The following sample of resources are some of the pieces which I've read or created while thinking through the issue of politics. I attempted to use a broad selection of authors, from conservative Christians to the secular, so you can get different angles. Regardless of where you land, my hope is that you'll begin to see the world through the eyes of the gospel first, and politics second (or tenth).
Theodicies are a big deal. Whether you know the term "theodicy" or not, you probably know a theodicy or two if you're a Christian. It's pretty much required, as remaining a Christian without knowing a few theodicies would be pretty difficult. Whether you yourself have struggled with doubt about God and his goodness, or whether someone you know has struggled with tragic loss and God's seeming absence, the problem of evil is an issue we must all face and attempt to answer. In fact, the problem of evil seems to me to be one of the biggest hindrances to the faith for many today. A theodicy, then, is just our attempt at providing a possible explanation for the evil we experience and see, as well as the seeming silence of God and his goodness through such evil.
Theodicies have been weighing heavily on my heart recently. It's hard not to dwell on the problem of evil when evil so apparently abounds in the violence, racism, and abuse we see throughout the world. And it's hard not to address the problem of evil daily when it seems to be on everyone else's mind, especially on the minds of those who aren't Christians. We live in a nation where so many claim to believe in God, his goodness, and the power of prayer despite mounting evidence that those things are impotent and ineffectual in the face of evil and tragedy. Thoughts and prayers are too often given without any indication of their effectual merit, as evidenced by the next tragedy which inevitably comes. Beyond the man-made tragedies which weigh on us all, there are also those tragedies which seem inexplicable. I was talking to a former Christian just the other day and he told me that he didn't want to deal with any other Christian apologetics if I couldn't answer the problem of natural evil. I can pin moral evil on free creatures, but how can I possibly explain how a good God could exist when creation is so clearly fashioned in such a way that requires pain and death (e.g. 2nd law of thermodynamics and entropy, plate tectonics and volcanoes, storms and winds/lightning/floods, bacteria and viruses, animals clearly created to prey on other animals, gravity and our fragile bodies, etc)?
There are quite a few people in my circles who aren’t too fond of all the demonstrations which have been going on. In their minds, all demonstrations related to racial issues are "riots," and all of the demonstrations are lead by leftist, Marxist, communist, anarchists. Many of the same criticisms conservatives once levied against the abolitionist or Civil Rights leaders of old are being reused against those claiming to fight racial injustice today. It’s certainly possible that the movement today is of a different character than it was the last several times movements arose in the face of racial upheaval. But it’s also possible that we conservatives who have always sought to conserve the status quo and our power have the same modus operandi today as we’ve always had. It's possible that we are denying injustice in order to preserve our position, just as we've always done. Time will tell, I suppose, as hindsight will eventually make current events more clear. But until then, I think it's important to have a good dose of honest and difficult self-reflection.
While I don’t know whether or not my conservative community is wrong in its majority assessment of the current events, I do want to speak into my community and highlight an inconsistency which I find rather bothersome. One of the most used arguments I see from Christians against the current social movement is that to join one's voice in the outcry is to jettison, forego, or downplay the gospel. To join the movement decrying injustice and calling for societal change is to embrace the social gospel. To join the movement is to declare that the gospel is not enough. What the world really needs is not social change or the social gospel. What the world really needs right now is the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is only the gospel which transforms hearts. The argument here is that the eternal is more important than the temporal, and that if you get your eternal priorities straight, a change of your heart and spiritual focus will change your actions. If you accept the gospel of Christ you will also change your actions. If we just get everyone saved, racism will diminish. It is the gospel which changes society, not social movements, so we ought to spend our time accordingly.
Social justice has been on my mind a lot lately, as I'm sure it's been on the minds of many. For some, especially those who are older or from very conservative backgrounds, their ears just perked up. This idea of "social justice" still has connotations carried over from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the gospel of Jesus Christ was distilled down merely to its justice component. In the social gospel, Jesus's life was rightly put on a pedestal as an example for our own lives, but it wrongfully deposed the work of his death and resurrection. Jesus's life became largely an example for us in our world - a motivational speech to move us out to be nice and do good. This social gospel devoid of the divine is not the social justice I'm talking about.
