Throughout this raucous political season, evangelicals have been known more for whom we might elect than for being citizens of the kingdom of heaven. High-profile evangelical and charismatic leaders have expressed unheard of levels of enthusiasm for a man known for being a casino owner, a serial adulterer, liar, and business fraud. Other evangelicals, hopeful for economic transformation in an unequal society, stand bewildered at the choice between an unscrupulous billionaire and a politician who takes six figures from Wall Street for 30-minute speeches.
Polls regularly show the two leading candidates are among the most disliked nominees in recent memory. Meanwhile, we are repeatedly told (for how many elections in a row?) that this is the most important election of our lifetime, and that it will determine the course of our nation. Even those of us who are confident about whom to vote for may find ourselves staring into a bottomless chasm of despair when the election is over. If the vote doesn’t go our way, are we left with anything more than defeat and tears?
Looking for a King and a Kingdom
One evening some years back, one of my sons curled up in my lap while I reclined in my reading chair. As he scanned my book piles, his eyes fell upon the spine of N. T. Wright’s How God Became King. Wright argues that in the Gospels Jesus comes as the God of Israel in the flesh, showing back up among his people to establish his reign as he promised in the prophets. God’s gospel heralds could finally shout “your God reigns” (Isa. 52:7), for Yahweh was now revealed as “king over the whole earth” (Zech. 14:9).
“But I thought God has always been King?” my son said. It was a terrific observation. Didn’t the psalmist say that God was enthroned over everything? Of course he is. And the New Testament tells us that the most important political fact anyone can ever know is that God has established his Son as the ruler of all things and is actively putting all things under his feet. That Son will one day, fully and finally, establish God’s eternal kingdom. Only then will we be able to say that government of the people, by the people (who will reign with him, Rev. 2:25–27; 5:9–10), and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
The local fiefdoms of this world are given room to run with their rebellion for a time, but it’s not easy living in a world full of rebellion. The politics of a broken world leaves us feeling less like shouting about what has already taken place, and more like lamenting what has not yet transpired. In the midst of tragedy and injustice, Israel’s prophets and the New Testament authors encouraged God’s people to look up to a God enthroned in heaven and look forward to a day when his kingdom is fully established and rebellion is no more. Peter tells us that God’s patience in fully bringing this kingdom is his mercy: Rebellious people still have the chance to turn to this patient Lord, finding a grace that will save them from the coming judgment.
In his work on the kingdom of God, Scot McKnight has explored the way in which Christians lose patience and fuse the kingdom of God and the present transformation of the world. To be sure, we are certainly given the task of prayerful labor and faithful presence in the world, and most Christians believe this can involve serving in politics and casting votes. However, we are easily tempted to be not only in the world, but also of the world. Seen in this light, disenchantment with frantic political efforts to establish the kingdom today can be a gift if it helps us look to a future kingdom.