This (Ambiguous) Political Life
This (Ambiguous) Political Life
Jesus described the world as a mixed-up place—a place in which the Word of God can have quite different results depending on the soil on which it falls, a place in which wheat and weeds grow up in the same field so closely intertwined that the latter cannot (yet) be uprooted without damaging the former.
The economy of the world as it is requires that these two sets of inhabitants and, indeed, neighbors be allowed to become fully themselves, maturing until the time of harvest when all is uprooted, judged, and rewarded with blessing or curse. As Augustine warned, now is not the time for apocalyptic confrontation with the enemies of Christ, who might yet become his friends before the end of the age.
The world is already corrupted by the effects of the Fall. The enemy is inspiring human agents to divert the earth's resources to their useless endeavors and to entangle themselves with those who are being inspired by God to pursue shalom—in short, acting like "weeds." Given this, what should we expect of the next election, of the government to follow, and of all life on earth until Jesus returns?
We should expect sin. We should expect some politicians to accept graft, and some officials to accept bribes. We should expect some executives to sell out their companies and shareholders and customers for personal gain. We should expect drunk driving and drug pushing and cartels and sexual assault and stock manipulation and terrorism.
Expecting sin does not mean accepting it, much less ignoring it. Expecting sin means being practical: It means planning for it. It means refusing to live as if we are in the New Jerusalem, and instead intentionally structuring our lives, individually and corporately, with the expectation of evil.
Beyond sin, we should expect waste. It should not shock us that governments, armies, and corporations waste money. It should not shock us that schools, hospitals, and charities waste people's time and talents and the earth's resources. For Genesis 3 tells us that work will be harder to do than it should be, that "thorns and thistles" are everywhere. Indeed, beyond sin and waste, we should expect stupidity and absurdity, vanity and promiscuity.
Within this landscape of evil, weeds can look like wheat and vice versa, so that the way forward is not immediately evident and results are hard to predict. The field does not only present us with evil, but with ambiguity as well. Many Christians have not taken the reality of ambiguity seriously enough to expect it and plan for it. Both liberal and conservative Christians tend to see the world in stark polarities of good and evil. But the field is mixed, and ambiguity is a dark fact with which we must reckon.
The Enemy Within
As we peer into the world's ambiguity, we must also peer inward to see our own ambivalence. Like the world out there, we ourselves are mixed, with motives great and small, good and evil. We in fact hate our enemies, we crave luxury, power, and fame, and we turn away from light and prefer darkness—at least a little bit all the time. The line distinguishing good and evil does not, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned us, run between countries or peoples or classes (or political parties), but through our own hearts.
We must reckon, then, not only with what is bad out there, but with what is bad in here: in our individual selves and in our most sacred institutions. "Reckoning" means acting accordingly, thus structuring and conducting our lives so as to restrain the evil within us and the evil without us as best we can, and to respond properly when those restraints give way.