Martin Luther wrote the following explanation when he considered the 1st Commandment:
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
That is: Thou shalt have [and worship] Me alone as thy God. What is the force of this, and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.
I wonder, what are the gods we worship today? I think they are different from Luther’s time. With new technology comes new idols. With differing ways of thinking comes news idols. In a sense, they can’t be helped.
Considering all the coverage that is given to politics from the campaign through to the new administration, I don’t think it’s a bold statement to say that politics is an idol for many Americans. We give an extreme amount of attention to what politicians and candidates have to say on any number of subjects – whether those subjects are important or not. And it’s not just one party or the other – it’s both.
All throughout the campaign I saw people and even clergy seem to follow Luther’s observation – “a god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress…” So many people were essentially putting their hope and salvation in who would be elected. This isn’t new though, people do this in each election. Obama even used the “hope” theme to help him draw people to support him.
Now that the election is past and a new administration is in power, it seems as though this continues. But I don’t think it would have been any different had the results been different. The only difference is who is disappointed in the results. The attitude about politics and government haven’t changed though. We place a great deal of emphasis on what our government does and what our politicians say. We wait to see and hear what the pronouncements will be. We read what the executive orders are. All of this as if our refuge and hope for all good reside in Washington, DC.
And like all idols, it is false. Yet many want to continue to believe otherwise. Politics and government is a false idol – it can never be our refuge and hope ultimately because it’s made up of broken people, just like us. Government, and the people who run our government, aren’t divinely inspired or morally more virtuous. They aren’t smarter, or better, or more ethical. They are just like us – broken. And so by “expecting all good…which we are to take refuge in all distress” when it comes to politics and government, we are misplacing our trust and devotion.
I’m not arguing that there should be no government. This isn’t an all or nothing situation. What I am arguing is that I think we in this country place too much emphasis on the importance of government and politicians. We have made what happens in Washington, DC far too important to our daily lives and that’s not healthy for anyone. When we get to a situation where certain lives depend on what government does or does not do, that is not an advancement for society – that’s slavery. That might sound extreme, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.
We in the church are just as guilty in participating in this. Far too many Christians shift their theology in order to align with their ideology. Politics becomes the foundation of our lives for too many Christians. Ask yourself these questions – Are you a Christian that is more concerned with voting party line than looking at what people stand for? Is your political party registration more important than living out what you claim to believe? Would you vote for a candidate that opposes what you believe at the core just because they are in the same political party?
Do you consider yourself a Christian Democrat or a Christian Republican? How about a liberal or conservative Christian? Why are these labels so important? Do you see other self-professing Christians who disagree with you on any given issue as Christian brothers and sisters and treat them with respect, love, and mercy? Or does their political identification get in the way of that?
Politics, government and a whole host of other things can be and often are idols. They offer us promises of hope and a bright future – often using religious terminology to do so. That’s why idols are so appealing. Yet, our ultimate hope and salvation reside in God.
Work with politics and government – it’s the way to accomplish things in our society. And many times good things have come from it. Yet be aware when they become idols – when we stop thinking rationally about policy, when our future relies on specific politicians, when we get locked into rigid conformity in thought and rhetoric, when we look at the abstract idea as more important than the practical application of policy and its effect on actual people, when we believe that we advance only when our political party advances, when we believe that a political party will help unfold the kingdom of God.