God and Politics - Transformed to transform
“I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another.”
Gandhi here tells us something which we should all find so obvious, but we very often do not fully appreciate it. Our minds are not made up of little boxes neatly separated out. If I examine my own mind, I know that I could not point out to you the line where my faith and politics are divided. It would be about as easy to separate them as it would to physically separate parts of my brain. Gandhi is right; our faith, politics, social views and the rest of our experience of life all feed into our worldview.
Just less than 2000 years earlier, Paul understood this same wisdom. In his letters to the churches around the Mediterranean, Paul does not tell these first Christians that their newly found following of Jesus is limited to the ‘religious’ part of the minds. Instead, he keeps reminding them that they are part of a new creation in Christ; their old ways have gone and the new ways have arrived. 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:9-10, Galatians 2:20… Paul is always reminding those in his churches that they have been totally transformed by Jesus; that their whole worldview and identity has been changed because of this. They have been transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12; 2). So too for us, by following Jesus we have totally been transformed. Our goals, our desires and the things we find important are not the same as before. How then would it be possible for us to remain in our old ways of thinking when it comes to our politics?
At this point many of us can feel completely overwhelmed. How on earth are we meant to know specifically how following Jesus should actually impact our politics? It’s very easy to talk in the abstract about how much we have changed but it is much harder to be specific about how this changes our politics. I firmly believe that at this moment we must take a step back and gain perspective. If we are to know how following Jesus should affect us we should probably first understand the fundamental character of God and secondly what he is doing.
From the beginning to the end of the Bible God is described as many things: He is King, Helper, Salvation, Faithful, Judge, True, and Prince of Peace. The list could go on. At the heart of all of these descriptions is the fact that God is a Rescuing God. It is at the very centre of both his character and his action in the world. Anyone who has gone through Sunday school knows John 3:16 and its relevance to personal faith and eternal life, but John continues, ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’ From the beginning of the Old Testament to the end New Testament God is constantly rescuing humanity, often from oppressors, as in the Exodus, but most often simply from themselves. For all the libraries full of theological treatises, the basic story running through the Bible, the one we find ourselves in is quite simply this: God created the universe and called it good. We have made a mess of it and God is remaking and restoring both us and the world - and one day will do so fully.
We have all heard the cliché, ‘Life is a journey.’ For all my dislike of them, clichés very often contain some element of truth. Not only is our own life a journey but the whole universe is on a journey and our lives are part of it. We know that this voyage is about God remaking the world, transforming it into how it should be. We know our place in it and what we should be doing. Jesus talked about this rescue in terms of ‘The Kingdom of God’; his life, death and resurrection marks the beginning of the kingdom, it has begun to break-in to the world. The rescue has begun and one day it will be completed. As followers of Jesus, we are called to imitate him and live in and be part of ‘The Kingdom of God’. We are called to be part of the rescue.
Within God’s mission we very often find a special concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This is not only seen in Jesus’ message of ‘The Kingdom of God’, but goes right the way back through the Old Testament. When God gives to Moses the laws about how Israel, a nation of rescued slaves, should be governed we see this same concern. ‘Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan,’ Exodus 22:22, ‘Do not deny justice to your poor in their lawsuits,’ Exodus 23:6, ‘Do not go over your vineyards a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien,’ Leviticus 19:10. It is also required that every 50 years there would be The Year of Jubilee where property is returned to the original owner, debts forgiven and Israelite bonded workers are released. Not only is this in the law but the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos all share this concern for the poor and oppressed. God specifically and repeatedly calls Israel to not exploit the poor, the weak and the oppressed.
Jesus too continues this very same message. ‘Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who hunger now… Blessed are you who weep now’ (Luke 6:20-21). He also quotes Isaiah saying ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:10). Paul too in recollecting his negotiations with the apostles in Jerusalem saw this as foundational (Galatians 2;10) “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”
N.T. Wright, one of the best New Testament scholar alive today, sums it up well:
"The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God's wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of 'God's kingdom' through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power."?
Whenever we approach politics we should always do so from the perspective that our political engagement is always part of God’s wider mission. We are joining in with God and he uses us in politics to bring in his kingdom on earth, to care for the poor and destitute and ultimately remaking the world to how it should be. This should be a comfort to us for two reasons. The first is that God is with us, we are not alone. The second is that we know God is in control. God uses us but he does not rely on us. The Kingdom is not our responsibility or down to our hard work. We are free from that because we could never do it and we would fail. Instead the burden is lifted from our shoulders and we are simply free to join in the rescue mission.