Politics: don’t get your hopes up

  • Sumo

It’s election time in Australia!

If that did not excite you, try this. It’s almost the end of election time in Australia!

Many voters are tired of the campaign. One of my pet hates is when one politician repeats known untruths simply because they make an opponent look bad. I want to yell out, ‘If you and I both know you’re pushing a lie over here, why do expect me to trust you over there?’ (OK, that’s just me venting. Sorry.)

Another thing I’ve noticed is in the way we talk about political issues. We love to promise/demand perfect solutions.

Considering military action after use of sarin gas in Syria? ‘There will be no bombs.’

Responding to asylum-seekers floating to Australia? ‘There will be no boats.’ Or, ‘We demand all arrivals to be housed.’

Thinking about small business? ‘There will be no red-tape to tangle your productivity.’

Education? ‘Every child in Australia will reach his or her full potential.’

The kingdom

As a Christian, I recognise the shape of these statements – they are all eschatological. Eschatology is the teaching of the last things, the time when all God’s perfect standards are perfectly honoured. Eschatology looks ahead to the consummation of all things.

The prophets spoke of these days of completeness. Have a look at Isaiah 11:1-9, or Isaiah 65:17-25. They promised a sword recycling programme to provide what’s really needed – farm implements (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3). The Bible finishes with strong confidence in God’s promise:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)

These promises are affirmed and guaranteed by the ministry of Jesus. He who crushed sin and defeated death will take history to this long-desired end. This is the good news of Jesus the king! We pray, ‘Your kingdom come.’

Not the kingdom

Australia, despite having a royal head of state, is not to be confused with this kingdom. No mere nation can fulfil the hopes of these scriptural promises. Every nation is weighed and found to be like dust on the scales, too insignificant to move the balance.

No nation is the kingdom. Therefore:

  • no government, or aspiring government, can promise the kingdom
  • no voter can demand the kingdom

If either of these happen, move right along. This is not meant to bag politicians, by the way. The really important one of these is the second. That’s where most of us live. Politicians’ most extreme promises gain life from voters who listen to them. Hearers, by reception, provide life-support for promises that should die a peaceful death. We place our hopes in politicians. They promise to fulfil our hopes. When they fail – always – we blame the parliamentarians, rather than admit our foolish hopes.

The art of politics

This might sounds like a vote of despair in all politics (pun intended). Not so! It is, rather, a call to let politics stay as politics. Let’s not force politics to also be theology, eschatology, faith and truth.

Bismarck is attributed with the saying, ‘Politics is the art of the possible.’ Politics tries to get things done, it’s people trying to get organised. Politics comes with values and vision, but is open-eyed to the need for negotiation. Politics has to set priorities: we have to this this first; we can help, but our resources are limited; that good idea has to wait; etc.

The Bible does not call politics to bring in the kingdom – that’s the task of Jesus. The Bible principle that might best apply to politics – taking it somewhat out of its setting – is this, ‘be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.’ Do what you can. Do it well. In a democracy, that includes how we vote.