Lengthy political seasons plus 24-hour cable news coverage often equals a spiritual slide away from Christ. An election year, like the one before us, has a tendency to wear on the soul who daily follows every up and down of every candidate in tortuous detail.
To some, following the circus closely is the equivalent of being an informed and good citizen. However, while every Christian should participate in the political process (especially in a democracy), most believers would agree that the process leaves one spiritually dry and unsatisfied.
Here are four specific ways following politics too closely can cause distraction and severe damage to the spiritual life.
(1) Following politics too closely can breed sorrow, anger, and anxiety
Watching debate after debate, consuming endless news cycles, and reading all the opinionated editorials of pundits has a way of depressing the state of the soul. When someone realizes that his vision for the nation’s government will never come to fruition (regardless of which candidate he votes for), his heart often slides towards sadness. Republicans and democrats alike realize that the opposition is too numerous and too powerful to ever achieve their desired form of government, and this can be downright depressing.
After sadness, madness and fury usually follow. Politics is an angry business, and candidates play very dirty, slapping the hornets nest with every memorized talking point. Even Christians, who know that the anger of man is sinful (Proverbs 14:9 “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly”) and who have the Holy Spirit guiding them internally (John 14:17), have a tendency to allow angry feelings and words to flow like lava from a volcano.
And when it comes to politics, sorrow and anger always bring their friend anxiety with them. People who absorb Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC (like addicted sunbathers) have a tendency to worry themselves into a frenzy: “What are we going to do if Hillary wins?!” or “If Trump wins I’m moving to Europe!!”
Sorrow, anger, and anxiety have a tendency to quickly kill spiritual vitality. Walking close to Jesus breeds joy, peace, and rest, not sorrow, anger, and anxiety. Though we have an obligation to know candidates, vote for the best, be informed about the issues, and otherwise do what we can to influence the system for good, nonetheless, if we soak in too much of the negativity, we will pay a price.
Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
(2) Following politics too closely can breed cynicism
The fake-ness of TV politicians (like their TV-preacher counterparts) quickly leads to mistrust. Campaign strategies are (more or less) public information, and we are all very well aware that candidates and their teams determine exactly what they need to say to win certain percentages of votes from certain demographics. Candidates beg their supporters to send in cash so that negative commercials can be aired in order to crush opposing candidates. It all comes across as though we are being toyed with, as a cat might toy with a mouse.
The entertainment-styled political life of our nation breeds a strong sense of cynicism. The realization that so many voters are unprincipled and swayed so easily by clever commercials is disheartening to say the least. No wonder so many boil to the point where they finally throw their hands up and say, “Who cares.”
Deep down we know it is important. We know that the issues on the table impact many lives (I think of abortion, for example) and that we are obligated to be informed and involved. But after so much exposure to the circus, unhealthy cynicism begins to brew within the soul.
Cynicism is no good for the spiritual life. A person whose hope is fully in Christ has nothing (ultimately) to be cynical about. A firm belief in the sovereignty of God should melt away every vestige of cynical poison.
(3) Following politics too closely can breed laziness in Bible study and prayer
This one is easy. For every hour we spend analyzing the details of debates, statistics, opinions, and speeches, we loose an hour that we could have spent with the Lord.
I’m not saying Christians should pray and read Scripture every moment of every day. That would be irresponsible—a burying of the talents and a shirking of our duty to love our neighbor. But I am saying most Christians do not spend near enough time with God in his word and in prayer.
Following politics for some people becomes a pseudo-spiritual life. It feels like they are connecting to something transcendent, something hugely important, but in connecting so deeply to a candidate or politics in general, they loose their connection to the most transcendent and most hugely important of all, namely, God himself.
In addition, the Christian who follows politics too closely might find his prayers, when he does pray, focused exclusively on political issues. It is unhealthy for the majority of our prayers to be for a certain candidate to win or for a certain direction for the nation, while the minority of our prayers are for our spouse, children, church, and neighbors.
(4) Following politics too closely can breed dependence on lesser kings
This is what it all comes down to. When we spend so much time consuming politics, we forget that we already have a King. Like the Israelites who begged for a king (1 Samuel 8:5), we begin to depend on a human being — one of those candidates — to deliver us and bring about utopia. If our messianic candidate doesn’t win, our souls mourn. If our messianic candidate does win, but then fails to deliver when he enters office, our hearts mourn. Either way our hearts will mourn. What are our hearts mourning for? A Messiah that wins every time and never fails. His name is Jesus Christ.
Jonathan Edwards’ classic treatise
Updated for today’s readers
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