Promise or deal
I preached a sermon recently where I expressed dismay over our tendency to allow our political opinions to shape our Christian faith. We seem to attach ourselves to a politician or piece of legislation, and then go through all kinds of contortions to make that allegiance fit our faith. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to let the values and moral precepts of our faith inform our political perspectives? I certainly think so, even if it might mean surprising some of our closest friends.
If faith is the organizing principle for determining what matters most about life, why do we possess this primary loyalty to the politics of party affiliation? It’s all deeply strange behavior, and potentially more idolatrous activity than I can understand.
I want to put in a word for the primacy of faith and, in the case of Christianity, for the centrality of Jesus. Faith has great and powerful things to teach us, if only we will permit it, or insist on it within ourselves.
Case in point: The concept of “deal” is a big deal in American politics right now. Not only is it a favorite word of our president, but we hear frequently of legislators angling to strike or close a deal. Deals can be wonderful. I love a good deal on a pair of pants or when receiving good food for my money. But deals don’t provide the internal framework upon which relationships and communities are built.
From a faith perspective, which I would argue ought to inform our politics, here’s the deal: God is not into making deals. God is into dependable promises. We may use prayer time to barter – “Dear God, if you’ll just bring me through this cancer, I’ll establish all kinds of new generosity and gratitude with my life.” But God isn’t interested in negotiation. This is a good reality, or we’d end up with a raw deal all the time. God certainly has things I want; but God doesn’t need anything I have to offer, at least not for personal meaning or existence.
God promises instead of bargains. The reason for this impulse of God, so far as I can tell, is that our deepest meaning and purpose in life gets expressed through relationships. And relationships are held together by promises. Promises are at the root of our ability to trust one another. Without some degree of trust, we would struggle to accomplish much of anything.
I don’t have page space here to dig deeper into the beauty of how promises are tied to personal integrity, or how they offer stability to our feelings that can be so fickle. But you can extrapolate. Or we can pick up the conversation later.
For now, I only want to underscore how differently our lives and national conversations might look if we took to heart the hidden supports that the language of faith might offer. There are a lot of people in this country and around the world and in our own circles who need more than a deal. They’re looking for someone to keep promise with them and their most basic needs of life.
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