You’ve heard the saying: missing the forest for the trees. It means being so focused on the details that you miss the big picture. It means one can be right about many small details—about a project, issue, or task—but miss what matters most. This is not to say that details don’t matter, but that their importance and function is only understood in light of the big picture.
This seems to be a fitting analogy for how Christians can easily approach politics. The temptation is to spend all our energy and passion on the details of the trees: what is the best policy towards masks, who is the best candidate for president/governor, what interpretation of Covid-19 data is correct, what is the right position towards systemic racism, at what point does a secular ruler overstep their bounds and rebellion is justified?
Please hear me: These are important questions and issues for Christians (some more than others), and there is value in considering and discussing them. But if we spend all our time and energy trying to answer these questions, and convince others of the correct answer, we’ve lost sight of the forest. We’ve lost sight of the kingdom of God. More specifically, we’ve forgotten how God’s kingdom is (and isn’t) established, and that his kingdom isn’t an “if” but a “when.”
Have you found yourself thinking, perhaps more so lately, that some of the biblical commands seem so meager, insignificant, lacking in ambition: “…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). “I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come” (Rev. 2:24-25). “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
I don’t mean that these are easy commands to follow, but that in light of the pressing demands of the political realm, the battle cries from the media and our social feeds, they can seem…out of touch. “God, don’t you know how important this election is?! Don’t you understand what will happen if this bill doesn’t pass?! Don’t you understand what those people support?! How can you talk about love, faith, hope and endurance, about gathering regularly for worship with your people in a time like this?!”
But what if God accurately sees the forest for the trees?
It’s like the time Jesus is asked to weigh in on a pressing political matter: should God’s people, the Jews, give taxes to Caesar? Caesar, the idolatrous, overreaching, claiming-too-much Roman ruler. Jesus is called on to solve a political disagreement. Instead, he redirects their focus and passion: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Commentator Ben Witherington III says about Jesus’ response: “’O.K. give Caesar back these worthless pieces of metal he claims, but know that we are to render to God all things since God alone is divine and to God belong all things.’ Rather than being a counsel of submission to earthly rulers, it is more likely to be a comment on the relative insignificance of the issue in light of the inbreaking dominion of God.”
Is it possible that we spend all our energy and time figuring out what does and doesn’t belong to “Caesar,” what is and isn’t the Christians position on X, that we neglect to give God what belongs to him alone: wholehearted love, trust, worship, enjoyment and obedience?
Is it possible that we are letting our preferred news source or political party determine our priorities and passions, determine the state of our hearts and affections, rather than God?
Consider it this way: no matter what happens in this election, or the next one, our purpose and mission as God’s people doesn’t change. We are still called to worship and enjoy God, love and serve his people, share his glory and grace with those outside of Christ, and seek justice and mercy for all. And to trust God with the results.
Yes, this has implications for our political involvement. But it goes much further than that. Because God’s kingdom is greater, more powerful and more certain than any nation or political party.