I have been thinking on political power and how people strive to get it and use it, and I’d like to share a few thoughts for your consideration. I am no politician but I am a Christian who feels the effects of politics.
Power in the hands of an all-wise, all-loving, all-knowing and an absolutely righteous person is nothing to be frightened about. Indeed it is something that would calm the heart of any peace loving and upright person. This is why in God’s theocracy he has need of no advisers and no restraints on his power. He is absolutely righteous in character and can be trusted completely.
Can we say the same of ourselves as human beings? Not in the least! I believe it was the American president, James Madison, who once quipped, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” He was spot on! As human beings we do not measure up to even angelic standards let alone God’s perfect nature and character. We are not all-wise, neither are we absolutely righteous in heart and in character. We tend to cheat and lie. In fact, organized lying, in the form of propaganda, today is practiced so shamelessly and efficiently by our political elites, inculcating hatred and preparing people’s hearts and minds for hostilities.
Further, like in George Orwell’s satirical book “Animal Farm,” we accept in theory that “All animals are equal” yet in practice some “animals” end up being treated as more equal than others. We play favourites and oppress others. We have the tendency to want to vilify, imprison or get rid of those who do not agree with us or sing our praises. This is why Democracy seems like a priced commodity which many people (even if not everyone) the world over desire. Reinhold Niebuhr, the American Theologian (1892-1971) observed that, “The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.” I agree with him.
Most people, I reckon, highly esteem the idea of democracy because they believe we are all wise and equally good enough to share in the government. But like C. S. Lewis, I am convinced that the real reason why democracy sounds so good to us is because mankind is so depraved that no one individual can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellow man.
Now, this assessment might sound very horrible and uncomfortable (because you probably know some people who are nice people) but we just cannot run from the fact that we are afraid of each other because of our real knowledge of human depravity. We feel we need some level of protection from one another, don’t we? In BBC’s December 2010 poll of about 13,000 people in 26 nations, one question asked people to rate which issues they saw as most serious.
Corruption was ranked as the second most important issue behind poverty. Humanity, at the most foundational level, is corrupt (or fallen as we Christians say) and we must bear in mind that our politics is being done in this context of depravity. Power seems to corrupt, doesn’t it? Make no mistake, it is not power that is inherently evil, rather it is the possessors (i.e. us the natural men and women) who are corrupt (fallen) in our natures.
Unlike God who can wield absolute power and still do the right things because of his righteous nature, the fallen man cannot be trusted with unchecked power. In the Scriptures we see Christ described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5) and also as the Lamb (Rev. 5:6). While his being a Lion symbolizes his absolute power, his being a Lamb symbolizes his genuine humility. And so within the person of Christ we see the unity of absolute power and genuine humility. Christ models for us how power ought to be used for the glory of God.
What is the Christian Politician to do?
For me, there is no question of whether or not a Christian should be involved in politics. If we can do some good and be a witness for Christ and the opportunity is there, why not get in there. Political power, in my estimation, is the temporary seating of God’s delegated authority to man to ensure peace, justice and progress in human societies as we wait for the establishment of God’s glorious and everlasting rule in the age to come. State authorities exist because of God’s permission (Rom. 13:1). But God does not set us up in such positions just so that we may interpret them as mere blessings. We are there to bring God’s glory in the society by ensuring justice, peace and progress.
Do you remember Mordecai’s admonition to Queen Esther?: “Don’t imagine that you are safer than any other Jew just because you are in the royal palace. If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows – maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen” (Esther 4:13-14 GNB). Perhaps it was for a time like this that you were also given this position of influence. But never forget! No man, to wit, no Christian politician is indispensable and as the hymnist, Charles Wesley, put it, “God buries His workmen but carries on His work.” The Christian man or woman in a position of power is there to show something of the character of Christ and thus glorify God.
It is sad, albeit not uncommon to hear politicians who, after having won elections, retort “The people have indeed spoken. And the voice of the people is the voice of God,” yet conveniently fail to realize, when they are finally holding the reins of power, that if it was the voice of God that put them in power then they are by implication under God’s authority and therefore accountable to God. The tricky bit, however, is that this accountability must be demonstrated to the very people whose voices the politicians reckoned as being the voice of God at the time the elections were won in their favour. If God can speak with the people’s voices he can also see with their eyes, can’t he?
We live in a broken world where greed and selfishness often enslaves many of us, including political leaders. It is in times like this that people with characters like Esther and Nehemiah are needed, who would take advantage of their participation in governance to sacrifice themselves and help build the broken walls of society. We need characters like Daniel who would be steadfast in their faith in God in spite of the enticements surrounding them.
We need people with the character of Joseph who will faithfully preside over resources put in their charge and who will not take what is not rightfully theirs. Dearest Christian politician, God has placed you where you are for a reason, for as Christ said, “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lamp stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matt. 5:15 GNB). God wants you to shine and shine brightly in the public square for everyone to see and know how a public servant ought to live, under God.
The word “Integrity” connotes wholeness – not divided. Christianity is not meant to be heard only; it must also be seen and felt. The statement, “Your actions are so loud, I can hardly hear what you say,” must be positively true about the Christian man or woman in power. Your private life must not contradict your public life. How you conduct your political campaigns must show that you fear God.
Some people believe you cannot win an election with your integrity intact but remember that God put his light (Jesus Christ) within the darkness of this world so that vision is possible. In like manner, let your light so shine that people may see what God has been able to do in your nature and character. Remember, with God all things are possible.
The policies you advocate for, your attitude toward truth, your management of money, the tactics you employ in executing your mandates, the manner in which you speak to the general public and even to your opponents should all have the aroma of Jesus Christ. And lastly, please be a man (woman) of prayer, bearing in mind the encouraging words of the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson that, “he who kneels before God, can stand before any man.”