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All politicians are sinners.
[Insert “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” retort here.]
We know this, of course, because we are all fallen human beings and, by nature, all fallen human beings are sinners (Romans 3:23).
Nevertheless, there is a sense, I believe, in which we are hesitant, generally speaking, to apply the principle that we are all sinners as it relates to our political alliances, having allowed ourselves to be caught up in the euphoric expectations we tend to place in the men and women who profess to carry the same ideological banner as we, whether that banner be social, moral, fiscal or religious.
In its simplest terms, politics is essentially an endless search for the individuals we believe will bring us as close as possible to bringing to fruition our own personal definition of “heaven on earth”, whether it be in the form of lower taxes, fewer government regulations, same-sex marriage, a ban on abortion, universal healthcare, student debt forgiveness, you name it.
The dynamics of this nirvanic worldview are as subjective as they are infinite.
What we fail to realize, however, is that in possessing this temporal mindset, we are merely demonstrating that what we really want is for politicians to save us; to somehow “make this world a better place, if you can” (to paraphrase an old Diana Ross joint from back in the day.)
We may not want to admit it, but, this salvation-by-politics is something we all long for.
Yes, even Christians.
With righteous indignation as our primary rationale, we look with great anticipation to those we elect exhibiting a level of behavior which we acknowledge, cognitively, is beyond their ability to achieve, while still hoping that they will somehow come close enough to reaching that standard that God will honor their best human efforts and, in His grace, use them to bring about the righteous world we desire.
In contemplating this, I am reminded of the nation of Israel in 1 Samuel 8, and how God’s chosen people learned a very difficult lesson that bodes well for us, as contemporary believers, to heed: that to place our faith in anyone or anything other than God alone is to invite disappointment and disaster, not only personally but nationally as well.
“Sorry, God, but, we’re just not that into You (anymore)”
The prophet Samuel “judged Israel all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 7:15), but his sons, Joel and Abijah, despite the fact that their names, respectively, mean “the Lord is God” and “my Father is the Lord”, were as perverted as they could be.
One would think that appointing the children of a bona fide prophet of God as judges of God’s people would be a good thing, but such was not the case for Israel.
We could equate the deviance of the sons of the prophet Samuel with the way many people today assume that the children of pastors should automatically grow up to be obedient followers of Jesus Christ solely on the basis that they are the children of pastors, only to later learn, to their shock and dismay, that often they do not.
Joel and Abijah are sobering reminders that being “raised in the church” doesn’t necessarily equate to a transformed heart. In fact, these sons of a prophet were so corrupt in exercising their judicial responsibilities that the people petitioned Samuel to remove them from office and appoint a king to rule over them.
But, as they saying goes, elections, or, in this case, appointments, have consequences; and Israel would learn the hard way that replacing two sinful men with one sinful man, Saul, would leave them no better off, and perhaps even worse, than they were under Joel and Abijah.
Saviors are not elected
In asking for themselves a king, Israel declared in no uncertain terms that it would rather be guided by man than by God.
What Israel thought a king could do for them that God could not is beyond my comprehension, but such thinking is not unlike how many Christians today believe that electing the “right” person to the right position will somehow save us from all that is wrong with our world today.
But, you see, saviors are not elected.
They are not elected because politics is not salvific.
The reason politics is not salvific is because it cannot be.
Nothing that involves sin or, conversely, sinners, has the capacity to be redemptive in and of itself, which is why every four years we find ourselves seeking new saviors to rescue us from the national and global predicaments in which we find ourselves.
Nevertheless, we continue to look to the political process as a means of generating for us what it inherently cannot.
If true righteousness is to exist within a nation, then, by definition, it must be brought about through means that are infinitely higher than the worldly resources which we, in our innately sinful state, have at our disposal.
Be careful what you ask (God) for
Until now, it was God alone who Israel had depended upon, and yet, despite His warning about the ramifications of their decision (1 Samuel 8:9-18), the people remained unmoved in their defiance.
Israel asked for a king and God gave them exactly what they asked for – and all that goes along with it.
God will do that, you know?
When we, in our pride and arrogance, either individually or corporately as a nation, determine that we somehow know better than God what is best for us, He will gladly move aside, letting us have our way and leaving us to the consequences of our decisions, especially when that decision is to seek salvation in anyone other than Him, whether it be spiritual or political.
Now, none of what I’ve said to this point is meant to imply that believers in Christ should abstain from political involvement.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
Government is God’s idea (Romans 13:1-7).
This truth should be impetus enough for God’s people to be engaged in and concerned with the American political process, and how those who are elected to political office not only govern us but themselves as well.
Nevertheless, we must remember that politics is not salvific.
Candidates cannot redeem us from the ills of this sinful world.
Regardless how shiny the résumé of the men and women we choose to support politically, there is only One whose body of work is truly spotless – Jesus Christ – and the salvation this world truly thirsts for – and needs – is found only in Him.
“Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.”
Soli Deo Gloria!