It is amazing how my view of myself has changed so drastically in the past six years or so. It began when I started working on our diaconate, it progressed as I saw my political idolatry and consequentialism, and now it is broken wide open as I see my lack of humility with brothers and sisters of color. I always identified with God in his anger at Israel's rebellion, I identified with the prophet Hosea rather than with his adulterous wife, and I identified with Jesus and the disciples who I imagined were shaking their heads at the rich young ruler (although that's not what the text says they did, but it's what I always did). But I have begun to see that I and my community are most often intended to identify with the wayward Israel in need of mercy, with the unfaithful prostitute, and with the rich young ruler in need of humility and transformation. The following, then, is a reimagining of the rich young ruler story as told in Luke 18, with me and my community standing in for the man who proved his unbelief through his inability to act in love.
“The Politics of Jesus” has been one of the most influential books in my life. While I could glean ten different life lessons from it to discuss right now, one in particular has surfaced in my mind as of late. In the book, John Howard Yoder, the author, points out several aspects of what it means to bear our cross. Two of these observations had never crossed my mind before. First, Yoder tells us that bearing our cross is not a random event or hardship in our lives, like cancer or a difficult boss. Instead, cross is what is borne as a direct result of the lives we lead as lived in Christ, like moving to a leper colony to serve and contracting leprosy or having your boss fire you for refusing to alter information in a report. Cross is first and foremost something borne as a direct result of living a life directed towards Calvary.
Christians, like any other group of humans, have their pet peeves. For me and my group of Christians, one of those pet peeves is the objectification of others. We recognizes that the objectification of others leads to deeper and more numerous sins, and therefore, we call it out as evil. When we elevate individualism to godhood and diminish a baby in the womb to the status of non-human - when we objectify babies - a baby who gets in our way can be killed. When sexuality and pleasure is elevated to godhood and another's body becomes a mere tool - when we objectify fellow humans for sexual gratification - then we end up with the highly exploitative and damaging pornography, sex worker, and sex-trafficking industries. Christians rightly identify Jesus's teaching that objectification is at the heart of much evil in the world. In Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, he declares that it isn't only murder and adultery which are evil, but the objectification of others in our hatred, anger, and lust - the latter vices being the seeds of the former. Jesus is a wise man, and we are wise to follow in his footsteps.
But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
The Old Testament prophets have grown on me over the past few years. This isn't because I sense the impending doom of all the wicked unbelievers in the nation around me, as I mournfully identify myself and the church with the irate prophets of old. No, the prophets have grown on me because many of their words, levied at the hearts of God's very own people two millennia ago, can still be levied at God's people today.
For years I have heard the Religious Right bemoan (and have myself been found bemoaning) the culture around us, and I now see Evangelicals expectantly wondering if God will bring revival to this corrupted world through the current pandemic. While I can resonate with the sorrow over the world's sin and a desire to see souls come to God for the first time, I have begun to wonder why we Christians seem to lack brokenness for our own sins, and why we focus so little on the conformation of our own souls to the Divine. We seem to think that we have arrived at holiness, or at least commendable acceptability, and that others really don't need to be like God so long as they become more like us. But that's not what I want. I want the God to whom people come to be a god not mis-fashioned in our own image. I want the God they come to to be transcendent.
In order for the world to see the Divine through us, we must struggle to get the logs out of our own eyes before asking others to take the specks out of theirs. For how could we lead others to a God whom we ourselves can't even see? And how could we expect others to want to come to a Holy God - not to have their beings transformed - but rather only to have their pet sins changed to become those of the church? For if their sins become our sins, they can then be overlooked. In the church's eyes, the gay, the aborter, and the atheist must change, but the greedy, gluttonous, unmerciful, prayerless Christian - the functional atheists - must not, since, of course, the latter looks like me. Oh how we have logs in our eyes!
