Category Archives: politics

Politics, Sports, Entertainment, and Other False Religions

In this fourth installment of our series on “Love not the World” (1 John 2:15-17), I want to ask what John means by “loving the world” as opposed to loving the Father. In an earlier post, we saw that the “world” is the order of things prioritized to satisfy our self-centered desire for physical pleasure, possessions, and honor. John urges, “Don’t love this order, this kosmos.” “Don’t order your loves in this way.” As we see clearly, the organizing principle of “the world” is unenlightened love of the self, shaped and moved by our immediately felt physical desires and our psychological need for social acceptance—all informed and directed by the dominant culture in which we live.

In worldly society everyone desires, sells, promotes, seeks, and admires, physical pleasure, possessions, and honor above all other things. This way of thinking dominated the society and culture of John’s day. And it dominates ours also. Indeed, the “world,” as an order determined by the three perverted loves, manifests itself in every actual social and political order, in every human institution.

Politics, my friends, concerns the order of this world, and it arranges things to promote the realization of some vision of the good life within this world. And given the values of most people, politics invariably concerns competing visions of how to secure money, safety, possessions, pleasure, and honor. Do not love politics. Don’t become angry, anxious, or obsessed with it. Do not love the world in any of its manifestations. Do not love your sports team or famous people. Love the Father.

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

John tells us not to “love” the world, either as a way of ordering our lives or as an actual social and political order. He uses the verb form of a Greek word familiar to many church-going people, agape. We should reserve our love for God. God loves us and sent his Son to save us from sin and death. The world does not love us. It cannot save us from sin and death, because the world itself is dominated by sin and death. We love God by returning our praise, thanks, and honor to him for what he has done for us. In loving God, we seek him as our highest good, treating all other goods as means to our ultimate goal of eternal life with God. God is the measure of all things. Nothing else really matters.

We love the world when we treat experiencing physical pleasure as the goal of our lives. Loving the world involves letting our desire for beautiful, convenient, and comfortable things eclipse our desire for God and the things of God. When we seek approval, praise, and honor from other people and do not strive to please God above all others, we have succumbed to the love of the world. Physical pleasure, cars, houses, and lands, and a good reputation are not evil in themselves. They can be means through which we can serve and praise God. The joy we experience in them can turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving. But if we seek them as if they could give us true joy apart from their function of pointing us to God, if we worship them, if we forsake the higher goods for the lower, then these things will turn to dust in our hands. There is only one God. Apart from God, there is only death.

It’s time for some self-examination. Do you love the world? Do I love the world? Let’s ask ourselves some questions:

 

How often do you think of God and pray?

 

When you pray, for what do you ask?

 

How much time do you spend trying to shape other people’s opinion of you? And how much does it bother you when you get less respect or recognition than you think you deserve?

 

How much of your attention is given to planning and experiencing pleasures of all kinds?

 

If you were responding to a survey that asked you rank the top five things you desired most, what would top your list? Second? Third?

 

How much effort do you give to exercising your spirit, in self-examination and confession?

 

What do you think about when you take a walk by yourself?

 

What are the highest priorities of your two best friends?

 

Would you prefer to look good or be good? Does your answer match the effort you put into each?

 

Whom do you most admire?

 

Is the “love of the Father” the organizing and animating force of your life?

In researching for a book I am writing, I’ve come upon some of Plato’s ethical thoughts. In the following quote from his dialogue Theaeteus, Plato sounds a lot like John in 1 John 2:15-17. Considering the high calling we receive from Jesus Christ, we ought at least to aim as high as Plato, who did not know the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, bids us aim:

But it is not possible, Theodorus, that evil should be destroyed—for there must always be something opposed to the good; nor is it possible that it should have its seat in heaven. But it must inevitably haunt human life, and prowl about this earth. That is why a man should make all haste to escape from earth to heaven; and escape means becoming as like God as possible; and a man becomes like God when he becomes just and pure, with understanding. But it is not at all an easy matter, my good friend, to persuade men that it is not for the reasons commonly alleged that one should try to escape from wickedness and pursue virtue. It is not in order to avoid a bad reputation and obtain a good one that virtue should be practiced and not vice; that, it seems to me, is only what men call ‘old wives’ talk’. Let us try to put the truth in this way. In God there is no sort of wrong whatsoever; he is supremely just, and the thing most like him is the man who has become as just as it lies in human nature to be…

My friend, there are two patterns set up in reality. One is divine and supremely happy; the other has nothing of God in it, and is the pattern of the deepest unhappiness. This truth the evildoer does not see; blinded by folly and utter lack of understanding, he fails to perceive that the effect of his unjust practices is to make him grow more and more like the one, and less and less like the other. For this he pays the penalty of living the life that corresponds to the pattern he is coming to resemble (Plato, Theaeteus, trans. M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat in The Complete Works of Plato, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hacket, 1997), p. 195).

