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Politics and Hope

The elections focus on hope for better times and fears of worse. Put your hopes on “Candidate X,” and things will be better than with “Candidate Y.” But what does the Bible say?
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Drawn Into Politics? 

Throughout all of our history, Christadelphians have managed to stay away from the muck of politics. But this may be changing. One hears of Christadelphians who have decided to vote. Others do not vote but still hold strong political opinions. And because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 ESV), these are hinted at in our teaching or openly expressed in our private conversations.

Why is this happening? In part, it is because we reflect the society in which we live. There has been a well-documented increase in political polarization in the United States over the last fifty years.1 The proliferation of information sources fuels this: we choose our news sources based on our prejudices, and our internet experience is often tailored to reinforce rather than challenge our perspectives. We are awash in a sea of information, and partisan voices are amplified. 

What’s more, many of the political issues debated in society have moral overtones. We have Biblically informed views on abortion, gender issues, social welfare, and the role of government, and are naturally attracted by one side or another of political debate. We are easily drawn in, consciously or unconsciously identifying ourselves with one political party or another, despite none representing God’s perspectives.

One of our reasons for political abstinence has always been the conviction that God is in ultimate control of world affairs. We quote the lesson that Nebuchadnezzar had to be taught, that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.” (Daniel 4:17 NKJV).2 God has His purposes, we say, and if we were to vote for the one who is in fact the better person, we might be going against His will.

Perhaps that’s true. But another reason for staying out of politics might be more compelling. It has to do with Hope.

Political Messages of Hope

Two of the most memorable political slogans in recent US political history are about hope–explicitly so in Obama’s 2008 “Hope and Change,” implicitly so in Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s slogan had been previously used by Reagan in 1980 and by Clinton in 1992. 

In the worst moments of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 slogan was “Happy days are here again!” William McKinley’s 1900 slogan was more modestly aspirational: “Four more years of the full dinner pail!”

Every four years the United States goes through a ritual of sloganeering and chatter designed to win the support of the public behind a new president. Messages of hope and promises of good leadership are countered by dire warnings and character assassinations. Barry Goldwater’s 1964 theme “In your heart, you know he’s right!” was countered by “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”

The elections focus on hope for better times and fears of worse. Put your hopes on “Candidate X,” and things will be better than with “Candidate Y.” But what does the Bible say?

Two Familiar Passages… About Hope

Two particularly relevant Scriptures are ones that we may remember (and ought to!) because of the clarity with which they teach things about the nature of man. The first is Psalm 146, from which we often quote, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (v. 4, KJV) in teaching the unconsciousness of death. The second is Jeremiah 17, from which we often quote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (v. 9). These are clear statements, and our use of the passages is both valid and useful.

But the passages say more. Have a closer look.

Psalm 146 begins with encouragement to praise the LORD. The psalmist3 says that he will praise God as long as he lives (v. 2) and describes as blessed those “whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (v. 5 NIV). And why? Because “He remains faithful forever.” (v. 6 NIV). Because He “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.” (v. 7 NIV). Because “The LORD gives sight to the blind.” (v. 8 NIV). Because He cares for the disadvantaged and overthrows the wicked (v. 9). 

All of the things we might hope a candidate for political office could do—health care, welfare, justice–the LORD does these things. And best of all, “The LORD shall reign forever… to all generations.” (Psalm 146:10 ESV).

The familiar verses 3 and 4 are squeezed into this hymn of praise to provide a contrast. “Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.” The best of people, the best of the politicians, is ultimately one “in whom there is no help” if for no other reason than his mortality.

Jeremiah 17 is similar in contrasting the trust of man and the trust of God. Verses 5 and 6 say that a person who puts his trust in man is cursed, comparing him to a withered shrub in a dry place. By contrast:

Only God can know the motives of men’s hearts:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8 KJV).

The reason for the contrast? Because even the best of people still has a heart that is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” (v. 9). Only God can know the motives of men’s hearts (v. 10).

As we enter the upcoming election cycle in the USA—whether living here or watching with interest from abroad—let’s remind ourselves that our Kingdom is not of this time. Paul wrote to Timothy, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:4). Let’s not be entangled with the false hope of politics.

Ours is a better hope.

Our Hope, the Hope of Israel

Our abstinence from politics has always been because of a clear vision of a better day to come. 

In his dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a giant image representing human kingdoms and then a stone that toppled the image and grounded it to pieces. As Christadelphians, we have rejoiced in the explanation provided to Nebuchadnezzar by Daniel, that “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44). The King who reigns will heal all the world’s problems (Psalm 72) and will teach the nations God’s ways (Isaiah 2:1-4).

Our hope is “the Hope of Israel,” of which Paul spoke to the leading Jews of Rome while awaiting trial before Caesar (Acts 28:20). It is the hope he spoke of before King Agrippa in Acts 26:6-7 “I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.”

Being Christadelphian means living a life of hope, even in hopeless times.

Isaiah 9 was written in a time of gloom, distress, and oppression (9:1), in a time of darkness, “in the land of the shadow of death.” (9:2). Bursting through all of that is “a great light” of hope:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Our hope is for a righteous government and its consequences. Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of God shall rest upon our Lord: “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” (11:2) and that “He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” (11:3-4). There will be peace and equity, and the shattered environment will be restored: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea.” (11:9). 

Bill Link,
Baltimore Ecclesia, MD

  1. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/03/10/the-polarization-in-todays-congress-has-roots-that-go-back-decades/
  2. The King James Version renders the last phrase of Daniel 4:17 as “setteth up over it the basest of men.” Growing up with the KJV, I assumed it meant that God chose the worst, or at least might choose the worst sort of person to be in charge. It came as a bit of a disappointment to find out that the true sense of the phrase is “the most ordinary, even the lowest esteemed by men.” This definition is borne out by the use of the Hebrew equivalent to Daniel’s Aramaic, for example, in 1 Samuel 2:7, “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up” and Job 5:11, “He sets on high those who are lowly, And those who mourn are lifted to safety.” This sense of the word is evident in the immediate context of Daniel 4, in the final verse, where Nebuchadnezzar says, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” (Verb form of the adjective “basest).
  3. The Septuagint Greek translation attributes Psalm 146 to Haggai and Zechariah.
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