Rendering unto Caesar

debate_closingstatement_080615I found myself watching the latest Republican debate a couple of weeks ago.  Once I got beyond the spectacle of it all, and all of the apparent agendas of both the moderators and the candidates, I was struck with one thing: these people are pretty smart!  I mean to say that when actually given a minute or two to express themselves I thought for the most part that each (with the exception of Trump) had something thoughtful to say.  Now considering the amount of effort spent by the moderators and at times the candidates themselves looking to illicit ‘gotcha’ moments, the meaningful exchanges left me with a feeling of wanting to hear more from each of them (including Trump).  I was left with a feeling that, ‘Well maybe these men and Carly actually do have the best interests of our country at heart (Trump, not so much)’.  It got me to think about the long list of very well intentioned men and women that subject themselves to a life of public service and all of what comes with that:  the constant scrutiny, the time away from family, the criticisms they endure in the media and so on.  But, there always seems to be someone willing to step into the fray.

Now, I know that some may have less than noble objectives when they decide to run for office, but I have to imagine for the most part that their goal is to serve the group they represent in a fiduciary fashion.  And, that their hearts, at least at the beginning of their service, are in the right place, looking to achieve substantive improvements for our country, state, city or town.  So what happens?  How do all these apparently smart people, once in office, get bogged down or otherwise side-tracked, or even totally incapacitated and ineffective?  I mean – it’s not like they all of a sudden get stupid or incompetent.  It’s not like the great ideas from the campaign trail lose their validity.  (Like what the heck is wrong with a flat tax anyway?)  So, if it is not a sudden degradation of the talents of the people we elect to office, it must be the system that we put them into.  Then I immediately remember one of the truly brilliant observations from C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity that puts it all into place:

“…That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilizations are built up-excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down.  They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine.  A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing…”    (Note: You really should try and read this book at least once in your lifetime.  It really does help to understand the philosophical foundations on which our faith is based.  It is also available on the internet for free.)

So, in essence, we are doomed to failure as long as we insist on putting anything other than the Lord, our God, at the center of any of our systems of authority.  And when you think of it there really is no example in history of a permanent success of any man-centric government.  In fact, it is actually the separation of church (i.e. the one, true God) and state that is our ruin.  Now, I am not saying that we should place a particular religion, or church in charge.  Get that straight.  God needs to be in charge, not men.  It is the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of so often in His teachings that must reign, and why He tells us to seek it and its righteousness and that all our other needs will be fulfilled.  So although this bit of reality may be disappointing at first, knowing that we are entrenched in a system of worldly dysfunction, the Kingdom still remains our greatest hope for ultimate peace and harmony amongst God’s children.

There is a lot of information out there, starting with scripture and from Christ Himself about the Kingdom.  It is not something that can be summed up in a sentence or two, because it is meant to be taken literally (Christ will return as our earthly King.) and spiritually (“For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” – Luke 17:20-21). It is in fact the vehicle of our ultimate relationship with God and one another.  Suffice to say, at least for me, is that our baptism provides access to the Kingdom, our allegiance is to our Lord and His Son Jesus Christ, and our constitution is Holy Scripture.

So, are we to disengage with the going-ons of this world?  Do we stop voting?  Do we just stand by as spectators?  I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He told us to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” – Mark 12:17.  I believe as a society we are to live and work the best we can within the constraints of our own brokenness, always harkening back to the foundations of our God-centered destiny:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).  And, lastly pray that the men and women elected to office do the same.