Can you trust this man?
The huge and enthusiastic turnout for the inauguration of US President Barack Obama shows us how hungry people are for hope and inspiration. In troubled and uncertain times, we instinctively gravitate towards leaders who seem to be able to offer the promise of a better tomorrow.
Whatever else we may say about him, Barack Obama is clearly a man of considerable skill in many areas. He is a powerfully effective speaker who has a remarkable gift of inspiring crowds and filling them with confidence. He also seems to work well with people, earning the trust and loyalty of those close to him. He is apparently a very intelligent man – someone who can absorb a great deal of information on a variety of topics and quickly grasp the essential features. He seems to have the ability to understand and analyze issues quickly and accurately.
All these abilities and many more are needed for effective leadership of a nation. But there’s another set of qualities that are ultimately even more important. These are not skills or abilities, but qualities of character – integrity, humility, wisdom, compassion, faith.
I don’t know how Barack Obama’s presidency will ultimately turn out, but the level of adulation being heaped on Obama gives me cause for concern. Will he be a leader who encourages his people to trust in themselves, in him, or in the God who alone is worthy of ultimate trust? Embedded in the midst of Obama’s inaugural address, in reference to the challenges of renewing the US economy, putting technology to work for positive purposes, and cleaning up the environment, we find these telling words : “All this we can do. And all this we will do.” Really? All by ourselves, we’ll fix all the problems that past generations have created?
It is true enough that people need to be encouraged to dream big dreams and to believe in the abilities that God has put within them. Without a vision the people perish. But what is our vision? On what, ultimately, does our hope rest? Positive thinking and a “can-do” attitude are not enough – our reliance needs to be on more than ourselves. One of my favourite Psalms puts it this way,
Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
In ancient Israel, the kings who were remembered with affection were the ones who humbled themselves and placed their reliance on God. The ones who were impressed with themselves and didn’t think they needed to pay attention to God caused no end of grief to the nation and brought about its eventual doom. Things aren’t so different today. Humility, faith, and dependence on God are still the core determinants of a leader’s character. By that standard, how will Barack Obama measure up?