Fall has officially arrived. The trees have begun their annual fade from green to gold and orange. And the lawns are making their usual transition to blue, red, and the occasional bright yellow … the colors, of course, of the campaign signs! Will you vote for Obama or Romney? Ryan or Biden? And what about all those local politicos you’ve never heard of? It can be an alternately exciting, confusing, and exhausting time of year! But it’s also an important time of year for our country. And, as Christians, we find ourselves right in the middle of it all. But what should we think about the election season? How important are politics, really? And what does it mean to vote Christianly? Here are a few biblical principles:
First, let us remember that we are called to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5.15). God’s people are to be the preservative of their culture – the ones whose gospel proclamation, personal example, social engagement, and sometimes government policy-making keep a society from moral suicide. And, as one of our elders recently reminded me (quoting Wayne Grudem), one of the ways we can be such salt is by exercising our vote in such a way as to be the preservative of our nation. There are other ways of being salt in the culture – many of them perhaps more personal and hands on. But praise God we have a chance to affect national and local policy through something as simple as our votes. So let’s be the salt of the earth this election season.
Now, as we think about exactly how we’ll vote, let’s notice the Bible’s emphasis on kings ruling righteously (see, for instance, Proverbs 16.12 and 20.28). In other words, there is more to being president, governor, or city councilman than who can make the land economically prosperous. Far more important is that a ruler, and his policies, be morally upright. So we should ask questions like: Is this candidate honest? What sorts of sexual and political ethics do his policies promote? What are his commitments to the least of these – the elderly, the unborn, the disabled, the poor? Many times we set these things to one side and choose our candidate largely based on what he can do for my bottom line. But what is pleasing to me is not nearly so important in a ruler as what is pleasing to God!
In the third place, the Bible also affirms that every government is established by God (Romans 13.1-2). Sometimes He gives us wonderful, wise, good leaders. Sometimes (perhaps often because we deserve it) He allows us to be accursed with poor, ungodly ones. But, whoever wins the various elections this fall, each of our leaders will be in office for no less a reason than that God determined it should be so. “There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13.2). So let’s be done with crying in our oatmeal on the Wednesday after an election that doesn’t go our way … and with the four years of bellyaching that often follows. God knows what He’s doing, even if we get who we think is ‘the wrong guy.’ And we should take what our wise God gives us, even if it’s four years of moral or economic famine rather than plenty.
Along those lines, let us also remind ourselves that governments aren’t gods. Yes, they hold a great deal of power. Yes, a lot can go wrong (or right) in a four year span. But neither Obama nor Romney is the messiah. Neither of them holds our future in his hands. Neither of them can take away the things that are dearest to a true Christian. And neither of them is going to save the world, or even our little corner of it. Only Christ can do that! So let us not make the mistake of being too elated if ‘the right guy’ wins, or too ready for doomsday if he doesn’t. The world will neither end, nor be made new, by anything less than the return of the true King!
Finally, let us remember that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3.20) … and that we will live there much, much longer than we live in this American democracy. Shouldn’t that affect how much emotional and financial capital we invest in this thing we call government? Yes, earthly government is important. God says so! But it’s also very, very temporary. We’re just passing through this Vanity Fair. So let’s make sure that, more than anything else, we store up our hopes and our treasures where moth and rust – and national debt, and Social Security scares, and housing crises, and unemployment, and even the rulers to whom God calls us to prayerfully submit – cannot destroy!