My previous two posts have looked at the fundamental political fact, which is the rule of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ; and the light that shines on why our political choices seem so terrible in this election.
But what are we supposed to do with our votes tomorrow? If there is no option to vote for godly rulers and just governments, should we use our vote at all? The answer is yes, we should, though how we use it is not straightforward and Christians will come to different conclusions.
Let’s start on King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace rooftop in Babylon:
‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’ (Daniel 4:30)
For this arrogant, indeed blasphemous, claim, Nebuchadnezzar was judged with seven years of madness and humiliation, ‘until you know that the most high rules the Kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will’ (v32). As I said yesterday, the first duty of rulers is to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and seek to implement his laws. In other words rulers should
a) recognise that the power they have, is merely an entrustment from the true God, and (since Easter), that means from his Christ; and therefore
b) use that power not for self-glory but to practice righteousness and show mercy to the oppressed (as Daniel warned Nebuchadnezzar in v27). In other words, to maximise the love of neighbour in our society, according to the standards of God’s laws.
And tomorrow, for a day, God’s appointed rulers will be us.
Of course, we will have a very limited authority. Each of us is given the chance to influence the choice of who will rule us for the next few years (probably). But small though that authority is, it is real.
And that means that the two duties God lays on all rulers rest, for a day, on us.
First, we must acknowledge where this authority comes from. Secularism teaches us to think as we vote, ‘Is not this my great vote, which I exercise by my mighty democratic right for the glory of myself?’. We imagine that the authority we have at the ballot box originates inside us. It does not; ‘there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God’, Romans 13:1; and since a vote is a form of authority, that includes us. Like Nebuchadnezzar, to the extent that we have thought of ourselves as having our own authority, we need to repent. If we rule at all, we rule with a power Christ has delegated to us. He was not obliged to give us a vote, but he has chosen to do so, and we must acknowledge that. Our votes are to be used with a humble sense that we wield an authority not our own.
And second, we must use our voting authority as God’s servants, to do good to the people of our nation (Romans 13:4). So for that reason we must take what we do with our vote seriously. We should use it in the way which we judge, before God, to influence for good who will rule us and what laws they will make. Which particularly means seeking to rule as Christ did: not for our own benefit (like Nebuchadnezzar), but sacrificing our own interests for the sake of justice and the good of others in our society. Our King is a crucified King; Christian votes are to be similarly cross-shaped, for it is with his commission that we cast our ballots.
This is very clarifying in understanding what we are called to do in elections. We are not expected by God to ensure truly wise government which frames truly just laws while acknowledging the true King. God simply has not put that power into the hands of ordinary citizens. Faced with the awful choices before us, it is a relief to know this. What we are called to do is to weigh up and choose how we can best use our vote to promote justice and righteousness in society, and how evil can best be restrained, according to the laws of God.
Specifically, the power to vote enables us to do two things. It gives us the power to influence which people will rule us after this election; and it gives us the power to influence which policies they will adopt for the next one. Our task is to use the single vote we have to do the best we can in both.
Now that is not a simple decision. It requires us to weigh up the track record, the character, and the policies of those before us. We must weigh these things up both for parties and for local candidates, for they do not always align. We must weigh up the effect on who wins this time and the effect on what parties will do next time. We must weigh up weighty moral issues, especially those were the weak are being oppressed – abortion, gender recognition, marriage and the family, the sexualisation of children in schools. And we should consider other issues such as the economy, healthcare, defence, security. None of our parties offers good government, which honours Christ the King as it should; but we should judge which may restrain evil and promote good more than another.
Now it is not my part to answer those questions for anyone but myself. Christians will come to different conclusions. Some will vote for a mainstream party despite profoundly ungodly policies, because it seems better (perhaps only marginally) than the most likely alternative. Some will choose a more minor party with no hope of winning, in the hope that numbers of such votes will pressurise larger parties into future changes of policy. Some may even register a protest vote with a spoiled ballot paper to demonstrate to the parties a disgust with them all, and that there are more votes to be won if policies are changed. Some will simply vote out of conviction that it is right to support a better candidate even when the prospects of winning or even influence are slight. What matters is that every Christian has consciously used the authority Christ has given him or her to seek justice for the nation as best as can be done.
We must discharge our duty to Christ to use the rule he has given us to rule the rulers of the nation on his behalf. We should pray about and cast our votes as humble delegates of King Jesus.
And having done so, we will need to react in a godly way to the result. That will be the subject of my fourth and final post tomorrow.