[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]
If you are not one to dig your head in the sand, you probably have some thoughts in the wake of our recent municipal elections. Here are six of mine:
1, No party is our Eternal Ruler, only Jesus is.
For those that have used Messianic rhetoric in the past as an election tool, 2016 revealed that no party is destined to rule; only Jesus is. This is always a potential blind spot for parties and leaders that have long enjoyed uncontested rulership, and it applies not only to politics, but every area of life, as Japanese rugby supporters may remind us.
Such assertions of invincibility are not new. Ian Smith famously asserted white minority rule in the then Rhodesia would last for a thousand years. Karl Marx proudly declared that Communism would inevitably take over the world. Nebuchadnezzar was similarly presumptuous.
Here’s the memo: When we as human beings assert an eternal invincibility, that kind of talk is very cheap, but when God speaks, you can take it to the bank, no matter what the circumstances look like. Psalm 75 is a reminder of who is really in charge: To the arrogant I say, ‘Boast no more,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horns.Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak so defiantly.’ ”It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.
2. We can thank God for a peaceful handover of power
Yes, there have been cases of politically motivated violence, intimidation and the like before and possibly after these elections. But on the whole, it has been encouraging to see the peaceful handover of power when one party has taken control of a municipality from another. For some, this might look normal.
But in most parts of our continent, this is not the case. Ruling parties don’t just hand over power. In so far as this has happened peacefully here, we have much to thank God for. For politicians voted out of office, a peaceful and honourable handover of power will go a long way in strengthening the foundations of our freedom.
3. Never underestimate the allure of power
Abraham Lincoln said: If you really want to test a man, give him power. If long-held rulers have a blind spot, so too do newly elected ones. The same applies to succeeding generations.
We automatically assume that we are better than our predecessors. Yet one must not automatically assume that they are better than the other without facing the same tests that the previous office bearers have faced.
The test of personal gain, clinging on to power, becoming above the law, ‘blue-light brigading’, jobs for pals, and disregarding the directives of the Public Protector are never temptations for the parties not in power, but are always temptations for the parties that are in power.
Remember the innocent guy at school who was chosen as a prefect and ‘changed overnight’ to being a tyrant? What happened? He was simply tested with the allure of power for the first time. When the MDC came to share in reins of power in Zimbabwe, many felt that the moment of change had finally come.
While they did bring in some areas of meaningful change, many within the party could not resist unduly benefitting from the public purse, and by the time the next election rolled in, the electorate was disillusioned with both opposition and incumbent parties.
4, Voting for small parties is not a wasted vote
Frequently at election time, we are told that a vote for a small party is a wasted vote. Hopefully, after seeing the role that smaller parties have been playing in the new makeup of municipalities, this falsehood will be put to rest. Our proportional representation electoral system was deliberately created in such a way that smaller parties (and minorities) would not be ignored in our diverse nation.
More importantly for the Christian, our first priority in voting, as in everything else we do, must be to honour God and advance his kingdom. That should follow that our first question must be to ask WHAT the various political parties have to say, before we look to see which party has ‘THE MOST SAY’.
5. With all the media attention given to politics, the gospel and the discipling of nations must never lose its primary focus for us
As I wrote in my previous column, the danger for believers is that we will forget that which is of primary importance as we hear the shouts of others in the marketplace. Regardless of what else is going on around us, we dare not minimise the gospel and the mandate to make disciples of the nations.
It is well known that the apostle Paul urged us to pray for all in authority. But what is frequently forgotten is that this call to prayer was linked to gospel living and gospel proclamation:
Timothy 2:1-4 — I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Similarly, we too should not divorce the gospel from the political milieu. Speaking into the US political situation, pastor John Piper powerfully reminds us of our primary and ultimate focus in the midst of the Clinton-Trump media frenzy.
He thus tweeted: One day America and all its presidents will be a footnote in history, but the kingdom of Jesus will never end.
How often do we give all our attention to that which is ultimately a footnote in history? A gospel and discipleship focus also has another implication in the world of politics. Such a focus should direct the Christian to support individuals and parties that have a worldview that is most friendly and open to the gospel and the discipleship of nations.
But for how many Christians is that even a consideration, let alone a focus? What is our primary focus then? Often, like the world, our focus is on material well-being, and this is simply played out with the parties we support and the anti-God worldviews we unquestioningly accept.
Another noteworthy tweet by the same pastor said the following: ‘85 years of food, clothing, health, peace, prosperity, and comfort, followed by eternal misery, is not a good life.’ Our political choices, and every choice we make, cannot be divorced from what is of primary importance.
6. Our (last and only) hope is never in any individual or party
Isaiah 33:22 declares: For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.
Amongst other things, this Scripture reminds us that God is our ultimate government, and salvation comes from Him. A frequent stumbling block for us mere mortals is our tendency to believe that some politician or party (including Christian politicians or parties) will usher in a utopia of heavenly proportions.
Think back to scenes of elation when some popular candidate or party assumed office. What frequently follows is disillusionment. Scripture repeatedly steers us from placing our hope in humanity. Scripture also speaks of the immense amount of good that righteous and principled leadership can bring, which is why voting for righteous and godly politicians is still so important.
Nevertheless, whoever is our earthly king, God alone must remain our only hope and our ultimate king. This is not a new lesson that we have failed to learn. 1 Samuel 8 has a conversation with God and Samuel, concerning Israel’s demand for a king. Seemingly enamoured with the hero-worship that other nations gave to their kings, Israel wanted the same.
God took issue with this, not because He is anti-human leadership, but because He knows that placing our ultimate hope in human leadership is a rejection of His ultimate leadership, and a recipe for disaster. He thus declares to Samuel in verse 7: Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
What followed in that chapter was a warning of the many instances that such a king will take advantage of such adulation and use it to oppress the citizenry. How often has history repeated itself? Despite the sloganeering of some, our last hope is not a human being, a party or a philosophy. Our hope is in Christ alone, meaning that our life does not depend on who is in office, and that God, not the government, is our source and salvation.
In his highly rated book on Politics and Power Kingdoms in Conflict, Charles Colson redirects our hope away from human government, back to Christ and His Kingdom.
He honestly writes in his epilogue: “Like any author, I would to end this book on a triumphant note, announcing that ultimate peace and harmony can be achieved through human efforts. But that utopian illusion is shattered by the splintered history of the human race. Governments rise; even the most powerful fall…Where then is hope? It is in the fact that the Kingdom of God has come to earth – the Kingdom announced by Jesus Christ in that obscure Nazareth synagogue two thousand years ago. It is a Kingdom that comes not in a temporary takeover of political structures, but in the lasting takeover of the human heart by the rule of a holy God.”