~ 15 June 2005 ~

Politics and the Prophet

The pregnancy of Britney Spears and the trial of Michael Jackson notwithstanding, the hottest topic in the news today has to do with the intersection between politics and religion. Following the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the topic has become a “we’ve arrived!” bellwether for many people of faith—and a panic button for many secularists.

Evangelicals have gained much influence in the political arena. While the left constantly cries theocracy, evangelical ideas have made modest gains in the public square. With the possibility of high court justices being secured for a long time in favor of evangelical ideas, things are looking up for Christians in America. The way things stand now, a time of great prosperity for American evangelicalism would seem imminent.

Or would it?

Is political superiority the key for the advancement of the people of God? Not always, if Jeremiah 27 is in any way indicative of how God might intervene in the political sphere. It’s a bizarre passage that elicits a much deserved double-take, because when read in light of conventional wisdom, it appears to make little sense.

Ever the unpopular preacher, Jeremiah delivers the news that Yahweh is putting everyone under control of the pagan Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar:

It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.

Lest Israel, God’s chosen people, think that they were excepted, Jeremiah informs them that they too—just like all the other nations—are losing their own autonomy:

To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?

The leaders and false prophets must have thought of Jeremiah as an ancient–day Howard Dean, speaking such nonsense. Why should the chosen people of God stand for serving a foreign, pagan leader? Such a notion was appalling to their sensibilities.

The irony, however, was that Israel had been serving foreign gods all along—it was only fitting that they should now serve a foreign king. Now, in an unseeming reversal, Israel would only see prosperity if they relinquished their own political sovereignty. Only after they had endured captivity would their land be restored to them.

In this strange passage, Yahweh showed that he doesn’t need the political structures of his people to verify his sovereignty. He is indeed the Maker, and only his kingdom has ultimate authority.

What relation does this ancient story have to do with our modern political climate? Should evangelical Christians relinquish what little political clout they have gained that they might prosper under a leftist government?

Just as the governance of Israel under the Davidic kingship remained the ideal (ultimately fulfilled in Christ!), evangelicals should continue to be wary of campaigning for the left. What Jeremiah 27 does do is to remind us who is really in charge, and who holds each political administration in his hands—even the bad ones. Evangelicals should continue to influence the political scene for the better, but let us not forget who is really on the throne.

Mysterious, yet strangely sovereign are his ways.

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