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Our great political hope

February 25, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

During January and February, I will be using this space to interact with the ideas put forward in David Zahl’s book Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it. Chapter 8 is entitled “The seculosity of politics” (I skipped ch. 7, the seculosity of food).

The theory undergirding David Zahl’s book Seculosity is that as our culture looks less and less to God’s saving grace as our source of self-worth and justification (or “enoughness,” as Zahl calls it), we inevitably look to the good things of this world for that which only God can give us. Some turn to a romantic partner, others to a career, still others to parenting or technology. And some, as chapter 8 outlines, put their hope in politics.

Behind our politics, Zahl argues, is a narrative we believe about the way things are, the way things should be, and what is needed in order to deliver us from the evils of this world. Some elevate ideals such as care, liberty, and justice; others promote the ideals of sanctity, loyalty, and authority. But instead of merging these ideals into a vision for the common good, more often than not these ideals and narratives compete with each other and lead to division. One main reason is that our political outlook creates community among people who develop not only a common vision but also a common enemy on the other side of the political divide. As we express our outrage at “those people” and the evil they perpetrate, we feel more virtuous about ourselves. We find self-worth in our superiority to our political opponents.

Another reason that politics has become a replacement for religion for so many is due to the ongoing messianic hope that we will one day find a political candidate who will deliver our nation from its evils and restore us to a world of justice, righteousness, and unity. We no longer need Jesus to play that role, because we are certain that if we can just find the right leader, we can save ourselves. And yet we find with each passing year that not only are we not uniting as a country, we are most certainly becoming more and more divided. The quest to find our Savior in the White House is nothing but a pipe dream.

In the end, politics is important and necessary, but insufficient to change hearts or save the world. A law may coerce people into obedience, but it can not give them a heart for holiness and justice. Nor can laws and inspirational leadership ultimately deliver us from the evils of the world. Our hope and out salvation will never be found in politics, but only in King Jesus. The gospel teaches us that the problem is not “those people,” but instead is all of us who in our sin are unable to live up to the principles we hold so dear. It teaches us to put our hope in the King who was, who is, and who one day will return to once and for all unite us and deliver us from the evils of this world. As Zahl puts it, our hope is “not the Messiah we would elect but the one who elects us.”

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