I have grown to detest election cycles – and I don’t even watch TV or listen to the radio, where (I know) the ads have been sensationalized and manipulative for many years. I hate the way that beloved children of God allow themselves to be divided against each other over secular politics. Many a friendship has shipwrecked on the rock of politics – and for what? I hate the way that fear becomes such a core motivator during election cycles. If “that person” or “those people” get elected, then… Then what? Then God will stop being God? Then Jesus Christ’s victory will be in vain? Then we can no longer have the peace of Jesus within us? Then he can no longer work his wonders through us?
Since when has any political ruler ever stopped the Kingdom of God?
The apostle Paul warned against this worldly way of thinking, reminding us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). He tells the Philippians that he is writing this letter in tears because of the “enemies of the Cross of Christ,” whose minds are occupied with earthly things (Philippians 3:18-19).
I’m not saying, of course, that it doesn’t matter who gets elected, or that informed voting isn’t important. I am saying that Jesus’ Kingdom is not ultimately of this world (John 18:36). I’m reminding each of us that he has already conquered victoriously, and that he invites us many times to be not afraid. He assures us, “You will have trouble in the world – but take courage, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33). He tells us this so that we can have peace in him – a true peace that no one can take away (John 14:27). We need not be afraid of the powers of this world. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).
Some political signs even go so far as to say “SAVE AMERICA!!” Never mind that the USA contains only a fraction of God’s beloved sons and daughters. Never mind that Jesus alone is the savior of the human race – and that he already claims victory! When Jesus comes in glory and tells the story of the entire human race, the USA may not hold quite as exalted of a place as some like to think.
Yearning for political messiahs is nothing new. Fear of bad things happening is normal – and bad things do happen, as Jesus promised they would. Anger at injustice is normal and good – outrage is an appropriate human response to evil deeds. But both our anger and our fear – especially when we do not invite Jesus into the midst of them – leave us vulnerable to the manipulation of secular powers. Many who own news outlets or social media conglomerates make their money by manipulating us – and too often we allow them! Many running for office warn us of just how bad it will be if the other person wins. They seduce us into an ungodly alliance: “Join us, and we will protect you against them…”
Now obviously, if we exercise our civic duty and vote, we have to vote for someone. No doubt, one candidate is often preferable to the other. The idolatry enters in when we allow ourselves to get seduced by political ideologies. Psalm 146 warns us to put not our trust in princes, in mortal men in who there is no salvation. There is a difference between voting for someone and looking to that person or party for deliverance or salvation.
The prophet Isaiah devotes two entire chapters (30 and 31) to the issuance of a stern warning to the Israelites who are forming an alliance with Egypt in order to protect themselves against the threat of the Assyrians. Yes, the Assyrians were a terrifying threat. But the chariots of the Egyptians were not meant to be the salvation of Israel. God was! The prophet sternly warns the people that they are living in the shadow of Egypt, to their own ruin and destruction. God promised (and did) win the victory against the Assyrians. They were living in the shadow of fear and giving their trust over to the Egyptians rather than God. They suffered greatly as a result, in the form of the Babylonian exile, foretold by Isaiah. Only a remnant remained of those who put their trust in God rather than secular salvation.
It could have gone differently for them – if only they had heeded the gentle voice of God! Isaiah extended God’s invitation to them: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust shall be your strength. But this you did not desire!” (Isaiah 30:15).
Let’s all examine our consciences this fall. Are we living in an unshakable confidence in the victory of Jesus that has already been won? Do we accept and believe in the true peace that only Jesus can give – and which he begins to confer upon us even now? Do we claim that peace and choose to abide in it? Do we choose to radiate his victory and change the world by loving our neighbor – yes, even our enemies?
Or are we living in fear, holding in contempt the other humans who are allegedly stealing our peace away from us (as though it is theirs to take!)? Are we allowing ourselves to be manipulated and seduced by secular powers that cannot and will not save us? Are we attempting to exchange the already-real peace of Jesus for a worldly peace that never has existed (not since Eden!) and never will until Jesus comes again? Are we conducting ourselves as enemies of the Cross of Christ by living for this world instead?
Come, Lord Jesus!