Last weekend I spent a day at the family cottage with my brother Jan and my brother-in-law Jamie, replacing a rotten sill before winter. It was very much an improvised solution, as our cottage repairs often tend to be. Although my contributions to this task were relatively minor, I did learn a lot and also enjoyed their company on a cool but pleasant late fall afternoon.
The lunchtime conversation was wide-ranging, as is usually the case in gatherings with my side of the family. I come from a line of people who hold strong views on many subjects and are seldom shy about expressing them. This can lead to some animated discussions, especially when it comes to issues of politics and social policy. In less than an hour we had touched on federal immigration policy, pesticides and organic farming, crime and punishment, war and peace, municipal politics, recycling, and more – in addition to discussing the activities of our various offspring and the future of our family cottage.
My brother and sisters and their spouses, good liberal humanists all, tend to lean to the left when it comes to politics and social policy. As an evangelical Christian, my views on such matters are often quite different than theirs. However, I am very grateful for the lively sense of social concern that was imparted to all of us by my parents, and I recognize that this sense of social concern is an expression of values that come from our common Biblical heritage.
Although I am an evangelical Christian, I am far less inclined than some evangelicals to automatically support conservative policies on all issues. I see aspects of Biblical truth reflected in the concerns of conservatives, liberals, socialists and greens, and I am disturbed by the tendency of politicians of all stripes to act as though their party is the only champion of truth and justice, while their opponents are demonized as the epitome of all evil and the cause of all the country’s problems. Whatever happened to constructive political discourse?
The truth is that no human government holds the key to solving all the world’s problems. In the democracies of the West, as the Christian heritage that originally motivated leaders to be servants of the people is less and less understood and valued, the people become more and more apathetic and cynical about politics. Simplistic, hastily-conceived solutions – whether proposed by the left, the right or the middle – often seem to be devised more to score political points than to address the nation’s real problems. Such an approach seldom yields good and lasting fruit. History shows that when things decay past a certain point, the door is left open either for a takeover by a hostile power, or the ascent of a self-appointed savior of the nation. Whichever way it goes (savior or invader), the new leader more often than not ends up proving to be a brutal dictator, and whether the official ideology of the so-called savior is leftist or conservative, the end result is brutal oppression, corruption and injustice. The twentieth century alone gave us Franco, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, and Robert Mugabe – to name only a few of the worst.
Why is this? At the risk of oversimplifying, let me go out on a limb and suggest a one-word answer : PRIDE. The wisdom of God teaches us that humility goes before honour, and that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Pride, on the other hand, inevitably leads to self-deception and becomes our downfall. Unfortunately, leaders who are professed Christians are not immune from this disease, and so we have the sorry spectacle of priests and bishops who have done terrible damage to young lives through sexual abuse, evangelical leaders who have fallen into sexual sin and marital infidelity, and professed Christians in politics who sometimes prove to be as corrupt as the godless leaders they replace.
Because none of us is immune from either moral failure or simple mistakes, because none of us possesses all the wisdom of God and all the abilities needed to lead effectively, and because none of us is capable of being anyone’s savior, I am profoundly grateful to be part of a church family in which our leaders understand the value of team leadership, mutual accountability and submission to one another. Leaders desperately need people who care enough about them to hold them accountable and speak truth into their lives even when that truth is not what the leader wants to hear. Leaders also need to be humble enough to surround themselves with people who have strengths that balance their own. Above all, leaders need to recognize that their authority to lead comes from God, that they are not authorities unto themselves, and that their leadership can only attract God’s blessing as they surrender their pride to Him and learn to be servants to those they lead.
King David of Israel was far from a perfect leader, yet the Bible describes him as a man after God’s own heart. This was not because he was perfect, but because he was submissive. He recognized the limits of his power, and listened to the prophets of God when they brought him words of guidance or correction. It was only when he temporarily forgot this that David, blinded by lust, plotted to have Uriah killed so that he could marry Bathsheba – an error that had a disastrous impact on his kingdom, his family and the nation. Yet even when confronted by this terrible failure, David responded like the man of God that he was. He repented openly and threw himself on God’s mercy. The fact that the Bible records not only David’s successes but also his times of weakness and failure shows us what an honest and trustworthy book it is.
I believe David’s example is highly relevant to our day. David was not a good king because he was able to solve all the world’s problems or even all Israel’s problems. He was a good king because — and to the extent that — he put his hope in the Lord, recognized the limits of his power, acknowledged that he was a servant to his people, and looked for the day when God would openly rule the whole earth through the coming Messiah. He was a good king precisely because he did not look to himself to be a good king, but looked to the One who alone is good and is the source of all goodness and all legitimate rulership. Because he acknowledged this, he was able to govern righteously and his kingship was a blessing to Israel.
The answer to my question is simple. Who holds the key to fixing the world? No-one. That is, no-one except Yeshua (Jesus), the crucified and risen One, the Jewish Messiah who has demonstrated his faithfulness, has paid the price for sin and made a way for us to be reconciled to God, and has been appointed by God as ruler over the whole earth.
Does that mean we do nothing about the world’s problems, and simply wait for Him to return? To that question – really two questions – I would answer No, and Yes. No, it does not mean that we do nothing about the world’s problems. But Yes, it does mean that we wait for Him to return. Ultimately, Christ alone is qualified to rule, and it is only when He rules openly in the Messianic kingdom that we will see perfect justice and peace on earth. The best human governments can only approximate this to a greater or lesser degree. But the Bible tells us that a day will come when the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover (or fill) the sea, and we can hasten this day as we proclaim Jesus’ coming Kingdom, and use whatever authority we possess to represent the heart, character and priorities of the coming King in our sphere of influence. Everyone who is made in God’s image (in other words, every human being) is intended to represent God’s benevolent rulership over the earth by carrying a measure of His authority in our sphere of influence. As we humble ourselves and look to Him, we are changed into a reflection of His glory and goodness, so that our exercise of whatever authority He has granted to us becomes a blessing to those whose lives we touch. As we do this, we are empowered to act righteously and to represent the Messiah’s coming reign on the earth, until the day when He returns in power to judge evil and put it under his feet, and to govern a restored earth.