Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Idolatry of Seeking a Stable State

The words of the Magi that a child had been born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2) made the infant Jesus a threat to Herod the Great. His fear provoked violent anger. This obscure Jesus kept threatening subsequent Herods: Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), Antipas (Matthew 14:1; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7-9; 23:7), Agrippa (Acts 25,26). When those who imagine they have power and authority are threatened, their fear often provokes violent anger. This is not an ancient phenomenon, as current events in Pakistan and Kenya make clear.

The United States is in the midst of the most wide open presidential race in the memory of anyone now living. Orderly democratic succession of leadership and a deep tradition of the rule of law are important protections from the violent anger that rises from the fear of threatened leaders. “Change” has become the theme of this political season, with candidates from both parties competing to convince voters that they are best able to bring “change.” Regardless of how capable and successful these candidates may be, even if elected with a congressional majority, none of them will bring about utopia. None will lead the Unites States to an enduring era of stability and permanent prosperity. Expecting that is idolatry. Even the best candidate is not the messiah. Even the best administration is not the Kingdom of God.

As much as people enjoy the holiday season, most people feel relief at “getting back to normal” after Christmas is over. The decorations are put away. No more parties are planned. Diets are accelerated with the intention of fewer pounds and healthier eating. The lure of “back to normal” is a longing for the eternal stability of the Kingdom of God. But this longing can never be fulfilled within human history. Children grow up and move out on their own. People change jobs and move to new houses, even new cities. Generations rise and pass away. Old landmarks outlive their usefulness and are replaced. Tragedies invade. Empires rise and fall. Wars are won and lost. Wanting to keep things as they were in some imagined golden moment is idolatry. The only hope for healthy, authentic stability is the Kingdom of God.

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