It’s Time to Remember What Politicians Cannot Do

In this season of high hopes and deep despair, of utopian dreams and dystopian fears, let us remember that there is only one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the only one who rules by divine right, and he is the only one who can save us from our deepest problems. So, I want to speak today about the limits of politics—not the limits of a particular party or political philosophy but the limits of any possible political order. In this post, I will not be advocating for any party, philosophy or human person. I simply want to ask Christian people to take their confession seriously: Jesus is Lord and Savior. Jesus alone!

People look to the political dimension of society to provide order, justice and prosperity. We can imagine having order without justice and a just order without prosperity. But we want all three. Hence politicians defend their own leadership abilities, theories and policies as the best means to the optimum balance between these three values. Hardly anyone expects politicians of any party to create perfect order, justice and prosperity or even the ideal balance among them. Most people know they must settle for what they believe is the best of those imperfect systems.

But let us assume that a utopian state is possible and that your favorite politicians can bring that state into being. Your society is efficiently ordered, and peace dominates. Everyone is treated fairly, and prosperity extends to all levels of the society.  What then? Can the president forgive your sins? Can your senator raise you from the dead? Can the congress decree that you will inherit eternal life? Politicians cannot create the world or make sure that everything that happens to you works out for your eternal good. No state can guarantee your human dignity or assure you that you exist for a reason. The government cannot make sure that you are loved and have the courage to love in return. No politician can give your life ultimate meaning or give you true and lasting happiness. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. There is no other.

Now let us assume, on the other hand, that your worst political nightmare comes true. The worst people and worst party come to power, and your dystopian fears become reality. Injustice reigns, order serves the interest of only a few and prosperity eludes the majority. Perhaps dissenters and critics of the new order are persecuted. What then? Can the president make you unhappy? Can poverty erase the image of God in which you are made? Can being treated unjustly make you unjust? The state cannot keep you from loving your enemies and your friends. The senate cannot rob you of God’s love. Nor can congress withhold divine forgiveness or invoke divine judgment. Can politicians prevent God from working all things to our eternal good? Can death or persecution separate us from the love of God? Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. There is no other.

Hence let us have a sense of proportion in this season of debate and decision. The best outcome cannot bring salvation to your house and the worst cannot assign you to perdition. Let us not seek from ourselves what only God can provide. Instead, let us treat politics as what it is: it is a means of maximizing certain worldly goods. Worldly goods! Not heavenly treasures! There is nothing sinful about wishing to enjoy and use worldly goods unless we begin to love and worship them and lose perspective on their true value. Putting too much stock in politics may indicate that we have lost hope in the real Savior and have given up trusting in the true Lord. Or it may indicate that we have grown to love the world. John gives a warning apropos to our time:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world (1 John 2:15-16).

And Jesus, our true Lord and only Savior, reminds us of the One we should fear:

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5)

What Pope Francis Should Say to America and the World…But Probably Will Not

Francis is coming to America! If Pope Francis really wants to act like the Vicar of Christ and the heir of the Apostles, he might consider speaking the way they spoke. They did not advise the devil on how better to manage his affairs; they cast him out. They did not instruct rulers, soldiers, politicians, scientists, public officials, rich, poor, men and women in their official and social roles. They spoke to them as naked human beings, responsible directly to God. They spoke about the most urgent matter: how do you stand with your God?

So, your honor, instead of playing the scientist, policy expert and economist, why not speak about something on which you can speak with real apostolic authority: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then the division you cause would between those who accept the gospel and those who reject it! That is would your predecessor Peter did in Acts 4; and that is what Paul did in Acts 19. You could begin like this…

“God is the creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them. Every individual owes God for their existence and everything they have and are. Apart from God you are nothing and your accomplishments are worthless. And each one, poor and rich, obscure and famous, weak and powerful will answer to God for every word they say and everything they do and for how they use everything they have been given. Everyone dies, and everyone will stand before the “judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every secret will be revealed. It is no excuse to say, “I was acting for the company or the country or for an ideal.” Nor will it work to say, “I was oppressed or poor or ill favored.” God does not show favoritism. Nothing else matters if God is not pleased with our work. The most urgent problem, the root of all other problems, in the world today is its sinful rebellion against the Creator (Romans 1).”

“The answer to this problem, the only answer, is Jesus Christ. He is Lord of all, and every knee will bow to him. He alone has been raised from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand. He alone is our righteousness and wisdom. There is no salvation, no knowledge of God and no life in any other savior. He demands that you repent of your sin, trust in his mercy and following him. No excuses, no delays.

“Allow me to quote a warning given by Apostle Paul in Romans, Chapter 1:

“18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

“Is this not the real problem in America and in the world we live in? We can give more specificity to Paul’s warning by quoting his moral teaching in Galatians 5:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

“Hence my first word to America, to its leaders, officials and its people and to the world is the same as Jesus’ first message to the people of his day: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” Jesus said many things after and along with this message of repentance, but he never compromised or set it aside. Jesus proclaims that the deepest problem that plagues this world, the root of all others, cannot be solved by sinful human beings, individually or collectively.”

