Government Gods

Somewhere in New York City last month, at the studios of NBC, the following conversation had to have taken place.

“Okay, tell me something crazy that we can do? Melissa, any ideas?”

“You bet. I’ll go on my show and say that parents have the right to abort their 15-year-olds but that those same parents aren’t smart enough to care for their kids without help from the government.”

“Very nice. How about you, Ed?”

“That’s a hard one to top but what if I go on my show and say that any Christian who does not support Obamacare is a phony Christian?”

“Brilliant! Now, if we can just bring back Friends we’ll be all set.”

MSNBC host Ed Schultz used his show last Saturday night to inform us that supporting Obamacare was the Christian thing to do. After all, Schultz noted, Jesus did say to love your neighbor. And he did tell his followers to heal the sick. So how could any Christian in his right mind be in favor of taking away President Obama’s wonderful gift of free health care to all Americans?

The problem here is not a political one. There’s more to this than people disagreeing over how to apply the Scriptures to public policy. This is a theological problem.

I grew up in a culture where voting Republican was basically an ordinance of the church. The Lord’s Supper. Baptism. George Bush.

During election years, my church passed out voter guides from the Christian Coalition to help Christians make informed decisions.

The night after Bill Clinton won the election against George Bush it was raining. Someone told me that the rain was God crying because Bush didn’t win.

One Sunday we had something called Friend Day. The idea was to invite a friend to church. Most of my friends were already at church so I didn’t do so well. But someone else really showed out by inviting Newt Gingrich. Newt came. And Newt spoke. From the pulpit.

As my generation grew older, we started to see through the supposed link between Republican politics and genuine Christianity. Some of us started to look at politics through the lens of Scripture instead of the other way around. Others just gave up on politics all together. But some reacted to the Jesus Would Probably Have Been a Republican Movement by changing their membership to the Jesus Would Probably Have Been a Democrat Movement.

That seems to be where Ed Schultz is coming from. And that’s where our theological problem is.

The further one moves away from Scripture, the more likely that person is to create a Jesus in his own image. For Republicans, it means a Jesus who likes to bomb small countries and wave the flag. For Democrats, it means a Jesus who only eats Grape Nuts and listens to John Denver in his smart car. For true disciples, it means prayerfully examining the Bible so that it can examine us, exposing our idolatries.

Paul was kicked out of Thessalonica because he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” (Acts 17:2-3). This was absurd for the Jews of Thessalonica. They wanted a Jesus who ruled with might, not one that suffered. The Scriptures blew up their idea of Jesus and they didn’t like it. Expelling Paul from the city limits was their way of hanging on to their Jesus, even though that Jesus didn’t exist.

But Paul didn’t quit. He ended up in another Jewish synagogue in a place called Berea. His message there was exactly the same. The response was different.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)

For the Bereans, the Scriptures were God’s truth and all other truth claims had to fall in line with God’s truth. Even if the truth claims were coming from someone as intelligent and passionate as the Apostle Paul.

Picking and choosing verses to promote a political agenda does not help us to see Jesus for who he really is. It only affirms our vision of who we wish he was. Politicians and pundits have been doing this for years. It’s always interesting to hear progressives invoke the name of Jesus and his message of love and tolerance in order to promote their agenda, all the while ignoring what Jesus had to say about marriage, repentance and hell.

Ed Schultz would have those of us who follow Jesus and oppose Obamacare to believe that we are being hypocrites. “It’s free,” he tells us repeatedly. Why would we be against something that helps so many people and is free? A simple reminder from ninth grade economics gives us our answer.

Nothing is free.

When the government gives something to someone for free, it is forcing someone else to pay double. And therein are the primary differences between government generosity and Christian generosity. Government loves being generous only as long as they can do it with other people’s money. The gospel motivates Christians to be generous with their own money. When the government decides to help someone, that help always comes with a gun pointed at someone else. If you don’t believe me or if you think that I’m being too harsh, try telling the government this April 15 that you’ve decided to help the poor on your own. The gospel works differently. The gospel works in people’s hearts in such a way that helping someone just comes naturally (Acts 4:32-37).

One of the most disgusting things in nature is the way a mother bird feeds her young. After finding their food, she eats it and then vomits it into their mouths. Sadly, this is how many people approach the Bible. Instead of examining it daily so that it can examine them, they prefer to be fed by others who are only interested in using the Bible to promote their god.

Sometimes they even call that god Jesus.

But in reality, their god goes by another name.