Rev. Eric Brown
Before we think a bit about politics and such, let’s just review the First Commandment. You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust God above all things. With this, we as Lutherans have our working definition of what an idol is. An idol isn’t just something false that you worship or set up a shrine to—it is anything that you fear, love, or trust above God.
Politics is full of idols. This year has been an especially wild and surprising election season. If you were watching election returns come in or scrolling through social media and seeing reactions, you saw a lot of fear, a lot of love, a lot of trust. Wild emotions raged all over the place. In reality, what you saw was a lot of idols being revealed. Possibly some of your own idols were revealed, too.
Politics so often touches upon that First Commandment because we think it’s the way in which we get to control things, the way in which we get to make things work the way we want them to work. We trust in our candidate while we fear the other candidate, and we think everything hinges upon whether or not we get our way.
Over and against this sort of thinking, the Lutheran Church has taught the idea of the Two Kingdoms: that there is a kingdom of the left which deals with laws and temporal lives, and that there is a kingdom of the right which proclaims the Gospel, forgiveness, and faith. However, this is NOT the modern American idea of the separation of church and state. The Lutheran point is that God Himself rules in BOTH these ways and that God is truly in charge of both kingdoms. God is in charge, not us. This is true whether we’re voters in a democracy or rulers ourselves.
Proverbs 29:26 reminds us of this truth: “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice.” This is why Luther writes the following to the German princes in his great essay “To the German Nobility”:
The first and most important thing to do in this matter is to prepare ourselves in all seriousness. We must not start something by trusting in great power or human reason, even if all the power in the world were ours. For God cannot and will not suffer that a good work begin by relying upon one’s own power and reason. He dashes such works to the ground, they do no good at all. As it says in Psalm 33[:16], “No king is saved by his great might and no lord is saved by the greatness of his strength.” (LW 44:124)
We are taught and reminded at all times, no matter what we see, no matter what we think we can or cannot accomplish, God is still in control over this world. Ours is not the might; God is the mighty one.
So, whatever your thoughts or reactions to this election happen to be, flee from idols. Rather, remember that God rules this world, but also that He has won for you abundant salvation in Christ Jesus, and that the day will come when you will see the Lamb upon His eternal throne. Until then, we in the Church will continue to do what we have long done—gather together and pray for our rulers, whether we think them good or bad. Then we will join in and pray as our Lord has taught us “Thy kingdom come.”
Rev. Eric Brown is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois.