Some trust in chariots, and some in horses," Psalm 20:7 notes, "but we will remember the name of the Lord our God."
We might say in our day, "Some trust in political parties, and some in candidates … "Christians are involved in politics, in both parties and all along the political spectrum, just as we are in Boy Scouts, Little League, and Rotary. Usually, though, we have the good sense not to see those latter activities as redeeming culture in themselves.In this election year, as in every election year, ideological smoke and thunder abound, accompanied by the huffing and puffing of political maneuvering and rhetorical fulminations—even among Christians. Many believers assume that politics is a vehicle for cultural redemption.While voting is a civic good, my plea is that we not equate it with building the kingdom of God, that we stop worshiping the power of politics.Nero set fire to Rome in A.D. 64, diverting suspicion from himself by blaming Christians. He punished innocent Christians by lashing them to poles soaked with wax or tar and igniting them as human torches to illuminate his gardens and the Roman streets.
Evil agents for good
"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities," the apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans nearly 10 years earlier. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. … For he is God's minister to you for good" (Romans 13:1–4, NKJV).Many of us have read these verses assuming that rulers are ministers of God for good under ideal circumstances. So much of what governments do is so conspicuously evil, we reason, Paul cannot possibly mean they are ministers for good normally. Thus we have built moral majorities and Christian coalitions, and organized concerned women, assuming if only we had moral leaders, then it would truly be the minister for good that Paul has in mind.Yet as written, the passage says that governments are ministers for good, agents of God—even the pagan, anti-Christian Roman government. How can this be?To answer this, we must return to the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. To paraphrase the first chapter, the prophet cries out to the Lord, "Don't you see this injustice and evil? How long are you going to let this go on?" The Lord replies that he has the Chaldean army preparing to invade.When Habakkuk objects, God replies that the just shall live by faith, and that his primary interest is filling the earth with the knowledge of his glory. If God used the Chaldeans to reclaim his people in 600 B.C., why could he not use Nero in the first century, or modern Chaldeans today, to effect a work in his people? God has a long record of using human evil for his ultimate purposes.Christians are producing much political hot air about reclaiming the culture for God. I have fought in the culture wars against abortion, homosexuality, and moral relativism, and I was actively involved in politics. After exerting a lot of personal effort to reclaim the culture for Jesus, I came to the conclusion that he does not want it back.Yet with all the trouble that government propagates—using our tax dollars against us in the process—where is the supposed good? The good is what God calls good, not what people call good. Abortion is wrong, and homosexual sex is immoral—yet these and a host of other "critical" issues are not God's keenest concerns. What God calls good is when our hearts turn back to him with love and devotion, giving him alone the glory.In the end, the Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he makes the plans of the people of no effect, according to Psalm 33:10 (NKJV). Even if the "good guys" (who ever they may be) win this election, government will still be in the business of oppression and persecution—as the agent and minister of God. The good that God seeks is to draw people back to himself and his glory, and he uses even bad government toward that end.
Kenneth H. Grayis a writer in western Montana.
Learn more about the Christian Coalition , Concerned Women for America , or the now defunct Moral Majority .Previous Christianity Today articles on this topic include:In Summary: Christianity and Politics | Recent and important releases that will shape evangelical thought. (May 22, 2000) Might for Right ? | As presidential primaries get under way, Christian conservatives aim to win. (Feb. 3, 2000) How God Won When Politics Failed | Learning from the abolitionists during a time of political discouragement. (Jan. 28, 2000) Christian Coalition Loses Exempt Status | (July 12, 1999) The Politics of Patience | Retiring senator Dan Coats explains why Christians aren't getting their way in Washington. (Aug. 10, 1998)
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