If you were to ask a group of 10 Christians what the Bible has to say about politics today, you’d probably get 12 or 13 different answers.
We often bring our own pre-existing political views to the table and this shapes what we think the role of the Bible is in our politics. Some see the Bible primarily as a source for extracting political positions on particular issues, while others will seek to use the Bible to build up some form of political ideology. Now, I’m not saying either of those angles is wrong or a waste of time, but I think there is a further way of thinking that is equally important, if not more so, and certainly one that I find helpful.
This view starts with a big picture view of the whole narrative arc of scripture, and seeks to situate our present concerns about politics within this bigger story. It remembers that the Bible’s vision is “YUGE” – as Donald Trump would say – and covers the whole span of history from beginning to end. It can be easy to get so caught up in the latest political goings-on in Westminster – a temptation I fall into regularly – that we lose sight of where it all fits in with God’s grand scheme of things.
There are two particular points I’d emphasise on this. First up is that it challenges the claims of political and governing authorities to our ultimate allegiance. The fundamental Christian confession is that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and this has immediate political implications. If Jesus is Lord, then no state or ruler can outrank him. The Bible ends with the kingdom of God being established as a ‘political’ reality for eternity, at which point our concerns about party political positioning will seem a bit redundant – not that there’s anything wrong with political parties per se.
In the Bible, we see some of the world’s great empires come and go, yet God stands above them all and uses them for His purposes, whether with Joseph in Egypt or Daniel in Babylon. Similarly, no political power today is outside of God’s power or purposes. Knowing that God is sovereign over all nations means that no political issue is too big to bring to Him in prayer, whether the current refugee crisis or the war and violence that has caused it. Also, knowing that we are not in ultimate control, means we can keep our focus on working out how we serve God faithfully in our own political context as Joseph and Daniel did in theirs, which brings me to my next point.
I’m of the school of thought that sees our current situation as being most like that of ‘exiles’ and ‘strangers’ in a place that is not our ultimate home – language that is widely used in the New Testament. In fact, there’s a good case to be made that this is the default setting for all Christians since Jesus came, although I’ll grant the whole ‘Christendom’ thing blurred the lines somewhat, but that’s a topic for another day. My point here is that the Bible shows us a way of interacting with the world around us for our particular context today.
One of the most helpful – and most commonly-cited – texts on this is Jeremiah 29:4-7, where Jeremiah encourages those in exile to “seek the welfare of the city” where they are. Combining this with New Testament language of being ‘exiles’ and ‘strangers’, is a helpful way of thinking about how we should ‘do’ politics as Christians in the UK today.
So those are just a few pointers for how the Bible helps us in thinking through what politics is all about – there’s a lot more that could be said, too, so why not take a look at the websites of Christians in Politics and Christians in Parliament to get an idea of how some are putting this into practice today.