Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Politics and Idols

As we approach the height of political season, I think it's a good time to repost something I wrote a little over two years ago. It was originally a Facebook Note (before I had a blog) and the title was "Health Care, Politics, and Idols". The references to the political hot button of 2010  (health care) is a little dated, but the message is timeless. So here it is, unedited. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

“‘I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.’” [Exodus 20:2-3]

One of the great challenges in my life (and the life of anyone following Christ) is finding the deep idols in my life and rooting them out. I recently read Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods and I highly recommend it to everyone reading this note. In it, he talks about the things we elevate to the throne of our lives, how we can identify them, and what to do about it. Of course, he talks about the obvious ones – money, sex, power, etc. But he also shows that there are many GOOD things that we place so much importance on that they become gods to us, dethroning the true God; things like family, friends, relationships, work, financial security, comfort, hobbies, and politics. I am working on all of them, trust me, and it will be a lifetime process.

But, in the wake of the recent passing of health care reform, it’s the last one I want to write about at the moment. Most of you know where I stand on most political issues, so I won’t go into that here. Suffice it to say that I am writing this from the losing side of the latest battle, and so I am writing about my own self-examination as to how important the loss is to my significance and security.

So how can we tell that something is an idol, or at least in danger of becoming one? Keller talks about several tests, but a huge one is how we react when we lose something, or when it is damaged. Check out these comments from his book and how the test relates to our feelings about our political position:

“One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life…If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, ‘What a shame, how difficult,’ but rather ‘This is the end! There’s no hope!’

This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side openly talks about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death. They believe if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart.” [Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2009), pp. 98-99]

So I must ask myself – do I consider losing a Presidential election or a battle to keep government out of our lives a catastrophe? Is God in control, or do I need my political leaders to be in control to feel good about life? Is the reason I care so much because my lifestyle is threatened? Where is my hope?

Then Keller presents another test to see whether we are trusting more in our ideology than God:

“Another sign of idolatry in our politics is that opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken, but evil…The increasing political polarization and bitterness we see in U.S. politics today is a sign that we have made political activism into a form of religion.” [Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2009), pp. 99-100]

I can see this in my life for sure. It’s easy to attribute evil motives to the other side and only good motives to ours. We’re all sinners, on both sides of the aisle, so that is always a distortion of the truth.

One final set of comments from Keller are important to wrap this up. We need to understand how it happens in order to know what to do about it.

“How does idolatry produce fear and demonization? …(P)hilosopher Al Wolters taught that in the biblical view of things, the main problem in life is sin and the only solution is God and his grace. The alternative to this view is to identify something besides sin as the main problem with the world and something besides God as the main remedy. That demonizes something that is not completely bad and makes an idol out of something that cannot be the ultimate good.” [Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2009), p. 100]

What is my main problem? Sin. And the best President, Congress, tax structure, health care system, or any other political solution cannot do anything about it. The only solution is God’s grace and dependence on him. It happens from the inside out, one person at a time. Jesus didn’t go to Rome to change the world; he went to an obscure corner of the world, was born in a feeding trough in an obscure village, and gave up his power to die in our place.

One final, very important thought. I am not saying that it’s wrong to care deeply about trying to help our country be the best it can be. Just as it’s not wrong to love our family and friends deeply, work hard, or have hobbies we enjoy. But in all those areas, including our politics, I must always be on guard that nothing gets elevated to the position that God rightfully occupies.

God bless us all as we strive to live for him in a fallen world.

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