There is lot happening around the world and you can’t go very far without seeing something that causes you to scratch your head and wonder where things are going. Brexit, terrorism, illegal immigration, the global economy and stock market, wealth and poverty, ethnic conflicts and much more. Don’t worry. I don’t plan to use this blog to talk about politics.
But people often turn to politics and politicians to solve problems, and put trust in them to make things better. It’s easy to think that your political view can fix things if only everyone would get on board and listen. But time and time again, throughout all of history, men and women have only been able to accomplish so much. Political systems come and go; civilizations rise and fall. This is easy to forget. Our recent trip to Israel was full of vivid reminders that the great Roman Empire lasted only 400 years. Put this in context: the “American experiment” is 240 years old. One of my favorite painters from the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole, depicted this in his group of five epic paintings, The Course of Empire. One is shown above, Consummation of Empire, but the full group tells quite a story. Have a look at Cole’s sequence of the rise and fall of a civilization here:
Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire
These days, with so much going on in the world, I come each day to a reminder of the perspective that I need to hold in order to understand and contextualize both the confusion and order that is found all around. It’s found in the Bible, in Psalm 20:7 (English Standard Version):
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Here is the center to which I hold. Whether it is chariots or horses, armies or material things, whether political parties or knowledge and intellect, there is nothing in the world that in and of itself can ultimately fix anything. The Sovereignty of God – one of the core theological doctrines of my Reformed Christian faith that teaches that all things are under God’s watchful rule, order and control – gives me great comfort. While my Christian faith calls me to help others and work to make things better, I know that ultimately all of history is heading toward the end of time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, one that is not polluted by the fallen, sinful, selfish nature of mankind. Neither I nor any man-made system of government or thought can ultimately fix things now; at best we can improve and help a little while time marches to its inevitable close and rebirth. And for those who share this faith, the Bible calls us to a standard of conduct and living to which we aspire:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal; be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:9-18, English Standard Version)
So, I work each day to try live these words – however imperfectly because I am a very imperfect person – in my interactions with people with whom I come in contact. But I have learned not to put my ultimate trust in anything but God. This is a great comfort and the reason I can sleep well at night in the midst of a chaotic and disordered world. Yes, we work to improve things as we can, helping “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). And I always vote in elections, even if doing so means holding my nose and voting for the best among what I believe to be several poor options. But I dare not trust that anything – horses, chariots, armies, the Fed or World bank, or any political party – can ultimately solve the problems of the world. The great truth and comfort is that it is our LORD our God who alone is worthy of our trust. Because He is Sovereign.