“Have you considered you might have made an idol of politics?”
Here we go again, I thought. I wasn’t surprised by the question. Idol-hunting, after all, is a favorite pastime of my fellow evangelicals. But I was caught off guard by the candidate for the potential idol.
It’s certainly possible I’ve made an idol of money. And I’d reluctantly confess that I’ve often made an idol of comfort or security. My wife might say I’ve made an idol of my smartphone, since I always seem to be staring at it in adoration and obeisance. But an idol of politics? How is that even a question? I hate politics. I consider politics to be, at best, a necessary evil, not something I would put ahead of God.
Yet the question was hard to shake, and made more difficult to dismiss since it had come from within my own head and heart.
Still, I assumed I could answer in the negative, so I created a set of questions to test this idolatry theory.
Before we get to the questions, though, let me clarify a concern you might have. At this point many readers are thinking this article is not really about me at all, but rather a passive-aggressive means for me to get others to admit (at least to themselves) that they are the ones who have made an idol of politics. Let me assure that is not the case. It’s not that I’m above such finger-wagging, whether passive-aggressive or just aggressive-aggressive. I wouldn’t be against writing such an article if I thought it would work. But as I’ve learned over the past several years, it would not work. Almost no one is willing to admit they have made an idol of politics—including me.
That’s why I started creating a list of idol-identifying questions that I thought would vindicate me.
21 Questions to Consider
1. Have you heard the name of a political figure more today than you have the name of Jesus?
2. Have you spent more time today thinking about the president (or another politician) than you have thinking about the creator of the universe?
3. Have you spent more time listening to talk of politics—on social media, talk radio, cable news, and so on—than you spent in the Word of God or with gospel-oriented media?
4. When I discover that a fellow believer disagrees with my political preferences, do I make assumptions about their level of sanctification and commitment to Jesus based on their political affiliation?
5. Do I continually make excuses for why I support certain policies or politicians, even though I know they undermine my gospel witness?
6. Do I judge myself as having noble motives when it comes to politics, yet assume the worst about people on the other side of the political divide?
7. Do I look for excuses to judge my ungodly behavior when it comes to politics rather than asking forgiveness from God?
8. Have I become more obsessed with achieving a specific political outcome than I am about leading people to Christ?
9. Am I more willing to allow injustice to occur than to suffer injustice myself?
10. Can I truly say that my political choices and preferences are informed by and consistent with a biblical standard of ethics?
11. Do I attempt to justify my politics based on the “realism” of general revelation (e.g., that sometimes we must make compromises) rather than on reality as revealed in special revelation (e.g., “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” – James 4:17)?
12. When I (reluctantly) pray for politicians with whom I disagree, do I primarily pray that they will lose the next election or otherwise fail to gain political power and influence?
13 Am I more likely to be shaped by the political views of an acquaintance on Facebook than I am by the inspired words of Scripture?
14. Would I find it easier to recite the names of 12 presidential candidates than I would the 12 disciples or the 12 tribes of Israel?
15. Have more of my conversations today been about politics than about the gospel?
16. Do my words and actions reveal that I am more concerned about the way Christians will vote than I am with whether they are enjoying God?
17. Based on my thoughts and actions today, does it seem as if I’m more concerned about the next four years than I am with eternity?
18. Have I been willing to overlook when politicians on my side say they are Christian and yet act in ways that bring dishonor to Christ?
19. Am I more concerned with political pragmatism than I am with obeying every command of Christ?
20. Do my concerns about possible political outcomes show that I may not truly trust that God is sovereign over the nations?
21. Am I more offended by these questions (and my honest answers) than I am in how they reveal my idolatry?
Paul’s Proposed Solution
I had set out to create 20 questions, and only added #21 after it became apparent that was my gut-level reaction. Of these 21 questions, there is only one that I can honestly say doesn’t apply to me directly (#13, and only because I unfollow anyone on Facebook who talks about politics). That’s not an outcome I would have predicted. And it’s not a situation I want to face, especially in an election year.
Over the next nine months I’ll be forced to think (and, at times, write) about politics and politicians. How do I do that without letting it become an idol? Fortunately, the apostle Paul provides an answer in 1 Corinthians 10.
First, I must recognize this form of idol-making is not a new temptation to sin (“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind” (v. 13a)). Second, I must recognize I have the power of God within me to overcome this particular temptation (“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” [v. 13b]). Third, I have no excuses for not dealing with politics in a non-idolatrous manner (“But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” [v. 13b]). And finally, I need to simply run in the other direction, away from this idol and toward God (“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry” [v. 14]).
On reflection, these steps seem rather achievable, perhaps even easy. They are certainly much easier than admitting my idolatry of politics. But now that I have made this confession, I feel a burden has been lifted from me. That’s why I’m sharing these questions, in the hopes that someone else my find them helpful too. Like Paul, all I can add is, “I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (v. 15).