He is not Blue or Red or even Purple

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We concluded our first guidepost with the quotation from the prophet Isaiah: "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways."  Let that be our jumping off point for our second guidepost. 

Treebeard is the leader of the Ents, tree beings, in the Lord of the Rings. At one point he says ‘side? I am on no one’s side because no one is on my side?”  We could change that quotation a little and use it for God, when he looks down on the political affairs of humans.  No one can simply claim that ‘God is on our side.’  God brings his own word to bear on all our political struggles. And as a result we can never get religion and politics to line up, however much we want! God is not the Tories at prayer (as Anglicans were once said to be- more likely Labor at prayer now). He is not blue or red or even purple.  The Church of God has been faithful, and faithless, under monarchy, and tribal chieftains, and socialism and capitalism.  For a long time, we live in the West under what is called ‘Constantinianism’, where there was a compact between Church and state, always to some extent uneasy (ask Thomas a Becket), and quite gone in our own epoch (the Queen, who happens to be a devout Christian,  as defender of the faith is a vestige of that bygone era). 

But humans want them to line up. We want to enlist him to accomplish our own ends.  But God is not at our disposal- it is the other way around!

This doesn’t mean that God is not relevant to the political sphere.  He rules over every sphere.  And he cares about order instead of chaos. And he cares about the weak, vulnerable, poor and disadvantaged, which the Bible sums up in referring to the widow and orphan. And God opens our eyes to our own corruption, found both in us as individuals, and in institutions. There is some truth in St. Augustine saying that the difference between a government and a criminal syndicate is size. The closest to divine favor I can get is the observation that divided government, and a free press, and an independent judiciary came from our founders sharing that Augustinian insight. And God has an interest in our seeing every human being, every group, as one ‘in the image of God.’ That is why apartheid in South Africa was more than political error- it was heresy. And the Word of God does have something to say about every moral issue. And yet finally God extends his mercy on us, of many persuasions, beyond our deserving.  God has then. His agenda, but by contrast we cannot make him part of ours.

As Christians God’s cause, and our human political allegiances, do not finally line up. He has more to say.  But we can say this much- that the virtues remain the virtues, and the vices the vices, whatever we think is at stake here and now politically. Our time is awash in anger, and it remains a vice, in part because it makes it so hard to hear.

We speak earnestly for what we see as the good, and ought to be humbly ready to be wrong too.  We understand that politics is by nature conflict, and yet the Church is different, for there by God’s gracious will we sit as siblings with people whom we regard as in error, whom we would never select as companions. This too is a sign of the divine sovereignty, for we are. Not there in church simply by our own leisure time choices.  It is a ‘mixed body,’ as Augustine again said, and we are there only by ‘amazing grace.’ 

By that grace we are with God, but he is not with us, in the sense of being enlisted in our cause.  And thus we sit together, in Church, ready to hear in God’s Word both judgment and mercy, directed at us.

It is often hard to make sense of things Christian. The bible, church history, denominations, the cross-currents of culture. This series is meant, in each episode, to give you a single, clear guidepost,  in order to ‘discern the signs of the times.’