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Political Timeout: Responding to Sandy

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Updated: Nov 08, 2012

Political Timeout: Responding to Sandy

Perhaps Hurricane Sandy was the only thing that could practically stop the all-consuming presidential race dead in its tracks.

With nearly a quarter of the nation’s population in the path of one of the most massive storms on record, peoples’ attention turned to preparing for the worst and praying for the best.

As I record this broadcast, it’s still not clear the extent of the damage caused by Sandy. Lower Manhattan is flooded, people on the Jersey coast are cut off, West Virginians are digging out of nearly two feet of snow. From North Carolina to Rhode Island, power lines and trees are down, houses and business are smashed, and roads and neighborhoods flooded.

The presidential candidates, and even a good chunk of the media, did the right thing: They took a timeout from politics and focused on what was most important — helping out and reporting on the storm and its aftermath.

Sandy offers us a stern and poignant reminder that politics isn’t everything. And once again, we’re reminded that in this fallen created world, our prosperity — even our survival — depends not on politics, but on Him in whom all things exist and hold together.

To think otherwise is to fall prey to what political thinker Jacques Ellul called the “political illusion”; the idea that our politics or government is capable of creating the good life, or even a good society.

As Chuck Colson said in a BreakPoint years ago, this is “nothing short of idolatry. Treating the state as a god. But like all idols,” he continued, “the state inevitably disappoints those who worship at its shrine. A government that can't even manage the simple accounting task of balancing its budget is certainly not capable of making peoples’ lives ‘rich and full.’”

But what can government do, then? What is politics for?

Well, as Chuck would say, government has two divinely appointed tasks: the pursuit of justice and the preservation of order. And as for politics, its goal is to rightly order our common life.

And here, the Christian worldview has much to say. The proper ordering of society must take into account the proper roles of national and local governments, businesses, associations, churches, and especially families. This Christian concept of sphere sovereignty teaches us, as Abraham Kuyper said, that “each sphere ... of life has its own distinct responsibilities and authority or competence.”

Another important concept about the relationship of government to the rest of society is called subsidiarity, a product of Catholic social teaching, which holds that “functions of government, business, and other secular activities should be as local as possible.”

And, interestingly enough, we saw healthy examples of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity at work in Sandy’s wake.

We saw the federal government acting through FEMA and the Coast Guard; state and local government evacuating citizens and providing shelter; power companies coordinating with businesses and other utilities; local fire and rescue organizations putting out fires and rescuing people. We saw neighbors helping neighbors; charities like Operation Blessing delivering sandbags to homes in low-lying areas. Folks, that’s the way things should work!

And how cool is it that even the politicians could put aside politics for a while? Who would have thought that New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie could go on national TV and thank Democratic President Barack Obama for being available and ensuring federal resources were in play?

On this week’s “Two-Minute Warning,” which I hope you’ll go to watch at, I talk more about this idea of the political illusion. Please go see it.

And church, let’s pray for those impacted by the storm, and let’s help wherever we can.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: November 1, 2012

Political Timeout: Responding to Sandy