When talking about our country, not many people say, “You know, things are OK. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.” Everyone agrees something is wrong. And, oh the urgency: The loudest voices on both sides warn us the next election will either usher in a regime of justice and hope, or doom us to grinding misery under the boot-heel of tyranny. Just being politically aware—much less politically active—feels like wading into a river filled with anxiety about the future. Even in the church, it’s easy to get swept away in that torrent and stake our hope on an election.
But, the desire for a captain to right the ship isn’t new. After conquering the Promised Land, the people of Israel found themselves in a bit of a funk. They had been led by a series of judges, and not all of those judges did things on the up-and-up. Israel looked around at all the other nations who were ruled by strong kings, and they felt a little jealous. Why hadn’t God hadn’t given them a king, too?
Israel’s desire for what God hadn’t ordained for them is a mirror that we can hold up to see our own nature. We, too, have an acute sense of the shortcomings of our society and leadership. And if everyone else leverages political clout to have things the way they like them, why shouldn’t we? We yearn for kings, the ideal presidents and congressfolk and mayors who can put our values in the driver’s seat of culture.
We go further, though: We mark off boundaries between tribes. Political affiliation goes beyond which leaders have the best ideas to define who we are and, worse, whom we’ll tolerate. Battle lines drawn, we follow a party line where Jesus wouldn’t lead. We choose to camp in a political tent that stinks to high heaven—so long as we’re not in that other tent. Rather than surrender to such division, might we surrender the idea that Christians comfortably belong within any political party?
Asking God to provide the ideal government isn’t wrong because it hopes too much, but rather because it hopes far too little.
God didn’t mince words when Israel made their royal plea. He called their demand what it was: a failure to trust in His leadership despite the judges’ failures. God told Samuel (the last good judge), “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them,” (1 Sam. 8:7). This rebuke should sink into our bones. Politics can sweep us away into anxiety—to the point that we reject our King and His kingdom.
The thing is, even if we could elect leaders who represented our values in every branch of government and kept their campaign promises, and even if our fellow citizens—our neighbors—who disagreed did so peaceably, what would be the reward? A handful of years where some people feel reasonably comfortable? What a slender payoff. Asking God to provide the ideal government isn’t wrong because it hopes too much, but rather because it hopes far too little.
Politics does its world building through the kinds of power and control that we just don’t see in Scripture. Passing laws, pushing money around, making war and threats of war—these are not the ways God has chosen to build His kingdom on earth. If we take the Bible seriously, we can’t help but see that God’s kingdom comes in the midst of such clambering—often in spite of it and even as a balm for it.
Take a look at the earliest Christians. They had no political clout. In fact, their government had so little regard for them that it repeatedly tried to kill them off, and they were powerless to do anything about it. Even so—and without casting a single vote—this church worshipped and prayed and preached the gospel, bearing generation after generation of fruitful believers right up until this very day. They were powerless in the Roman Empire, but in the kingdom of heaven, they were secure. And where is Caesar now?
If the early church proves anything, it’s how little we need from the government in order to bear witness to God’s kingdom. One day, the United States of America might well be just another lecture in a history class slept through by the children of some future empire. Though we have a vote in the course of this tiny kingdom, we have better to offer. Putting first things first, we have the same opportunity every generation of the church has had before us and will have after us: to stand firm against the current of anxiety and offer hope in the Solid Rock.