When Political Power Is Lost

First, Christians can call secular leaders to account with grace and humility. Even the tone and shape of our political disagreements must adorn the gospel. Second, Christians who are in political power must maintain the tension of holding moral certainty with political reality. It cannot be the case that the winner takes it all.

The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 will be seen as the last great public acknowledgment in the West of a transcendence that limits temporal power. In our secular age, religion is reduced to a privatized experience. The public square declares, “No heaven above us and no hell below.” The Queen’s funeral, replete with the language of temporal power being given by God, threw down a challenge to the rulers of this age: there is a God in heaven.

Such a challenge isn’t new. And neither is the idea.

We meet it most significantly in the book of Daniel, the exile template par excellence of the Old Testament. Daniel specifically states to King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is a God in heaven” (Dan. 2:28). This theme is repeated throughout the book, particularly in the narrative chapters 1–6, as are synonymous titles such as “Most High” and “King of heaven” (e.g., 2:18, 37; 3:26; 4:2, 37; 5:18).

Daniel’s message of God’s transcendent rule is a timely word for us today as the West polarizes politically with a left and right divide, a divide mirrored in lamentable ways within the church.

Political Divide

We’re being pressed with two extremes in the political realm. First, there’s the seemingly ascendant progressive political agenda that, as Mark Sayers puts it, “seeks to gain the fruit of God’s kingdom—such as justice, peace, prosperity and redemption—but without the King.” The left craves human rights that are the fruit of the gospel throughout history but despises the roots. 

Yet there’s an equal and opposite push. Perhaps we could call it “Christendom without Christ.” This is a move from the right that even some in the church espouse. It’s a call for a return to the supposedly golden age of politics past, in which a Christianized culture set the political tone and agenda. We don’t need everyone to be saved. That’s not possible. But we should use temporal power to make the culture as “Christian” as we can—all within a democratic setting, of course. The trick is how to sell the product at a time when the percentage of church attendees is in decline and the percentage of “nones” and “dones” is on the rise.

The movements have more in common with each other than adherents would care to admit. Their actions either refute or negate the central truth that there’s a God in heaven.

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