"We will all be Judged:" Politics and Evangelicals before the Seat of Christ

Cima_da_Conegliano,_God_the_Father.jpg

In reflecting on the recent devastating news about Roy Moore, I have noticed a deep and terrifying tendency for people to make any sort of excuse in order to defend their political candidate. This is not new to any specific side of the political spectrum, as all people are deeply aware of the moral failings of most of the major political players in the United States. And yet, we elect them or hold our nose or make excuses for them.

This is normal.

And normal is not always a good thing.

What is most troubling for me, however, is the desire to excuse and ignore the perversity in our midst as evangelical Christians—as if we will not be judged for our sins.

This is a strong theme in Paul's epistles, especially in relation to Christians. In Rom 14:10, Tertius writes:

"But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you also show contempt for your brother or sister? For we will all (πάντες) stand in front of the seat (τῷ βήματι) of God."

V.9 speaks of Christ being the Lord (κυριεύσῃ) over the "living and the dead" (νεκρῶν καὶ ζώντων), which gives us a more universalistic scope of Christ's lordship. Here, in v.10, God is seated on the throne and in v.12 Tertius writes:

"So then, each one of us will give an account of themselves to God"

Similarly in 2 Cor 5:10, we have Paul writing

"For all of us (πάντας ἡμᾶς) must appear before the judgment seat (τοῦ βήματος) of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (NRSV)

The last phrase of v.10b is the most unnerving aspect of Paul's eschatology: εἴτε ἀγαθὸν εἴτε φαῦλον. Woodenly translated, this phrase says "whether good, whether evil." Paul, presumably, includes himself in this judgment and if Paul does, we are also included. This also suggests Paul's Christology and Monotheism are far more fluid, as the Person in the "seat" can either be God or Christ given the circumstance.

Whether good, whether evil.

That should send chills down the spine of everyone making excuses and defying the moral commands in Scripture.

Christians are included in this sphere of judgment, and we will have to give an explanation for our deeds. In these days, we see some Evangelicals bending over backward to defend the indefensible. Sometimes twisting Scripture to support evil. 

God does not forget such sins, nor our attempts to cover up sins. This includes me, and this includes you, and this includes us.

Standing before Christ and saying, "but the Democrat might win" will not cut it in the Eschaton.

Standing before Christ and saying, "but that was in the past" will not cut in with your brothers and sisters standing there to witness such excuses.

Think of these things when defending people simply because of the letter after their name. God does not care about your political party because only Christ is king. Trying to establish a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian King on earth is not a Christian calling.

We will be held accountable for who we defend, who we condemn, and our conduct in our every day lives. God notices, God remembers.

We proclaim Christ's lordship, not Caesars.

NQ

Power Games: The Cross, 48 Laws and The Justification of Power

 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." -Romans 8:28

I've been reflecting a lot lately on how one navigates the complicated world of political intrigue, personal relationships, power dynamics and the way of Christ. In the world of the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, we are all playing a power game in life whether we know it or not and the smart people merely play it well.

What follows from this idea that we are all playing a giant power game? At work and in our quest to accumulate resources, prestige, and security in this world we shouldn't be bothered by the "petty feelings of others," we should intimidate others, use flattery when it suits us, wear many faces, and manipulate, manipulate, manipulate! Basically, this book adopts a Nietzche worldview assuming that in the quest for power one must go "beyond good and evil." The will to power is fundamental to human existence and in this book it is all encompassing of the person. 

In my initial estimation, I thought this book offered some insights, but in order for it to work one would have to be 1) a sociopath 2) a brilliant sociopath and 3) the most brilliant sociopath. However, in the end, I reject his view of the world entirely. Yes, many of us are susceptible to the will for power and yes there may be a dark side. Yet, so much more is hardwired into us that is not easily reduced to mere power games and allows the functional of us to have meaningful and transformative relationships. Forgetting this is at the least a tactical error and at worst separates one from joining in the life of God. Also, a word of caution, the author seems to have cycled through at least 80 jobs (not surprising in the least) before catching a great book deal. Perhaps, the book that is more his style is The Art of Seduction than a book on climbing the ladder to power.

My brief advice: Better to choose another leadership or strategy book to read unless you want to understand a large swath of people who think they are both brutal and brilliant if not bordering on emotionally damaged.