This is what Pope Francis should say but probably will not.

One reader recommended that I place the following paragraph from the comments into the post:

“Well, I am thinking about how leftest politicians fawn when he speaks about global warming or socialist economist policies and how rightest politicians fawn when he speaks about abortion or same-sex marriage. Neither party cares to hear the message of repentance; they want to use the church for their own ends. Why not simply call everyone above and beyond the world? Why not attack the devil in his stronghold and call out the idolatry of human self-worship? Do not let yourself be co-opted by the worldly minded! Call them all beyond their utopian visions, right or left.”

The Politics of Jesus

Did Jesus have political aims? Of a certain kind, yes. Let’s talk about it.

In his book Politics, Aristotle wrote:

“Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either above humanity, or below it; he is the ‘Tribeless, lawless, heartless one,’ whom Homer denounces—the outcast who is a lover of war; he may be compared to a bird which flies alone.” (Book 1.2.9).

Human beings are endowed with reason and speech, and these powers cannot be brought into full actuality apart from human community. Human nature is so rich that it cannot be realized fully by one individual, but when many people over centuries contribute their gifts, each individual can enjoy the work of all. The products of reason and speech become common property and enrich everyone. In the first paragraph of Politics, Aristotle made this significant claim: “If all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims, and in a greater degree than any other, at the highest good” (1.1.1).

Aristotle grounds the state in human nature. A being that is stateless by nature is either a god or a beast. The political order encompasses all other communities within its sphere. Unlike subordinate communities, it aims “in a greater degree than any other, at the highest good.” A family, a guild or a school will aim at the welfare of its members, a partial good. The state aims at the welfare of everyone, so that everyone may enjoy to the fullest degree the full flowering of human nature.

Let’s compare and contrast Aristotle’s thinking about the political community with the New Testament’s teaching about the church. Surely Aristotle is right that the state is an outgrowth of human nature and that a being stateless by nature is not human in the ordinary sense. The church is a human community, and Aristotle would number it among those subordinate communities that aim in a less comprehensive way at the highest good. But Christianity understands this community to be composed of a “new humanity,” “born again,” a people endowed with the “Spirit of the living God” and having under gone “the transforming of their minds.” They are in Aristotle’s words “above humanity.” A divine power is at work in the church to raise it above normal human life.

Aristotle is also on target when he asserts that every community aims at a good that gives it purpose, unity and identity. However, Aristotle’s “highest good” is limited to this world, this life. Christianity asserts that human beings should aim at a goal higher than the common good of the whole community within this life. God created human beings in the image of God, and human nature, empowered by the grace of the Spirit, can participate in the divine nature and attain eternal life. From Aristotle’s viewpoint, the church’s aim is off target; it aims too high and it demands too much of mere mortals. It is bound to fail.

The New Testament presents the church as the community founded by Jesus Christ. It is indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit and directed to God the Father. In analogy to Aristotle’s view of the state, the church is based on the nature of the new humanity and is necessary for the full flowering of this new human being. Christians are not “birds that fly alone,” but they really do fly. The Christian is not only a human being endowed with reason and speech but also someone united with Christ, who dwells in heaven and yet fills the universe. The Christian has received the life-giving Spirit and has been freed from the power of sin and death. Unlike Aristotle’s natural human being, the Christian lives by faith and not by sight.

The church is the community whose threefold purpose is (1) to enable the new powers and virtues that have been given to believing and baptized human beings to come into full use and benefit the whole church and through the church the whole world; (2) to embody as far as possible in the present the perfect community of heaven, the Father, Son and Spirit and the coming Kingdom of God, which is the union of human beings and God in the perfect divine/human fellowship; and (3) to call the whole world to rise up not only beyond the beastly nature of the stateless one, the ‘Tribeless, lawless, heartless one.’ It also calls human beings beyond the best political order human beings can create. She serves the whole human race by calling it to its final destiny and revealing its true dignity.

Hence to normal human beings, Christians will always appear to have their heads in the clouds. Their values are a bit askew. They are always rejoicing but never take pleasure in evil. They are serious about everything but in despair over nothing. The Christian is as courageous as a lion but as gentle as a lamb; they have wills as hard as steel but hearts as soft as wax.

The church will never subordinate itself to the political community because the good it seeks is higher than the good sought by the state. The virtues she promotes—love, faith and hope—are better than those the state values. She seeks heaven while the state grasps at earth. The state is built on violence and coercion, and it seeks wealth, power and worldly security; the church is built on freedom and love and seeks treasure in heaven. The church is the temple of God, the city of God, the body of Christ. The state is human nature writ large, with all its strengths and weaknesses.

For Aristotle, human beings are “political animals” whose destiny is achieved, if at all, only in this life. For Christianity, human beings are more; they are ecclesiastical animals whose destiny lies in eternity, in the divine life.