But praise God for his mercy and grace, for in this, the Son and the Spirit are our perfect hope. The Spirit, the stonemason, takes our heart of stone and chisels it to become a heart of flesh. Jesus the carpenter, in turn, removes the logs from our eyes and fashions them into a yoke which is easy to bear. Together they lead us into the arms of a loving Father and King, to whom we do not merely profess some empty faith, but to whom we bow our knees as the outworking of true faith. Without such a transformation - without putting our subordination where we claim lordship lies - we smother our light, trample our salt, and build our house on sand.
As we Christians think about revival out there (which we should), I think the prophets would ask us to first consider our own repentance and need for reformation, both as individual Christians and as a collective body. I know that I fail to seek mercy and justice. I fail to walk humbly with God. My "sacrifices" don't cost me anything. I seek the praises of others. I contribute to systems and actions which oppress the weak. I murder with my hatred. My heart, more than any other heart, is in need of revival. Let me acknowledge my sin in the presence of God before seeking and expecting revival elsewhere. And perhaps it is acknowledging my sin and allowing God to transform my life - genuinely submitting to his lordship - that he will bring about revival in others. Maybe God calls us to judge ourselves and those inside the church rather than those outside. Maybe the loudest voice for God isn't the condemning one, but the one whispered in seemingly relative obscurity through a distinctive life of holiness and incarnational love, embracing the sinners and calling out the hypocrisy of the religious. Maybe the Christian is the one who stoops to write in the miniscule pebbles of sand rather than being the first to throw stones. Maybe, just maybe, a revival comes through following Jesus and becoming more like him - not just saying it.
In that vein, I want to invite any Christian reading this to look over Isaiah 58, one of my favorite prophetic calls to repentance and justice. And after you read that, you will find the ways God has been calling me to repent. My prayer is that this will spur you on to examine your own life, and that as the body of Christ, we can be broken open as a sweet smelling aroma to the world around us.
The murder of James Bulgar is a story which wrecks my heart. While all murders are tragic, this one feels to me as if it fits into a different category. The level of reprehensibility, of violence, of senselessness, and of the corruption of innocence eats away at my emotions. But in reality, the murder of James wasn't much different than the murders of other children, save for one fact - his murderers were children themselves. I think the reason the Bulgar case has become so infamous and why so many find it more tragic than other cases is because the source of evil came from an unexpected place. How could two children kidnap, torture, and murder a small child? That's not something children do. In fact, that's something it seems children aren't capable of doing. We don't expect to find great evil in certain places. We think such a thing is reserved for the darkest recesses of society. We expect evil to exist, but we don't expect it in all the places where we often find it.
Many Evangelicals harp on the fact that our culture has lost notions of sin. Our culture is often willing to call evil, "good." Certainly the redefining of morality is problematic, but I think there is something even more tragic going on.
It is easy to live in fear these days. Perhaps it's always been that way. Maybe the times aren't any more fearful today, but rather humans are beings always prone to fear. Regardless of fear's source, whether in circumstances or in human nature, it's easy for those of us living in the present to see the fears which the modern world stirs up in our neighbors and in ourselves. But all this fear seems so odd in our enlightened age. One would have thought (or at least I would have thought) that a world which proclaimed itself as more "scientific," more "objective," and less "mystical" would be one in which fears would dissipate. In a world where malicious demons and capricious gods don't exist, we only have the rational world to fear. And what is there to fear in that which can be understood and controlled? The problems of modernity can be measured, assessed, and converted into probabilities. In a world where cause and effect are better understood than ever before, it seems like we should have a handle on most of our fears. Yet we find that in the Western world - the part of the world who thinks of themselves as the most advanced and scientific - fear reigns supreme. Whether you watch the news and take the temperature of the nation, whether you gather anecdotes from those in your community, or whether you simply look at rates of psychological/emotional issues and prescription drug use and drug abuse, you'll find that our world is one which is steeped in fear.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.