January 11 - The limits and dangers of politics.

The limits and dangers of politics

            On 9th January US Senator Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head while meeting constituents at a grocery store in Tucson. The gunman turned his gun on the crowd, killing, among others, a nine year old girl. The reaction to all this, understandably, was shock and then a certain political hand-wringing as commentators and columnists speculated as to whether this was symptomatic of the deep political divisions in America. Beyond this, there were attempts by several American politicians, not least President Obama, to encourage less heat in political debate. It is feared that the rhetoric of partisan politics has tended to ‘play the man and not the ball’. Instead of informed discussion about issues, opponents themselves are condemned, not as mistaken, but as evil and dangerous. A tone of extremism is sounded. Any points of agreement are ignored and a lethal poison creeps into the atmosphere of government.

            This, of course, is not restricted to the Unites States. Elements can be seen in the political exchanges on this side of the Atlantic, at both the local and national levels. Interestingly, the author and pastor, Timothy Keller, has written about the root cause of such animosity being the turning of politics into an idol.

            When God is removed from our lives, we do not cease to have gods, we simply fill the spiritual vacuum with false idols. For some people success is an idol - a relentless pursuit of the moving target of satisfaction. For others romantic love is the obsession they hope will bring fulfilment to life. Still others allow their lives to revolve around money. Virtually anything can become an idol. Even very good things can be idols, and so twisted into forms of enslavement.

Keller reminds us of the story of Maximilien Robespierre, the leader of the French Revolution, who said in 1794, ‘What is the goal towards which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality… The terror is nothing other than prompt, severe, inflexible justice.’ That reign of Terror was so ghastly and unjust that Robespierre himself was guillotined without trial. ‘Liberty and equality’ are good things, but when turned into idols and forced to become absolutes then the result is grim. When love of your own people becomes an absolute and an idol, it issues in racism. When love of equality becomes the supreme thing in life then it can justify hatred and violence towards anyone deemed to be privileged. Good political causes can easily become instruments of injustice and suffering when elevated to the status of idols.

These are dangers which arise when we depart from the analysis of the Bible. According to Scripture, the main problem facing humanity is not political but spiritual; the main problem is sin. The solution to that spiritual problem is also not political, but spiritual. The solution is the grace of God. When we refuse the Biblical account then we tend to see the problems of the world as due to something other than sin, so that the solution is then going to be something other than God and His grace. The result, in the words of Keller, is that this ‘demonises something that is not completely bad, and makes an idol out of something that cannot be the ultimate good.’

We should be grateful towards those who enter into politics and seek to serve their communities both locally and nationally. Many who do so are motivated by a genuine desire to serve. They should be applauded. They should also be supported in prayer. Politics is a good and a high calling for some.

However, we should also recognise that when political policies are regarded as a route to salvation then politics has become a false idol. This explains why politics can then oscillate between unrealistic hopes and bleak disillusionment in the midst of poisonous political discourse.

It is only in admitting our sin and our need of a Saviour in Christ Jesus that we can know genuine hope and true security and be enabled to treat our fellow sinners with the dignity and respect they deserve as those fashioned in the image of God.

Your minister


Martin Thomson

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