Restoring the Reduced: How Christian Love Is the Best Witness of Absolute Truth
Editor’s Note: “The Truth is like a river,” I said over lunch with today’s writer last week. “It’s like a river because it’s not relative—but it is exhaustive, it’s expansive. A river is flowing somewhere, it’s moving, but sometimes you may find rapids or a waterfall and whirlpools; the current will slow down and speed up, or maybe change directions even, and within it and along it there are rocks and trees. Within the river, there may be different species of fish, all living there together. The Truth is deep, and rich, it’s the full river, but too often we pick out one drop of water, or one of many species of fish, or one rock and focus on it as if it were the only true aspect of the whole river.”
I think in our political culture we too often isolate our view of reality down to one little drop or molecule, and the result is that we don’t have a deep knowledge of freedom. But we need to see that if we are creatively pursuing Truth and Beauty, our fight for freedom will affect more than our policy. It will change the way we view effective leadership, it will change our work culture, it will change our communication, it will change our talking points, and it will change our own personal well-being, including the value we place on rest, fitness, and nutrition.
Perhaps most of all, seeing freedom at a deeper level will give us the ability to let go of the fears that keep us from interacting with the other party. Today’s writer focuses largely on the idea that the best witness to Truth is Christian love—or Christ’s love, to be precise. I think though, that if you’re not a follower, you’ll find some good ideas here too, even if they only validate frustrations you may have had with Christians in politics. Because what we can all take away from today’s journal entry is that we can work to bring order into chaos—and that too often, within “Christianity” or otherwise, we shout loudly, adding to the chaos, but fail to bring order or restoration. But in our failing, we have the hope that we can give up trying to leverage power to make our culture more Christian and instead begin from wherever we are placed to demonstrate that Truth and Beauty could and should be joined together, that our work in American political culture could be a pursuit of restoration, and of healing.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
“KILL LIES ALL.”
With a can of red spray paint and the heart of a punk graffiti artist, Tony Shafrazi entered New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1974 intending to bring Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” up to date. When security caught Shafrazi spraying these three words in giant letters, the upstart shouted, “Call the curator - I am an artist!”
For those who have seen Picasso’s “Guernica,” it is a deeply unsettling piece – a haunting scene of a war-torn cityscape violently scrawled in stark shades of black and gray. For me, it is the final depiction of sin. I grew up seeing a replica of this painting every Sunday at my church as a visual representation of The Fall, depicting man’s rejection of Truth and the utter chaos that ensued.
A curious question then arises: why deface a painting that already depicts utter defacement? To the young idealist standing in the MoMA in the midst of the Vietnam War, “Guernica” was a warning unheeded. As he explained decades later, “One of the great masters had contributed his vision, but the work was locked up in a museum and didn’t have any significance to the world of events outside.”
This reminds me of another cityscape, one with which we are all too familiar.
On the top floor of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a breathtaking view of the Washington, D.C. National Mall. Upon each window overlooking this historic skyline, however, is one word stenciled in bold red:
It is a deeply unsettling contrast. In the background, the National Archives – where our nation’s foundational documents of law and order reside. In the foreground, overlooking the soul of America with a withering, almost sardonic critique: reduced.
I was frozen standing before this stark juxtaposition – jarred by its unseemliness. God’s intention for government is to play a significant part in reversing our collective reality of “Guernica” – to bring order out of chaos.
But what word better describes the ringing fury of our political discourse? Chaos.
It is our postmodern reality. American culture has rejected Truth, and all we have left, in the words of Chuck Colson, is “a formalized expression of despair” (p. xiii). In the face of such hopelessness, graffiti is the helpless resort to which our nation is reduced.
For Christians serving in politics, our calling has never been more urgent. Ours is the mission to renew that which is reduced:
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:12, italics added)
It is not, however, renewal through graffiti or restoration through cynicism, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” It is founded on the example and command of Jesus to His Church: that we love one another as a witness to the Truth. This is the storyline of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, and is the core of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, where he asks the Father that all who believe in Him would be one, as the Father and the Son are one. This unity-building love is the “final apologetic” for Truth, as Francis Schaeffer so poignantly argues:
Here Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. Now that is frightening (The Mark of The Christian, p. 27).
It certainly is, because we aren’t very good at this.
That’s dancing around the issue. Let’s get more specific: the way American Christians often respond to the chaos that is our political discourse sows further chaos.
For decades, Christians have fallen into a dangerous trap by reducing the Church to a political interest group. The consequences speak for themselves: in order to play the political game, we have resorted to defining our partisan causes as righteous and the cause of anyone who disagrees as evil – even if those on the other side are Christians.
We have believed the lie that winning a political battle is the way to restore Truth to our nation.
Sounds a lot like the revolutionaries in Jesus’ day clamoring for their Conquering King.
Just as Shafrazi claimed to be an artist and appealed to the curator while defacing the masterpiece of a true artist, we tweet and post for shock value, cutting each other down. Like the red letters on Guernica and the DC skyline, we bleed blood red, reducing each other to the meager identities of our attacks: “unchristian” and “unloving.”
We become who we say we are.
This change will only come when we learn to restore those we have reduced – to love one another as Jesus loved us.
This is the helpless cry we utter whenever our hearts are convicted that we are not loving as we should. How? How to love the ones who fight for the very causes we fight against, believing in our hearts that their victory would betray the country we both claim to love? How to reject the pervasive temptation to define the disagreers as demons, to embrace them as brothers?
This how? is the continual plea of Ann Voskamp in her marvelous work One Thousand Gifts:
How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?
How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.
To fully live-to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal (pp. 22-23).
All these things – gratitude, joy, life, grace, beauty – are found in the ultimate expression of Truth: the gospel. The Church today has a mission to rediscover the gospel we so often reduce.
I believe this starts by restoring our reduced discourse of “church and state.” The gospel is bigger than government. It is also bigger than the Church.
The gospel encompasses all of life. As expressed definitively by Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (as quoted by Timothy Keller in Every Good Endeavor, p. 243) This includes equally the realms of church and state.
For those of us whom God has called into public service, we must never confuse our work in government for the work of the Church. In doing so, we reduce both. The state is an organization that bears a sword to punish evil and defend the innocent; the Church is a community where lives are transformed through Jesus Christ.
We will only begin to restore the culture of Capitol Hill – and our nation’s political culture – when we view our work in government as complimentary to the work of the Church. As the Davids and Esthers of our day pursue justice and equality as embodiments of the Kingdom, we will accomplish more than liberating the Church from the snares of politics; we will begin to see foretastes of God’s perfect government in our own nation.
This is how we restore the reduced, and thus replace the despair of Shafrazi with love:
LIFE. TRUTH. ALL.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
Spend some time thinking or journaling this week on this question: how can you begin to change our political culture from one that reduces humanity to chaos and despair, and instead bring a fuller picture of reality to your work? Chances are high if you’re reading this you won’t have to look far to find something that’s deeply frustrating or unsettling to you about American political culture. What can you do to begin restoring it?
Want to take this a step further? Set up a meeting with a few of your colleagues to talk about this idea of restoring what is reduced. How can you and your colleagues push the limits from the inside to bring healing and restoration? Finally, you can help us spread the message of Truth and Beauty in politics by sharing it with a friend.
Today's writer is a current Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. Congress.