With all of the above in mind, most of us are not sociopaths and yet, power games are a reality that creates stress in a variety of social environments whether at work, church, home or other gatherings. And we are all faced with little choices whether it is to join into gossiping, speaking in unflattering ways about others, forming tight clicks, using position or privilege to get rid of someone or wedge them out of a job we want, failing to see the value in others, wearing different masks to fit in, lying, manipulating...etc. Or on the other side, we often fail to recognize good deeds God has prepared for us in advance such as giving of our time, providing a kind word, welcoming a new person, esteeming the gifts of others, or putting talented people in positions of influence who may have otherwise not been considered (race? gender? personality?).

Can we recognize that we may have sinned against God "by what we have done, and by what we have left undone"? Do we even know what we have missed out on?

Some of us navigate a tightrope in the game of power because of our ethnicity, gender or, other signifiers. On the one hand, passivity may mean lack of survival and on the other, playing the game seems to be the destruction of what matters to our fundamental identity as believers and the opposite of what Jesus modeled for us when he emptied himself and took on flesh. It seems in this complicated world many even find it to be a moral imperative that I as a feminist more than demand equal treatment. Supposedly, I ought to go out of my way to demean and snuff out the so-called privileged other. But God is not a God who sees privilege, but fellow brothers and sisters. This does not mean I deny concrete problems happening around me and recognize when the cards are stacked against me or another person, but it does mean that I must not, in turn, reduce others to systems, group identities or other negative or positive signifiers.

There is also the reality that at times people can be cruel out of insecurity and as Christians we walk a tight rope balancing survival in some instances (sometimes better to not survive!) and not sinning ourselves! Does a lie made up about me warrant a lie made up about him or her? Does an ever so subtle manipulation or sabotage directed at me warrant me trying to take the person in turn down a peg to ensure my place? I think not.

My basic thoughts are that if we must play the game of power, we must re-conceptualize power.

God is our life blood, our present, and future. He colors the way I see myself and evil in the world so that a transfiguration takes place. The reality of a crucified Christ brings the color of the resurrection into the now so that circumstances are not always as they seem. A woman being brutalized and exploited in public as a lesson for those who would challenge the masculine authority of a mighty empire is also a representative of the eternal God who gave his life for our salvation. She is not a victim but a warrior (CF. Perpetua and Blandina). Even Eve in her failure, and in her the people of Ephesus, can be "pregnant" with Christ's salvation (1 Tim 2:15-3:1a) despite being given over to false teaching.

I also believe that a person who loses in the so-called game of power because they could not respond in kind is beautiful in the sight of God and it is comforting to know that he is the one who sees us in the wilderness just as he saw the slave Hagar. And all the better when we can successfully "play the game" in such a way as to avoid harming others.

I believe our defiance against the powers that be great and small is simply in being who we are in Christ and letting our actions be shaped from it. I know people have found me offensive when I speak my mind, preach or teach theology, not because of content (though no one is perfect) but because of my God-given female body. I have found myself at concrete and implicit disadvantages because of it. Resistance is in being who I am and not being ashamed of it and knowing that God chooses the little ones to do great things with. Power finds those who will not be bent to their will or molded into their form offensive by virtue of their existence and so my thought is that even if I will be snuffed out, I might as well make it difficult for them! Besides, this entire lifetime is just the beginning of a larger story. 

Then there is the dark side to seeing one's self through the lens of God. It is not uncommon to find individuals and empires claiming divine authority (taking the Lord's name in vain) for doing evil. They rationalize that their success is God-approved or God-ordained. We are winning/doing well/succeeding/making lots of money because God is for us. They appeal to God in order to rationalize their choices (usually in the form of fragmentary ideas or texts placed into a framework of power). Where the Bible often asks "How long O Lord?" and "Why do the wicked prosper?" they see behind their system, institution, and success in life the might of God's Sovereignty so that they can do no wrong. You must simply adapt yourself to their godly will.

And yet God's Shekinah glory is ever present with us (even if not yet realized) making our interactions with others visible to God and taking place in holy space. How can we not live out our calling as representatives (image bearers) of God in Christ? We can delight not in that God has given us worldly power but that he uses the little ones, us. The ones who could not fail in their mission were those who were alone and cast off with no hope.

Many of us also know that things do not always work out for the good for those who love God at least not in the sense of how those in power perceive it. Those who love God get killed, their sense of self-twisted, their children die, they lose jobs, they get publicly humiliated and yet in another sense, everything does turn out for their good because they love God and he is their life now and in the future. We worship a powerful figure, a crucified Christ, one who rose on the third day and promises our resurrection as well.

