“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” —Psalm 122:6
As of this morning, Republicans appear to be on track to regain control of the House of Representatives, though the size of their majority is yet to be known. Control of the Senate is still to be determined, with several pivotal races too close to call.
As the leader of a nonpartisan ministry, I am responding to the midterm elections with reflections that would be the same regardless of which party controls which branch of our government.
“The problems posed by living in collaborative groups”
As background, let’s consider a New Yorker article indicating that “reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.” In other words, we tend to make our decisions based on how our group makes theirs. Consequently, while we’re critically aware of the fallacies held by others, we are blind about our own.
In addition, we must rely on the expertise of others for the essentials of life (such as the function of toilets, as the article illustrates), so we do the same with our opinions, depending on the “knowledge” of those with whom we already agree. Further research demonstrates that we experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when we process information that supports our beliefs.
These facts relate directly to voting in a democracy. Once we identify our “group,” we tend to vote in ways that advance our group’s agenda. We are much more able to see the shortcomings of the other group’s candidates than our own. We are rewarded psychologically when our side wins and the other side loses.
And democracy, which depends on the wisdom of the voters to elect leaders most capable of serving the people, is weakened as a result.
“The father of American democracy”
In 1638, Puritan pastor Rev. Thomas Hooker delivered a sermon before the Connecticut General Court advocating for popular sovereignty, the right of the people to rule themselves. This was the first time in the colonies that an American explicitly asserted such democratic ideas.
He based his sermon on Deuteronomy 1:13, where Moses instructed the people, “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.” Hooker’s sermon influenced the creation of the Connecticut state constitution, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which was the first constitution in the American colonies.
As a result, he is often described as “the father of American democracy.”
Note his belief that our leaders must be “wise, understanding, and experienced.” This implies that the people who choose them must also be “wise, understanding, and experienced” so as to identify leaders who deserve their support. This is the fundamental challenge within our system of governance: as French philosopher Joseph de Maistre noted, “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.”
The fact that we are fallen people explains the fallenness of our society and of our politics. As grateful as I am for those who are willing to engage in public service, the fact remains that we can only elect sinners like ourselves.
History professor Daniel K. Williams notes, “Political parties work well as highly imperfect tools for accomplishing particular aims, but they become horrific idols when we treat them as sources of our moral identity.”
“We have received Christ himself”
David implored us, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:6). Note that he did not encourage us to “work” for the peace of Jerusalem, but to “pray” for it. The Hebrew word translated “pray” could be rendered “beg for, plead.” The grammar could be rendered “plead and keep on pleading.”
“Peace” translates shalom, a very significant word in Jewish culture even today. It describes completeness, wholeness, health in every dimension of life. David knew that the source of true shalom for Israel and for the rest of the world lies in God, not in us. We must come to him with expectant, urgent, humble, repentant faith.
And when we do, God does what only he can do.
Charles Spurgeon observed, “By an act of faith Jesus becomes a real person in the consciousness of our heart. . . . It is true that he gave us life from the dead. He gave us pardon of sin; he gave us imputed righteousness. These are all precious things, but we are not content with them; we have received Christ himself” (his emphasis).
“Preach first by the way that you live”
This is why sharing the good news of God’s love is so urgent. As pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie notes, “God’s primary way of reaching nonbelievers is through the verbal articulation of the gospel.” We are inviting others into a personal, transforming relationship with a personal, transforming God. We can actually know Jesus and then make him known. And knowing him does in us and through us what no political party or leader could ever accomplish.
However, Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584, offered an important qualification: “Be sure that you preach first by the way that you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing but live another, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”
Live the gospel and share the gospel. Know Christ and make him known, and long after yesterday’s elections are forgotten, your faithfulness to your Lord will echo in eternity.
This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.