1. Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Will Surely Kill Me
When we were young, many of us probably heard the old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That adage may have been born in the wisdom that violence is an inappropriate response to verbal abuse, but I fear it's evolved into a general acceptance that words themselves really are harmless.
What a dangerous notion to teach our kids. What a destructive belief to our personal relationships.
Far more than the consequences of who is elected in tomorrow's election, I fear the damage done to our relationships on the way to this year's ballot box. Additionally, because of the way I've seen many Christians talk about each other's candidate, because of the language many of them have used toward one another in their uncivil debates, and because of the unprecedented access we all have to those conversations, I fear for the damage done to the image of Christ.
You see, the power of Christ is found in the capacity of Christians to rise lovingly above the world we live in. Our impact is in our difference, not in our sameness. When the world around us grows vulgar and vile and cruel, we're to respond with inexplicable love, not with a spirit of spite and vengeance. Not with a fear of being one upped in a political contest.
Many days I feel like this election has chained Christians to the ways of this world. I'm beginning to wonder if we'll break free from them when it's over.
A few months ago I taught a lesson to our youth at church about the power of their words. Mainly, how their words can be painful and lasting to friends and peers on social media. In preparing for that lesson, I discovered eye opening new meaning in several scriptures from the first chapter of Genesis:
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,and let dry ground appear.”
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.”
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
I guess I had never given it much thought, but the bible clearly states that the world we see around us, all that it includes, came to life through God's words. Why? Of all the ways God could have painted this world into existence, demonstrated the magnificence of his handiwork through some otherworldly feat, why did he fall back on what would become a very common and everyday human act: talking.
I believe God wanted us to understand that through our words, we too have the God-like power to offer life. And I believe he wanted us to filter every single word we say through this test: are the words I'm about to say going to breath life into the world.
Ephesians 4: 29-32 explains that test best:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I don't believe we've held that standard in high enough regard as we've carried on our political discourse. I fear there are personal relationships permanently damaged, relationships that might have ultimately introduced someone to the love of Christ. More than anything else out of this election, I hope we'll recommit to breathing life with our words. We'll remember we and everything around us is here because God said. That we'll forever ditch the false and often fatal belief that words don't hurt.
2. God Doesn't Need Our Worldly Laws To Align With His Will Nearly As Much As He Wants Us Our Love To Reflects His Heart.
So I'm not a bible scholar. I'm not a pastor. But I've spent plenty of time digging into God's word. I've done so more in this election than I've done in a long time. One of the questions I've researched is how interested Jesus was in the politics of his time. How engaged would he be in our general election. I can't say I came up with a definitive answer, but I have observed this about Christ.
He spent significantly more time - nearly all of it - preaching about and displaying the love and peace that will ultimately rule the world to come than he did trying to politically influence the world he lived in. We can't forget: God's ultimate plan is to replace our current government - not join it.
I find one political exchange Christ had especially intriguing. It was one of his final human interactions on earth. The Jewish leaders had taken Jesus to the Roman governor in hopes he would be charged as a criminal and killed. That lead up to this account from John 18: 28-36:
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Even though Jesus was very clearly a King, he made it unquestionably clear to Pilate that he wasn't involved in the politics of that age. And he was consistent in that stand throughout the gospels. He didn't let the politics of his time stand in the way of his work as a missionary, as a servant, as a man you could more often find hanging with the least of these than lobbying the political elite. Not once can I find where Jesus left an impression that the politics of his age would aid or hinder his mission to love his neighbor in a way that reflected the love of his father. As far as I can tell, Jesus remained committed to teaching and reaching out in a love that no political stance or policy could ever enforce.
And one side note: that cruel death Christ suffered outside of human laws - God used it to show me a love that has saved my life.
3. Christ Didn't Just Say He Trusted God To Work Through Those Who Had Radical Political Views. He Lived It.
So the Jewish leaders got their way. Christ was hung on a cross and crucified. It was a brutal and tortuous death. But it was on that cross, very near death, when Christ offered an incredibly loving political statement. Maybe his biggest.
It's written in Luke 23: 32-38
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
The very politicians who radically opposed everything Jesus stood for. Enough to crucify him and mock him in the process. One of Jesus' final acts of love was to pray for them. To ask his father to forgive them. To me, it's one of his most humble and amazing acts of love in the entire bible.
Here's what I wonder.
Do we believe Christ genuinely wanted them forgiven? And what do we believe God's response to that plea was?
Many Christians I know have proclaimed they trust God in this election. That no matter who is elected, they trust God will work through that candidate. But tomorrow, if their candidate doesn't win, will they go humbly to God in prayer and ask his blessing on the candidate who wins? Will their language and interactions over the next four years reflect a humble acceptance that God is working his will through a candidate they don't agree with and didn't vote for?
When Christ came face to face with the intersection of love and politics, he chose love and forgiveness. My guess is he knew love would have a broader and more enduring reach than the radical politics of his time.
And I believe he was right.