At the end of my day, I know very well that I am small and haven't grown to where God wants me in my character. But I have hope because God is patient, infinitely loving and full of contagious joy and so I find it helpful to pray with others:

Most merciful God,

We confess that we have sinned against you

In thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,

And by what we have left undone,.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

Have mercy on us and forgive us;

That we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,

To the glory of your Name. Amen.

 

People of Hope Are People of Peace: 1 Timothy 2 Speaks to The Current Political Climate?

"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." --1 Timothy 1:5

It is unsurprising, or at least it shouldn't, to hear from the lips of peers, acquaintances, family or friends that YOU--whoever you are--are a litany of evil things you may or may have never done or even thought. Why? You may have had the misfortune of being one of most Americans who committed the great sin of voting for the wrong Hitler. "Hitler" being relative to your opponent's political persuasion. Or maybe you didn't say something precisely the way you were "supposed" to say it or accidentally said something that is really code for something else by a certain narrow ideological narrative you are not privy to or merely refuse to buy into. Worse yet, dare I say it, you DISAGREED with them.  Thus, you must be called out, emotionally blackmailed into an apology, put in your place with a barrage of insults, threatened, silenced or otherwise shut out and shut down. Being found dissimilar to your moral superiors, you are no longer deserving of basic human respect or treatment. This has become the atmosphere of a highly polarized United States.

The ambiguity concerning ideological persuasion is intentional as a rabid need to stifle free inquiry and have to answer for one's own views or treat others with respect has taken on a life of its own in both of the major parties. There are other people of all stripes who want to feel moral by shaming others into submission. Worse yet if you have engaged in this behavior yourself.

Unfortunately, you can't reason or attempt constructive dialogue with those that act as described above. They don't want to hear anything that challenges their paradigm. They simply know you are evil and must repent. It is a mistake after several attempts to have respectful dialogue to then spend hours trying to defend yourself. Do not give into their demands to turn or burn or even apologize, except when you are responsible (you are not responsible if they are offended, you are responsible if you were a jerk, unkind or legitimately miscocmunicated...etc).

In the end, you are responsible for yourself. You must take care not to get swept up into the tide of name calling, taking constant offense, being dismissive or overall: treating others the opposite of how you would like to be treated. As you strive for justice, respect and equity for all people, treat others justly with equity and respect

1 Timothy has often been used narrowly to silence women in churches. Ironically, this is the opposite of its message. Rather, it is about how believers should live in an atmosphere of partisan quarreling, retributive anger, and the self-aggrandizing, and self-appointment of ignorant teachers who reject a life characterized by peace and reject the God who desires all people to be saved (2:3-4).

In contrast, we must be people characterized by hope. Our only hope is in Christ Jesus (1:1) and his new life described in the end goal of 1 Timothy's teaching: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1:5, C.f. 1 Cor 13:4-7). This is the goal of the Christian life and is also well summarized in 1 Timothy as leading a"tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (2:2). The Human One, who is the representative for all humanity (Anthropos ἄνθρωπος in both instances), offered himself for the liberation of all. We to are asked to do the same. This reference in 2:6 takes us back to an instance in Mark 10:35-45 where James and John want to be the ones in authority positions at Jesus' right hand, but are told rather not to be like those who want to be great exercising authority over others, but to seek a lowly position like a servant or slave.

This is manifested in concrete ways in 1 Timothy 2 where men are told not to be wrathful or participate in dissension but to lift their hands in prayer as the church has been told. We are told to be people of prayer. Why? Because God loves us all and if we are his, we will also. We will want the good of everyone and for this reason will pray for others, even our leaders. Women are told to clothe themselves with good works rather than costly garments aka status symbols. They are also told not to be those who assume authority and teaching over others (like the false teachers were doing in chapter 1), but to be characterized by the same quietness and submission described earlier (Titus 3 has a summarized version of this same message including being subject to all people and those in authority). We are not to be setting ourselves as moral authorities over things we are ignorant on and we are not to try and pull rank on other people.

What does this also mean? When others are cruel and ignorant to you, don't return the favor. Pray for them. Love them. Tell the truth but in loving kindness and genuine care for who they are. Realize you yourself do not know everything and assume they may have something valuable to contribute--let them prove you wrong on that (a guard against your own pride). Be a patient person that seeks a quiet life of peace and tries to give preference to others (submission). The similar passage Titus 3:3 compels us to remember: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another."

None of us are immune to pride and the will to power (absolute power corrupts absolutely). However, for Jesus, what others find to be of supreme importance are actually of little importance. It is the 2nd who will inherent his kingdom of justice and peace.

 

-AQ