Those of us in the U.S. can agree that it has been a rough election year so far (at least there is one thing we can all agree on, right?). There is so much going on in our country and around the world; it’s hard to know how to feel about all of it. Making matters worse, everyone is trying to tell us what we should think and what opinions we should have and how we should vote. If you’re like me, you might be overwhelmed by it all, wanting to be an engaged, informed citizen, but wondering how to do that in a gospel-centered way.
My husband, Matt, and I tend towards opposite reactions to this kind of turmoil. Matt has a degree in history, and likes to stay on top of current events. He watches and reads the news frequently, and tends to be very emotionally invested in whatever is going on. He has very strong opinions. I, on the other hand, find that I am easily overwhelmed by the information and emotions of a situation. I dislike conflict by nature, so I get lost in opposing viewpoints, and find it difficult to decide where I stand. As a result, I have generally disengaged from current events as much as possible, and have sometimes called myself “apolitical.”
In light of this year, I have been feeling especially convicted about my approach to engaging with the world (or lack thereof). As Christ followers, I feel we are absolutely called to participate in our culture’s conversations in a redemptive way. After talking with Matt one morning about this, Jess Connolly posted this on Instagram, and I loved the phrase she used to describe her husband’s style of engaging with people: “to care without carrying.”
To care about the world because we know that God cares about the world, without carrying the world’s burdens because we know our God is sovereign. To be engaged in that public dialogue without worrying because we know our hope is not found there.
My goal is that today’s post would encourage you with the hope we do have in Christ, and to push us to think about how to engage with the world and with politics with the gospel in mind. These are a few things I am attempting to meditate on throughout this season.
God is in control
The Bible as a whole tells the story of a God who is sovereign over all things. One of my favorite examples is the story of Joseph at the end of Genesis. Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him, and so they sell him into slavery in Egypt. But Joseph remains faithful to his God, and he is eventually put in charge of all of Egypt, the pharaoh’s most trusted servant. His leadership enables his brothers, with many other people, to come to Egypt to buy grain in the midst of a fierce famine. When he finally reveals himself to his brothers, and forgives them for their sin against him, it is not because of anything they have done, but because he recognizes the sovereignty of God:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
We can likewise rest and trust in God’s good plan.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
This is not a promise that we will have easy lives, but rather that we have Jesus and the Holy Spirit in all things, enabling us to live according to God’s will.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Notice that Jesus says we will have troubles in this world, immediately after saying that we can have peace. In Him, the two are not mutually exclusive!
Our hope is not of this world
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Ultimately, no matter what happens in the world, in politics, in our own lives, we know that it is all temporary. That’s true when we are suffering and when we are rejoicing. This knowledge can help us stay grounded in Christ when things are going well (not putting our hope and joy in these things), and when they aren’t.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It’s important to remember before, during, and after getting involved in politics that our ultimate calling as believers is to love God and love others. Politics only matter inasmuch as they help us do those two things. Love for God and people should be the lens through which we view any conversation, Facebook post, or vote.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 1:10
This passage speaks specifically about believers who were claiming allegiance with one church leader or another, but we know from the rest of Paul’s letter that the Corinthians had a hard time with unity in general. In chapter 6, he fusses at them for taking lawsuits against each other before the court. Not only are they having these problems, but they are airing their dirty laundry in front of non-believers! He later reminds them, in chapter 12, that they are all individual members of one body. Paul’s hope is that others may be saved, and he knows that the church’s witness is undermined by both private and public disunity. I think we can apply those principles today, when political discourse becomes an excuse to point fingers at “other” Christians. I don’t believe it is necessary for every Christian to agree on a particular party or candidate, but I do think we should be careful in the way we speak to each other about these secondary things (see above).
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
This is a popular verse, often pulled by Christians and non-believers alike in contexts exactly like this post. But, it’s not a very popular verse to practice. It’s difficult to pray for people like members of ISIS, who are literally murdering Christians and others who don’t agree with their ideology. It’s also difficult to pray for the friend who is always sharing anti-Christian posts on Facebook. However, Jesus prayed for his persecutors with his dying breath, saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). How might our perspective on the world change if we truly prayed for and recognized our “enemies” as broken people in need of God’s grace?
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:12-17
1 Peter is a letter written to a group of believers who were living as exiles. In the comfort of a country like the United States, we can forget that we are also in exile, waiting for a future home, and get angry when we are reminded of this reality because this world doesn’t welcome us in every way. But notice that Peter doesn’t call the Christians he is addressing to get angry and spend their time trying to make the rest of their country look more “Christian.” Instead, he calls them to live humble, good lives and to “honor the emperor.” I think he recognizes this as one of the best ways we can witness to the world (compare 1 Peter 3:1-2, addressing wives, especially of unbelieving husbands). We are free people, but we can use that freedom to live radical lives that point others toward Christ. I don’t have specific recommendations about what this looks like today; it most likely looks a little different in a modern democracy where we do have some say in how our country runs. Regardless, I think we should use this mindset as a filter for our words and actions around political matters.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
Going a step further, Paul calls us here to pray for “all those in authority.” Keep in mind that the early church was often persecuted by political and religious leaders, so he likely doesn’t take this statement lightly. Even when the president or your mayor says or does something you don’t agree with, what would it look like to pray for them, for their families, for their salvation?
It’s my hope that we, the Church, can be defined by this sort of revolutionary love, not because we’ve “given in” to the world’s swaying, but because we are so confident in who we are in Christ.
Do you feel as overwhelmed by this election season as I do? How do you remind yourself that our hope is in the gospel and not in this world?