There is a tendency, I think, that when we look back, we can often view the world as a simpler and happier place.

That certainly is my recollection of the first UK general election I can remember. I was 9 years old, and the election was in May. I recall the weather being good, and politicians in cars with speakers strapped to their roof drove around declaring who you should vote for. My brother and I would try and follow these cars on our bikes and our “reward,” should the car stop, was to be given stickers for whichever political party the car represented.

I was 9, I knew nothing about politics, and I’m not even sure I knew where or what Westminster was. But, if I had been allowed to vote then, I’d have given my vote to whoever had given me the most stickers!

Changed Days

You no longer see Austin Allegros or Rover 3500’s [or their modern equivalents] with roof rack-mounted speakers come election time. The humble loud-speaker car has been replaced by the politician’s ‘battle bus.’

I wonder what this change, among a myriad of other changes, tells us about contemporary society and modern politics?

Politicians Today

As noted, my 9-year-old self would have voted for whoever gave me the most free stuff and I’m struck that when I listen to many politicians today, they often treat those listening (the voters) as if they were my 9-year-old self.

Their message and policies are so often directed at personal gain and benefit.

Does Jesus make a difference in who we should vote for?

As your pastor, it is not my job to tell you who to vote for. However, it seems to me that there are several biblical imperatives which should guide our voting intentions.

There is the great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself (see Matthew 22: 37 – 28).

There are also the multiple injunctions to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger (immigrant). The Church through the ages has, at its best, read these Old Testament injunctions through the lens of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25), where we are warned that how we treat the least among us is how we treat Christ himself.

Love informed Voting?

That we are called to love God above all else, and flowing from this told to express this love of God in how we care for each other – especially the vulnerable – should, I think, inform our politics and our understanding of what human flourishing looks like, and how a more just and well-functioning society might be ordered.

Importantly, loving God first, and having God as the primary object of our lives, reminds us that while politics may be important, there is a greater authority and power at work in our lives and in this world.

Our love of God, and knowing we are loved by God, reminds us that we are citizens of heaven, resident aliens in this current age. Our love of our nation should be shaped resolutely by our love of God, our knowledge of his character, and our heavenly citizenship.

On Sunday we will be thinking about Hebrews 11. Here we are told that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob looked forward to a city whose architect and builder is God. This did not mean that they withdrew from society, indeed, as they prospered they were able to use this to the benefit of those around them. Rather, their looking forward gave them a vision, a horizon, beyond their immediate cultural and political realities.

Like Abraham, Issac, and Jacob we also are called to seek the city whose maker and designer is God. This city is, of course, the city we see at the end of the book of Revelation, the heavenly city, which is our true home, along with those who love Jesus from every tribe and nation. This vision of God’s heavenly city impacts our present. It helps guard our hearts and minds against a politics that encourages toxic forms of patriotism or nationalism which claim some kind of narrow cultural exclusivism or cultural/racial superiority, or that fosters antagonisms against anyone or anything that is different to us.

Political Power is Limited

Loving God and the command to care for those in need, reminds us that earthly political power and the ability of politics to realise that which is good, or just, is limited.

There has been a consensus in Christian political thought down through the ages that secular power, government/rule, and authority was instituted by God as a response to the evil and violence to which humankind so readily resorted post Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden, typified by the murder of Abel by Cain.

St Augustine thought that the good politics could achieve was limited. Earthly power, he suggested, is simply there to create enough order and peace that the Gospel may be proclaimed and responded to.

Other Christian thinkers are more optimistic about the good that earthly political power can achieve, but still view the power of politics to realise that which is good, or just, as limited.

This is important because it reminds us that our hope for a better world does not rest ultimately or solely on politicians or any earthly government.

This is not to say that earthly politics is unimportant, or to advocate that we should withdraw from participating in the political process. Rather, it is to recall that our hope is in Jesus, and this reminds us that while governments and political parties may be closer or further away from the good, or that which is just, the role God has given secular power and authority is limited.

Where is our hope?

Our hope for positive change – however we might define this politically – should be tempered by our knowledge that while humans are capable of doing some good, of enacting some justice, of creating some beauty, we, as a species, are also capable of great evil, and injustice and of creating and preparing horrors.

Likewise, our fear or anxiety about the damage, injustice, violence, or chaos certain political actors can unleash is tempered by the limited nature of political power, and our knowledge (to quote the author of Hebrews) that we have a better hope.

Neither an Optimist nor a Pessimist.

I don’t know if he was the first person to say this, but famously missiologist Lesslie Newbigin stated;

“I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.”

It does our soul good to remember that there is more to life than political arguments and party politics. Politics cannot and does not change the fundamental problem of the human heart, our sinfulness and selfishness.

That Christ is risen from the dead means our hope transcends politics, it reminds us that the ultimate good, true justice, and our fullest human flourishing is found in Christ.

A Call to Act

It is from this assurance, from the works which Christ by his Spirit is doing in our hearts and lives, that we are called to embody the good news of God’s kingdom. It is from this reality that the hope for our nation, the hope for our world, is found in Christ and in the renewing work of his Spirit.

Secular politics has an important but, in the grand scheme of things, minor role to play in this work of Christ and the Spirit. It is God’s church – which means you and me – who are called to a much more meaningful and powerful participation in the transforming and healing work of the Spirit in our world.

Let us, therefore, consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, prepared by God for us to do, …encouraging one another all the more as you see the day of Christ approaching. (Hebrews 10: 24 / Ephesians 2:10 mash up)

Grace and peace.