger. 

Ironically, those who put too much hope in politics often end up so disillusioned that they withdraw into the ‘safety’ of cynicism.  The Christian who properly moderates his hope in politics is more likely to stay active, as he should, because his deepest hope does not lie in political success.  He knows that God is in charge of results, while he is “in charge of” faithfulness—patiently and humbly seeking to move things in the right direction.