As white smoke ascended above the roof of the Sistine chapel, the Catholic faithful packed St. Peter’s square, huddled under umbrellas in the cold and rain. Expectations, celebration, and the noise level all ran high when Francis I stepped forward, the first non-European pope in 1300 years.
But you’re Protestant. Who cares about the pope? Actually, the celebrations at St. Peter’s square can teach us something, too—something about ourselves.
We all want a pope.
- The pope is called the vicar of Christ—the earthly representation of Jesus. The papacy is somewhere around 1600 years old. That makes it the most enduring political institution in the history of the world.
But 1600 years of popes doesn’t just happen. What is it about human nature that gives the papacy such incredible staying power? The papacy is strong because our idolatrous hearts want to experience God in visible form. God calls us to faith—”the evidence of things not seen.” But we look for something more visible, like the mom who quieted her child’s fear of the dark by pointing him to God. The child said what we all feel—“But I want somebody with skin on him.”
Are you as quick to turn to prayer as you are to tell friends about struggles? Do you quiet your heart and find your joy in the people you know and the things you have more than the Savior who died for you?
- We all doubt God’s Word.
The pope’s greatest power is when he speaks ex cathedra. These official pronouncements are supposed to be infallible and inerrant and the institution exists so that Catholic teaching can remain relevant and applicable for today.
But since when is God’s Word not relevant today? Is there not something in all of us that wishes for a 2013 version of the Bible? Do we not secretly want someone who can speak ex cathedra to our problems, our decisions, and the needs of our time?
And against that, Scripture compels us to place our faith in the Word of God. Scripture does have answers for 2013—especially for a world full of bright screens and shiny new apps. Your decisions will never be as simple as asking the pope, a palm reader, or your horoscope. You’ll have to get on your knees and open your Bible.
Francis I is now the pope, but he’s also the 266th person to fill the office. All but one have died. And as Catholics rejoice in their leader, you can rejoice today in yours—not the vicar of Christ but in Christ Himself; not in a new pope but in the One who has always perfectly led His people. You can rejoice in your great High Priest who died once, never to die again.
You may not be Catholic, but your fallen heart also wants an earthly substitute for Jesus Christ. Turn your eyes instead today to the perfection of our Savior and the sufficiency of His Word.
Joel Arnold is an appointee with Gospel Fellowship Association Missions. He is raising funds for future ministry in the Philippines.