For the bulk of my life, I did not consider myself to be a politically inclined person. However, because of a weird sequence of events during my junior year of college, I found myself enrolled in a class on Machiavellian political thought. Over a semester and thousands of pages of reading and hours of discussion about Niccolò Machiavelli I gained these three key insights:
- It turns out political thought is something I find to be fascinating.
- People who have an unhealthy desire for power will do anything to gain and hold on to it.
- If you find yourself governing Italy, never hire mercenaries because they’ll betray you and then you’ll be taken over by France.
Bear with me; I promise this is going somewhere.
For anyone more normal than me who do not know much about Machiavelli, it is important to note that he is remembered for being a cold, calculating, pragmatic thinker who lacked basic human empathy and morality when it came to political strategy. Machiavelli’s views contrast starkly with modern ethical ones, and they did so more extremely with the ones from his day. His contemporaries were devoutly religious men who assumed basic human goodness could lead to a thriving, stable government. Machiavelli believed people were fickle and quick to betray the men they once adored as saviors.
I don’t agree with Machiavelli on much, but I think he hit the nail on the head with that one.
What I mean is that a lot of the same people who praised Jesus as the Messiah when He triumphantly entered Jerusalem were the same people a few days later who were yelling for Him to be crucified. The people then were looking for an earthly, political savior. As a result, they rejected the heavenly one they needed more. Sometimes when I hear the political rhetoric coming from Christians, I fear many are doing the same thing.
Too many believers are quicker to defend and proselytize their political beliefs than their religious ones. Too often believers choose their political convictions over their Christian ones. It seems they root their identities more deeply in their politics than their faith.
Government involvement is not inherently evil. The same goes for political activism. In fact, those who believe in Jesus and His gospel message ought to be engaging in and leading the dialogue of how to improve the lives of people in our nation. But when we put our hope in parties, politicians, and policies and define ourselves by them, we set them up as saviors. And while they may improve some aspects of our lives, they cannot fulfill the role of savior.
King David wrote in the Psalms, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope in the LORD his God.” The greatest need of every person is not any earthly fix but salvation. No matter how a great a policy is, it cannot heal the human heart of its sin. Christ and Christ alone can. He is the best message we have to offer, not only to those around us but also to ourselves. So, as we think about politics and engage family, friends, coworkers, and strangers in these discussions, let us remember first Paul’s words to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Associate Director of Student Ministries