(A note to those interested: I might be blogging a bit this semester after my long hiatus. Stay tuned, but don’t get your hopes up.)
In a recent conversation with several people I go to church with, we ended up talking about the Beatitudes and the priorities of Jesus’ kingdom. In particular, we were discussing what Scripture had to say about the poor. Several things stood out to me in this conversation, and I think their relationship is particularly instructive to Christians wrestling with political issues.
As we talked, some people in the conversation repeatedly said that my position – that Jesus is using such passages to teach the priorities of the Kingdom in that God focuses His concern on and exercises His power through people and things despised and oppressed by the world – was Marxist. I found this ironic on two levels.
First, those of you who know me realize that my political convictions are anything but Marxist. My tendency is rather to sympathize with a Friedman-esque libertarianism that sometimes borders on anarcho-capitalism.
Second, this comparison shows something deeper about the Christian mindset, and this is what I’d like to unpack a little bit. I would argue that the dualism which underlies my friends’ assumptions about this text (it’s about spiritual poverty, it’s about offering the poor “Jesus” in some way detached from their physical needs) actually end up fostering and encouraging the godless, utopian political tyrannies they so despise.
Here’s what I mean. In a robust view of the kingdom it is through the church, indwelt by the Spirit and empowered by Christ’s resurrection, that change comes to the world. Since the church proclaims the gospel, it has the power of God to transform hearts and make the new humanity. Since she worships the God of all creation, this gospel transformation will reach into every sphere of life – experiences, relationships, economics, politics, etc. However, these spheres are all subordinate to Him. I can meaningfully speak into the political sphere because I’m not relying on it to accomplish something. I can long to make it just and equitable and free precisely because I don’t need it to solve all the world’s problems.
When we embrace a dualism that puts the worlds problems outside of God’s concern – when we believe God’s only answer to hunger is that we’ll be fed in heaven and His only answer to injustice is eternal punishment – where do we turn when the brokenness of this world rears its ugly head? If we can’t avail ourselves of the power of Christ, we must make use of idolatrous power instead. This is where Marxism comes back in. It is the dualist who gives license to its claims, because it is the dualist who cannot offer a more excellent way.
I have no need of socialism (or, for that matter, fascism or liberalism or conservatism). The God of Scripture cares for every human need – for spiritual intimacy and forgiveness of sin, but also for hunger and injustice and sex and beauty. None of our petty political deities can compare with Him, and none of their social programs can compete with Him. I still have political convictions, but they are now in proper perspective – as one goal of God’s plan rather than the means to accomplish it.
This is why, in my concern for the poor, I could never advocate Marxism (or any other political -ism). It shares some parts of God’s vision, granted, but it is ultimately unnecessary and counter-productive. God has given us the means, through generosity and love, through the Spirit and worship, and through our possessions and prayers, to address every problem this world faces. Every one of them. The beatitudes teach us that poverty must be addressed, but they also teach us the deeper irony – that the means of healing for poverty will come not from the halls of wealth and power but from what is weak and despised by this world.
A dualistic, “spiritualized” God cannot offer us a better hope than Caesar, but Jesus Christ can.